maandag 22 juli 2019

Views & Reviews Bodies Were Weapons: Dissident Photographers of the 1980s Rencontre d’Arles Photography

Bodies Were Weapons: Dissident Photographers of the 1980s

A series of exhibitions at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival shows how artists broke taboos about nudity, gender and sexuality.

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A photo from the “T-Club Series” by Libuse Jarcovjakova, who photographed patrons of Prague’s only gay club in the early 1980s.
Libuse Jarcovjakova, via Rencontre d’Arles

By Tom Seymour
July 5, 2019

ARLES, France — In communist Czechoslovakia, it paid to conform. But behind closed doors at Prague’s only gay club, people could be free.

In the early 1980s, Libuse Jarcovjakova, now 67, photographed the lovers, friends and strangers she met as a young woman at that underground spot, called T-Club. Many of the images have never been shown in public before, but now have a headline slot at the Rencontre d’Arles, a major annual festival of international photography in the South of France.

Ms. Jarcovjakova’s show is part of a strand of exhibitions at the festival titled “My Body is a Weapon.” Curated by Sam Stourdzé, the Rencontre d’Arles’ director, the shows celebrate the work of unheralded artists from the 1980s, who Mr. Stourdzé said “stayed alive, existed and resisted with photography.”

The portraits on display — taken in Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Spain after the Franco dictatorship — broke taboos around nudity, gender and sexuality, and asserted their subjects as individuals in societies that put the collective first.

These photographers understood that “your body is always your own, and no one can take it away,” Mr. Stourdzé said in an interview.

Ms. Jarcovjakova — whom Mr. Stourdzé calls “the Nan Goldin of Soviet Prague” — visited T-Club almost every night from 1983 to 1985, she said. She remembered the club as “a kind of family” that was a sanctuary for “outrageously camp queers” and “serious-looking men who had fled their family.”

Ms. Jarcovjakova used her camera to document it all. “I would drink vodka from the bottle and wake up with many rolls of film,” she said.

At the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in the early 1980s, Ms. Jarcovjakova studied photography: Social realism, the austere aesthetic that promotes the valor of the working man, was the school’s official style. But she clashed with her tutors, she said. She wanted to develop a more introspective approach, and take portraits that said more about the author than the subject.

I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.
“Self-Portrait” by Ms. Jarcovjakova. The photographer took many naked pictures of herself.
Libuse Jarcovjakova, via Rencontre d’Arles

As well as documenting the community at T-Club, Ms. Jarcovjakova turned the camera on herself. She photographed herself naked, or masturbating, or lying in the bath. She also photographed her sexual partners of both sexes: naked, undressing and in bed.

This came with risks. Same-sex activity was decriminalized in Czechoslovakia in 1962, but homophobia was rife and the charge of gross indecency was routinely used to arrest gay, lesbian and bisexual people, according to Ms. Jarcovjakova. Exhibiting images that explored the desires of a young, bisexual woman would have provoked a reaction from the authorities.

So Ms. Jarcovjakova hid her work away, “in a cardboard box in the back of my cupboard,” she said. The photographs remained there until four years ago, when she met the Prague-based curator Lucie Cerná.

Ms. Cerná arranged for Mr. Stourdzé to view a selection of the portraits at the Paris Photo fair, and Mr. Stourdzé almost immediately offered Ms. Jarcovjakova a major show at the festival in Arles.

A photograph from the series “Berlin on a Dog’s Night” by the East German artist Gundula Schulze Eldowy.
Gundula Schulze Eldowy, via Rencontre d’Arles

The varying ways artists reacted to surveillance by the state is a thread that runs through “My Body is a Weapon.” Another exhibition in the strand, “Restless Bodies,” is a group-show of 16 artists from East Berlin who worked clandestinely in East Germany, known as the German Democratic Republic.

The socialist East Germany was a totalitarian state in which artists had to be trained by and registered with the authorities. Sonia Voss, the curator of “Restless Bodies,” said in an interview that many of the artists in the show taught at schools or worked for the state-run news media. All of them were under surveillance by the Stasi, the secret police, she said.

In their portraits, which were not intended for public display, the photographers used their own bodies to communicate a sense of self and to express their interior lives, Ms. Voss said. “They spent a lot of time undressing and dressing up,” she added.

