Saturday, 14 December 2013

Atypical Family Member's Depiction

It is not unusual for artists to depict their lovers or wives, children, mothers and other family members. However, some, in quest for self-expression and originality go beyond certain norms willingly or unwillingly provoking the world that either praises or strongly criticizes them.

Back in 2007 I went to Sally Mann's exhibition in Oslo called Immediate Family predominantly depicting her children: Emmett, Jessie and Virginia. The way she captured them spurred a lot of polemics: aesthetically complete and eloquent black and white photos were at the same time disturbing since they were depicting Mann's underage children in quite erotic or dead-like horrifying way. There was nothing childlike naive and the way children were adult-like gazing at me from duotone images made me slightly uncomfortable.

Despite my discomfort, I have discovered in exhibition's testimonials that children enjoyed their photosessions and were not ashamed of their nudity years after when they were giving interviews as the grownups.

Sally Mann, Jess at Five, 1989
Other photos of Jessie from Immediate Family photo project
Sally Mann's son Emmett

The most shockingly unpleasant yet intriguing to me were the series of "dead" corpse depicting Mann's youngest child Virginia.  

Sally Mann, Three Graces was my favorite at the show - here, the photographer (on the left) took a group photo of her two daughters, Jessie and Virginia

Lucian FreudBritain's one of the most famous contemporary artists and Zigmund's grandchild (who he actually admired more as a biologist rather than a founding father of psychoanalysis),  famous for his psychological and physiological figurative paintings of naked models, painted his wives, mistresses and children in quite unusual settings. The painting below inspired by  Watteau depicts his two lovers and three children from them all together in his studio.

Lucian Freud's Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981-1983 and Antoine Watteau's Pierrot Content ca.1712

Freud also made quite a few portraits of his daughters, a mix of quite traditional dressed portraits and those in his traditional style of provocatively reclined on a couch nudes. One of the daughters in her interview for BBC documentary few weeks after her father's death explained it as since her father was famous for painting nudes it would be strange to make him paint her in a different way and since she got so used to see naked models in his studio she did not feel uncomfortable to get undressed herself. Another daughter, Esther, recalls her surprise and commenting that at the age of sixteen she thought not to be a big person as she thought to be more petite. Lucian answered back "That what you think" completely reshaping the meaning of the word "big". 

Bella and Esther, 1987-1988 

 Portrait of Rose, 1978-1979
Esther, 1980
Bella, 1981
Bella, 1982-1983
Bella, 1996

Leigh Ledare approached a project of photo-documenting his mother in quite nontrivial way: his mother Tina is not baking apple pies or poses in front of her house or sitting in her dining room proudly next to other family members for a family photo but inserted into openly sexual and provocative settings. The two images I selected to complement my post are still very disturbing for those appreciating traditional family values and certain socially acceptable behavioral norms. Discovering these photos to me was like debunk of traditions and common representation of a mother. I might be a snob, but not knowing about parental link between the photographer and his model, could have let me call these photos art documenting aging woman's quest for her sexuality and proving to herself and the world that she is still alive. 

Strangely enough, I accept these images in another context and with another non-attributive storyline tolerating a young man, obviously, someone's son or brother who might not like the idea of him copulating with an older woman who could be someone else's mother snapshot by a photographer, someone's brother, husband and son. But knowing that these experiments were done by a son to his mother who agreed to strip off and took off an invisible moral curtain incite in me feelings of rejection and disgust just because in my personal values system these experiments are not acceptable. At the same time, despite alien concept of engaging into such experiments myself or anyone from my family, I do like Sally Mann's works maybe because one can still feel elements of staging these photos and children playing their roles and not turning into little prostitutes, early smokes or victims of homicide. I also don't set moral fences between Freud's nude paintings of his daughters and lovers, models or friends, for me they are parts of the same identity and artist's research of stripping down the soul where naked body is something secondary. While being so similar from the first sight in bringing family members' portraits to this unconditional interpretation, in my opinion, the two artists mentioned earlier are still different from Ledare. My own definition of art is one's creativity expressed through variety of forms and media that incite emotions, both positive or negative and force one to reflect, recall and deduct. In this very wide definition Ledare's photo project is an art, but still very alien to me. It is also staged, but it is so natural that it makes me sad and disturbed. To me, it is like a manual of what one should not do or know about their parents. The only thing I admire in this project is the courage of Tina and her love to her son as I do believe she did that first of all to make her son happy and famous rather than become famous herself. I don't know what was the motivation of making selected photos from Pretend You’re Actually Alive project as a part of exhibition Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity that lasts till January 5th, 2014 at  The Photographer’s Gallery in London, but maybe the curators decided to juxtaposition traditional depiction of mother to this perverse ones to highlight the contrary and have a buzz.

Leigh Ledare, Mother Tied to Catch, 2002

Leigh Ledare, Tina Reflecting, 2002

Feb. 3, 2014 addition

Surfing YouTube tonight I have bumped into a Top 10 controversial music videos rating and the Incest Citron (Lemon Incest) sang by a teenager Charlotte Gainsbourg with her father Serge Gainsbourg was at the # 3 position. Agree, it is worth to be featured. 

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