i am both compelled and troubled by Megan Cump's project Feral, which i saw on Flak Photo. in the project, Cump goes on solo hiking and kayaking trips and photographs herself going back to nature in some surprising tableaux. the images themselves are compelling enough: beautiful landscapes; contemplations of nature and man's role; a naked, young photographer interested in her ability to lose her humanity and have a feral immersion.
her website is organized so that you can see not only each photo, but a detail zoom of each image's selected punctum (see the above detail images: "bloodbath detail" and "siren detail"). i think the troubling part about the project for me is not the content, but two other things. the first one is desire to explain the importance of the images using the grainy details, instead of letting the viewer find its own meaning in the photograph. in this way, the details are offered as trophies, which i think undercuts the photos themselves. (this approach also reminds me a bit of the hide-and-seek product-placement ads playfully included in Alec Soth's Fashion Magazine.)
secondly, i am troubled a bit by something else, which is not Cump's fault, nor is it limited to her: self-portrait projects from a visually-privileged position of young, white, nude beauty. i have been thinking about the "trouble" with beauty in art photography for some time. i can see an alternate world in which i would earnestly feel that female photographers' naked self-portraits were brave, theoretically rigorous, challenging, honest, etc...etc... except i rarely do feel that way, because lately i notice that mainly thin, beautiful women engage in these projects in the first place. or at least, their projects are the ones that gain recognition in the art world (which is why i see them?). of course, such projects might have something thought-provoking and honest to offer, but overall, it still troubles me.
this uneasiness has kept me from embracing other work that i otherwise enjoy and find interesting, from Elinor Carucci's early work to Janice Guy. i'd love to hear from anyone else who has been thinking along the same lines lately. (and i don't mean to lump these photographers together with Flickr's Female Self-Portrait Artists' Support Group or anything, but it's been on my mind, and i would love to see some antidotes--feel free to email them to me. see also some more discussion of this here.)
back to Feral--some images from the project are below (non-detail views). Megan Cump's project statement is here, and is worth checking out too. she says: