……….I just got back from Silicon Gallery to see the prints that are going to be hanging at PENN starting on Thursday, February 18, 2010, opening reception from 4 to 7. Charles Hall put one hell of show together. I recommend that everyone should stop by the opening if your in town. Various associates of the Studio will be there……
Posts Tagged ‘body’
…..In an ongoing effort to support student art, it is with great pleasure that the studio introduces you to the photographs of Elizabeth Cunningham. Elizabeth is studying photography at the University of Pennsylvania.
Series: The Misrepresentation of Identity
While trying to find the common thread running through my work, my initial thought was that it is an exercise in finding the beauty in the grotesque. While this is partially true, I think my unconscious intentions went further than that, to instead question the idea of identity and misrepresentation. How much does the body play a part in the two?
We live in a society where we are perpetually focused on our bodies and how they define us. It is impossible to avoid exposure to the advertising industry that exists to reminds us our skin is the most important tool in representing ourselves to others. But what if our bodies actually said nothing about who we are? What if that false connection between body and identity was broken?
In my work I explore how one can manipulate and distort the structural elements of our bodies to create grotesque figures that can still be profoundly beautiful. Piecing together new forms, these bodies say nothing about one’s identity.
I decided to focus on images to the extreme end of the spectrum of identity: the hyper-sexualized images of the pornography industry. These subjects are defined by their attempt to be seen as single-faceted, sexual beings, ritualistically obsessed with what their bodies can do. Viewers remain in a state of suspended belief, choosing to think of these men and women as the sex objects their actions are hinting at, rather than a unique person with a complex person. A belief that this is not a job for them, this is who they are. I removed the figures from their erotic context, and intentionally distorted them. These new disturbing and grotesque figures would be unlikely to be found in the pornographic world, and yet I ultimately wanted to create images that were still undeniably beautiful. Most importantly, these images emphasize that once again, the body is a shell; a beautiful and complex one that can be distorted and changed to represent a multitude of things, but one that says almost nothing of what is held inside.
…..On November 19th, 2009, I was invited to lecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s, Body class taught by Fine Arts Photography instructor, Gabe Martinez. Meeting with a lively group of Ivy League fine arts students resulted in a continuing dialogue with a few of the aspiring photographers. I found the exchange to be so personally inspiring, that I asked a few of the them to allow me to publish our ongoing dialogue, along with some samples of their work. Here are a few excerpts from our recent conversations…..TW
You spoke to my Body photography class this afternoon. I am the student who asked “what are you trying to say with your work?”. I asked because answering this question, in regards to my own work, has become a personal struggle lately.
Like you, I like to photograph beautiful women in beautiful places, and before I came to Penn, that used to be enough (so long as my images were technically profound). Here, it seems there is more of an emphasis placed on the message behind the images than on the actual successful execution of the photography. In other words, instead of discussing the success of the composition, or lighting, or even the subject matter – critiques seem to focus on “What the artist is trying to say”. I’m sure this experience will only make me a stronger artist, but after years of being critiqued on the overall aesthetic quality of my photos, these new critiques that often label my work as being “just pretty”, have served to be quite discouraging. I feel as if my understanding of “good” photography has been completely wrong all along, and that I don’t have the angst (or something) to be an artist in the 21st century.
I’m writing to you because I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your work today. Your images are both provocative and so crushingly beautiful. I’m intrigued by how you achieve both of these effects in your work. Hearing your response to my question inspired me to dig a bit further for the message behind my own work. Is it not enough to want to capture the beauty, the sensuality of a women in her youth? The thrill of being young and in one’s prime? What if all I want to say with my work, is “Look at her- she’s beautiful”?
I guess, when you spoke about finding and filling a niche in the art world, I began to understand what my process is lacking. If I want to be a respected artist, I need to be saying something new. And yes, it is possible to do this with beautiful images, as you do.
Anyway, you should know that you’ve inspired me to start thinking about this. I would love to help you with the feb/march art show, or with any other assignments/projects that you find you could use some extra help with. I’m going to attach some of my own photography. Take a look if you get the chance.
Thank you again.
It was truly wonderful and inspiring to meet you,
TW: Hello Ayasha, Clearly you have absorbed many of the comments and suggestions that I discussed in yesterdays lecture. It seems as though you’ve reached an analytical crossroads in your artistic pursuits which is often a good thing. You have set a good precedent for how you will use the camera to move forward in your next body of work. “Look at her-she’s beautiful” could form the basis of a powerful survey of how beauty is defined in America in the 21st century. Keep asking yourself intellectual questions and your photographic works will lead you to visual answers that transcend the practical issues of light and shadow.
I’m currently working on a new piece, also pertaining to the
female body. I will show it to you as soon as its done! I would also like to
continue to stay in contact with you, I am currently trying to pursue a
future as a commercial photographer, starting with applying to graduate
school to get my MFA in photography and continue my studies.
I’d love to get your perspective on the current field of photography,
both commercial and fine arts, and how I could make a name for myself in the future.
I admire what you’ve done, and I’d love to have a chance to learn from what you did
and how you got there. Its great to see a photographer that can succeed in
the commercial world while still having a say in the fine arts world. Often
I get sick of seeing the same photograph, the same advertising picture, the
same models wearing pretty clothing or pretty shoes, and its refreshing to
see new takes on it (like fashion fetish).
I wanted to thank you for coming to our class on Thursday. Your lecture, and the subsequent lecture we saw by Olaf Breuning brought up a very interesting question for me about art and entertainment. I feel like a lot of the images that I did for my class this semester were very much in the realm of attempting to entertain the viewer, rather than trying to project any specific message. Do you think that the art world has a place for people who are more focused on entertainment, or does there have to be a serious or important message in your work in order for it to be relevant?
I also had a personal question about your own work. Most of the more, as Gabe would call it, “naughty” work that you showed us seemed to come from Amsterdam and outside of the United States. Have you ever considered looking for sexual subcultures in the United States, or is it harder to find people who are that open/out there?
Hi Alex, It really depends on how the artist wants to be perceived by the viewers of his or her work. There are plenty of examples of both approaches scattered throughout photographic history. Celebrity portraiture and the paparazzi for example created a cottage industry within the photographic medium. George Hurrell’s celebrity portraits were so well done in the early part of the 20th century, the pictures were considered to be “high art” influencing others to follow. The paparazzi, Ron Gallela became famous for stalking Jackie Kennedy, purely for the entertainment value to sell his images to magazines, yet his pictures have been exhibited in galleries and some of his work to be sure has been collected by the art connoisseur. The artist has to set the precedent for how his or her work is perceived. If you don’t take your work seriously, the general public will not either, both approaches coexist.
Actually most of my collection has been photographed in the United States, in the major cosmopolitan centers, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Miami etc.. Most of the pornographic material produced and distributed worldwide is created write out of the Los Angeles area. Many of the pictures I have produced for the top adult publications ,Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler etc..were created through sources I have here in Philadelphia. I hope this information is helpful. All the best, TW