Wednesday, April 2, 2008


you didn't think i was going to let the week go by without talking about this photo from the "Students of Virginity" article in the New York Times Magazine, did you?

in the past, i've discussed the way in which editorial photography stands apart from other portraiture. in this case, the editorial perspective is fairly extreme. the article seemed to me bent on portraying Janie Fredell of Harvard's True Love Revolution chastity club as a someone who is certainly determined (and chaste), but maybe a little annoying or misguided (oxytocin bonds you like emotional superglue to your first sex partner?). maybe that was the reporter's take on her, or the editor's, but it seems to have seeped into the art direction for the photography as well. or is it just me?

Fredell stares at us fiercely in Katherine Wolkoff's portrait, without a smile — though her fierceness is a bit offset by the casual drape of her arm. the photo caption tells us that "virginity is extremely alluring," as she says, and indeed both the virginity and the allure are present. it's hard to know, in the collaboration between subject, photographer, and editor, just whose choice it was to pick a bright clean white room, a white eyelet blouse with a gathered hook & eye bust, or the saintly backlit window light, which in turn makes the focus a bit soft all over.

(question: is the real punctum her deep philtrum, or the hint of a locket tucked away under her blouse?)

did anyone else react to this picture? or the ones of Harvard's other True Love revolutionaries?

to see more of Katherine Wolkoff's work, check out her site here. i especially like this project, and i like her new work on deerbeds.


Chase said...

For some reason, the drape of her arm doesn't look all that casual to me.
What strikes me is the vast difference in tone from the bright white Katherine Wolkoff pictures to Lise Sarfati's more low key virgin pictures from 2007.

subjectify said...

i agree with you, it's like a forced attempted casual, maybe.

Ian Aleksander Adams said...

It almost seems one step away from a flexed arm. Forceful?

Ian Aleksander Adams said...

But also seems so frail because of the way the highlights react with it, and so far away. It's odd to me, like they try to present her as strong and frail, hard and soft. I guess that's just what you said about it, actually.

RexFlex said...

So absolutely no influence from the fact that the photographer is standing right on top of her? I think you might be over analyzing the gesture side of this just a bit. I think the reaction to gestures and the subsequent micro managing of them can take subtle to insipid in a heartbeat. Don't you think for the social status portrayed in this image that her gesture would have been relatively natural for this sitter? I think the dominate viewpoint of the photographer is the punctum if there is one.

Chris said...

Heya Miss L, been checking out your blog after noticing the URL in Gmail. Did you see the response on Jezebel from one of the other virgins in this article? He's mostly replying to a post they'd written about him, but he does mention that the photographer wouldn't let them smile.

subjectify said...

hey chris!
i hadn't seen Leo's letter on Jezebel; that's cool. yeah, i'm not surprised to hear that she told them not to smile... smiling is fairly frowned upon (ha) in "serious" editorial portraiture.