Tuesday, February 12, 2008

mediating the pornography of the photograph

last night i was reading "Lifting the Veil," the John Currin profile from a few weeks ago in the New Yorker (slideshow here). in discussing his recent paintings of images from internet porn, Currin says: "Pornography is so associated with photography, and so dependent on the idea that the camera doesn't intercede between you and the subject. One motive of mine is to see if I could make this clearly debased and unbeautiful thing become beautiful in painting."

questions of 'beauty' aside, i think Currin has hit the problem of photography on the head pretty well here. the idea that photography captures the real, without art or artifice, is deeply ingrained—as is the illusion that nothing stands between the viewer and the subject. i'm sure this is why artists who work outside of photography often play with ideas like this.

but of course i didn't just want to put actual paintings on Subjectify... so, above are two photographs of artists wrestling with the problem of pornography and photography... the first is Elinor Carucci's portrait of John Currin in front of his new painting "The Women of Franklin Street." the second is a photograph of Whitney Lee vacuuming one of the latch-hook rugs she makes from Playboy and cyber porn images.

but my real question here is: do you need to use another representational art form in order to trouble the relationship between the viewer and the subject of commercial pornography? or can photography mediate itself? in a way i think the crux of fine art photography is precisely this act of trying to make photography mediate or problematize itself.

then is 'art' photography any better suited to critiquing this aspect of photography than those other art forms? Larry Sultan's series "The Valley" comes to mind as one such critique. (a lot of other folks, like Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, have photographed porn stars, but The Valley seems the most on point to me in exploring the difference between pornography and representations of pornography.)

have more examples? any opinions on which projects are most effective and why?

(bonus question: can the commercial pornography industry problematize itself? or are any attempts it may make at irony really just camp?)

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