“Mita and Jana in Leipzig” by Christiane Eisler, from 1983. Ms. Eisler photographed the punk scene in the East German city.
Christiane Eisler, via Rencontre d’Arles

One of those artists, Christiane Eisler, took austere portraits of the underground punk scene in the city of Leipzig. Another, Rudolf Schäfer, secretly shot carefully framed and exquisitely lit portraits of the recently deceased in the morgue of the Charité Hospital in East Berlin.

Gabriele Stötzer, a photographer with work in “Restless Bodies,” said in an interview in Arles that she had spent time in an East German prison after taking part in a demonstration at college. After her release, she was monitored by the Stasi, she said.

In the show, Ms. Stötzer exhibits a series of portraits she took in 1985 of a young man who poses for the camera in tights, high heels and makeup. “He was a transvestite,” Ms. Stötzer said. This was taboo in East Germany, Ms. Voss said, so taking such portraits was an act of defiance.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Stasi’s archives were made available to the public, Ms. Stötzer discovered that the subject of the portraits had been informing on her to the secret police. “The Stasi took advantage of anyone who was different,” she said. “They knew his difference made him susceptible, vulnerable. They used it against him.”

“Madrid,” from 1984, by Miguel Trillo. A movement of young people in the city dressed outlandishly, took drugs and explored sexuality, the curator of the exhibition “La Movida” said.
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid

Fifteen years before the German Democratic Republic was swept away, freedom had come to Spain, as seen in “La Movida,” an exhibition at the Rencontre d’Arles that looks back on the countercultural explosion in Madrid as the country transitioned to democracy after Franco’s death.

“La Movida” shows the emergence of a sexually liberated, genre-fluid youth movement that lit up the city’s streets. Influenced by punk and New Wave, that moment in Spain’s history was “a free for all” in which “everything was valid,” according to the exhibition’s curator, Irene de Mendoza.

“A new generation used their body to exhibit and determine their own identity” by dressing outlandishly, taking drugs and exploring sexuality, Ms. de Mendoza said.

Paul Moorhouse, a curator of photography at the National Portrait Gallery in London, said in a telephone interview that bodies remained a preoccupation for many photographers in the 21st century, and that questions of identity politics and diversity were key themes for artists nowadays.

But they were “concerned with representations of the body; artists in the 1980s were more interested in explorations of the body,” he added.
Mr. Stourdzé, the festival director, said that “today, a lot of photographers don’t need to resist.” However, he added, “they’re working in a similar way” to the artists in “My Body Is a Weapon.”

Mr. Stourdzé said that elsewhere at the festival in Arles, many exhibiting artists owed a debt to the pioneering work of the 1980s dissidents. The Chinese photographer’s Pixy Liao’s study of patriarchy in China, which features the photographer’s own nude body, was an example, he said.

“These works are rooted into a photographic past that grew out of resistance,” Mr. Stourdzé said.

Ms. Jarcovjakova said that if she were in the position of a young photographer today, her advice for herself would be to “Keep going, keep doing it, don’t stop.’”

“Because that’s how I found my freedom,” she said. “In myself.”

Rencontre d’Arles
Through Sept. 22 at various venues around Arles, France;

Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, what do we know about East-German photography? Resulting from several years of research led by Sonia Voss in Berlin and several other cities of former G.D.R., this publication presents the work of 16 photographers, still rarely shown outside of their country, that have developed their work during the decade preceding the fall of the Wall.

The economy was crumbling, the country was in free fall, all that was left was to wait for its unavoidable collapse. Boredom, desire for someplace else, impatience – sometimes melancholic, sometimes enraged – were created by this state of repression, uniformisation and the shortage experienced by youth of this time. The existential and artistic strategies are as diverse as the artists that have been through this period: confrontation of social taboos, withdrawal and introspection, evasion through dreams, self reinvention through dressing up and dramatisation. The body is often at the center of their experimenations, drawing from hybridization and performative art to express their thirst for subversion and speed, or to observe faces and bodies in order to ward off their falling apart. In this book, women have an important place reflecting the specificty of their social status in East Germany.
Rencontres d’Arles
July 1st – September 22, 2019


Tina Bara, Sibylle Bergemann, Kurt Buchwald, Lutz Dammbeck, Christiane Eisler, Thomas Florschuetz, York der Knoefel, Ute Mahler, Eva Mahn, Sven Marquardt, Barbara Metselaar Berthold, Manfred Paul, Rudolf Schäfer, Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Gabriele Stötzer, Ulrich Wüst.

Hardcover, 17 x 24 cm

256 pages, 140 B&W photographs

Texts (in French)
Sonia Voss

ISBN : 978-2-36511-234-5

zaterdag 20 juli 2019

An unwieldy Archive of Violence as Catharsis FROM THE STUDY ON POST- PUBESCENT MANHOOD / STACY KRANITZ Photography

For this project I have established a center of study to focus my gaze on a specific group of young men that I have befriended at a dystopian compound in Ohio.  

I came to Skatopia searching for displays of violence that function as catharsis, as a part of a larger body of work that explores subcultures that self-consciously dramatize violence through rituals, habits, and pastimes. In performing these behaviors in front of the camera, the participants implicate the photographer and viewer as consumers of that violence. This is where my work is the most comfortable, not as documentation but rather as an exploration of the ethical boundaries of representation and the subversion of the photographer’s “role”. 
The photographs culminate as an unwieldy archive. I think maybe if I have enough evidence that violence can function as an emotional release I can validate behvior that might at first glance seem unbecoming.

This 80 page full color 8x5 saddle stiched book looks at how subculture self-consciously dramatizes violence through daily rituals, habits, and pastimes, thereby implicating the photographer and viewer as consumers of that violence. These images were taken at a dystopian compound called Skatopia in the Southern Ohio Appalachian region of the United States. The book exists as an unwieldy archive of violence as catharsis.

Views & Reviews Straightforwardly Voyeurism Carnival Strippers Susan Meiselas Photography

USA. Barton, Vermont. 1974. Shortie on the Bally © Susan Meiselas

Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers. 1976. Hardcover. With dustjacket.

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 1976. First edition, first printing. Signed by Susan Meiselas! Original from 1976 (There was also a later edition in 2003). Very important photobook! Andrew Roth, The Book of 101 Books, page 238/239. The Open Book, Hasselblad Center, page 312/313. 802 photo books from the M.+M. Auer collection, page 599. Hardcover with jacket. 250 x 220 mm. 150 pages. 73 illustrations.

Published on 23 January 2015
Susan Meiselas: Carnival Strippers
written by Tom Seymour

Forty years on, Magnum Photos' Susan Meiselas recalls making her first major work, Carnival Strippers

“It’s getting near show time!” the voice would boom out over the cheers of the punters. Susan Meiselas would hover at first near the back of the tent. “Don’t be shy, take your hands out of your pockets, take your money out of your wallets. Rest your elbows on the stage and look up into the whole, the whole goddamn show. Show time! Where they strip to please, not to tease!”

Susan Meiselas was 24 when she started Carnival Strippers. It was the summer of 1972, and her photography experience was limited to portraits of her housemates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had just completed an MA from Harvard, yet she still was shy and unsure of herself – very unlike the direct intellect of today, who treats Magnum’s offices like a second home. But in the earliest of these early pictures, she had not yet been invited into the showgirls’ dressing room.

Meiselas has seen some terrible things, but rarely – if ever – has she flinched. When they exhumed Saddam Hussein’s mass graves, Meiselas was there, making us witness. When Pinochet’s murderous regime limped into its dog days, Meiselas was there too. On the wall opposite the Carnival Strippers exhibition at London’s Magnum office is her picture of a hillside in Nicaragua, mountains rolling away into the distance, water glinting in the valleys. In the foreground, a pair of legs, still wearing jeans, and the broken butt of a spinal cord snaking from the belt-line. It was, and maybe still is, a favourite spot for executions, and animals lurk their to scavenge. “I had nightmares the first time I saw that image,” I say to her. “Good,” comes the instant reply. “That’s the idea.”

Yet she began here, in the midst of a travelling troupe of showgirls whom took their clothes off to music in a collapsable tent in towns across New England and South Carolina. “I was a young woman trying to figure out what was going on,” she says. “This was the early feminist movement, and the moment I saw the fair, it seemed to represent everything I was thinking about; should women project themselves as objects to be desired? Should we deconstruct that gaze to be taken seriously? I watched these women perform, saw how they were using their bodies. It was very potent.”

The tent would stay erected for three to five days, before packing up and moving on. A dressing room divided the public entrance, where the girls would dance on stage, and a more private entrance: “The degree of suggestion on the front stage and participation on the back stage varies greatly from town to town, depending on legislation and local leniency,” Meiselas says. The audience ranged from bankers to farmers, and there was only one hard and fast rule: ‘No ladies, and no babies.’

“That, in itself, was reason enough to find a way of getting in,” she says.

The women she photographed were between 17 and 35 years old – “runaways, girlfriends of carnies, club dancers, both transient and professional”. They were paid $15 to $50 a night, depending on how well they did, minus expenses.

“Most had left small towns, seeking mobility, money, something different from what was prescribed, or proscribed, by the lives the carnival allowed them to leave,” she writes in the introduction to the book, first published in 1976 (republished by Steidl in 2003). “The girl show is a business, and carnival stripping is competitive and seasonal. Those woman who make it a career find winter employment on a series of related circuits – go-go bars, strip clubs, stag parties, and occasional prostitution. For most women, the carnival is an interlude on the way to jobs as waitresses, secretaries, and housewives.”

The next summer, she turned up again. And then again in 1974 and ’75. She became part of the girls’ inner social lives, sharing in their secrets and private politics. As part of a tradition of photographers in the era, notably with Danny Lyon’s Bikeriders and, in the UK, Daniel Meadows with his seminal Living Like This, she began recording her subjects voices as well taking their picture. She was able to document the conflicts between their public, performative image and their private identities.

Meiselas, who was made a Magnum member in 1976, had the ability to layer these issues into the social milieu and emotional landscape of her subjects. The political and the performative are fused here into a dramatic whole. To look at the girls’ isolated faces now is to feel, somehow, like you might have once known them. Her public scenes look like stills from a film you once saw, and can only half remember.

But in no way was she ever complicit, or supportive, of the world she had so skilfully become embedded. “The recognition of this world is not the invention of it,” she says. “I wanted to present an account of the girl show that portrayed what I saw and revealed how the people involved felt about what they were doing.”

What she discovered was a complex, often contradictory set of motivations and attitudes towards their work, and to sex, money and men in general. Their plain spoken words caught the zeitgeist of the early women’s movement – of public sexuality, self-esteem and identity politics, of how women should respond to, and deal with, the male urge to consume and commodify the bodies of their opposite sex. After almost 40 years of debate, Carnival Strippers remains powerful, potent and fiercely relevant.

Tate Modern in display of voyeurism for photography curator's debut
From Cartier-Bresson via Helmut Newton to Alison Jackson: Simon Baker has 13 rooms of images we should not be seeing

In pictures: Tate Modern's Exposed
Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and The Camera - Tate Modern
Roving eye ... a visitor to the Tate Modern takes in Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
Wednesday 26 May 2010 17.52 BST Last modified on Thursday 27 May 2010 09.28 BST

It promises to be the most intrusive art exhibition Tate Modern has ever held: 13 rooms of photographs and video footage of things we really should not be seeing – ranging from sex and death to outrageous invasions of privacy.

Somewhat presciently, given the coalition government's promise of legislation to regulate the use of CCTV, the scariness and scale of surveillance features heavily in Voyeurism, which opens to the public on Friday.

The exhibition suggests that, as a society, we have always been voyeurs – it is just that technology now makes it so much easier.

"The exhibition is meant to be a critical look at the issues that surround voyeurism and surveillance," said Simon Baker, Tate's recently appointed photography curator.

"We are raising questions about boundaries, about technology. There are serious moral questions about who's looking, how they're looking and why they're looking."

In essence, it is a photography exhibition which raises the question of whether photography is actually a good thing, and includes work by well-known figures including Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Miller, Guy Bourdin, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe.

The show ranges from images that are straightforwardly voyeuristic, such as Helmut Newton fashion shots, to much more challenging work such as the US photojournalist Susan Meiselas's Carnival Strippers series, in which she photographs leering men in an audience watching strippers. "It is posing a question about the politics of spectatorship," said Baker.

There are also celebrity stalking and paparazzi shots, including snaps of Richard Burton and Liz Taylor canoodling in their swimming costumes and a tearful Paris Hilton on her way to court, and images by Alison Jackson, the photographer who uses lookalikes to comic effect. Newspaper coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales is also included.

One of the most difficult rooms contains journalistic images of death and violence and some people will undoubtedly whistle through the room, upset by awful images of suicide, execution and lynching. It includes images such as Tom Howard's electrocution of Ruth Snyder, from 1928, and Eddie Adams' haunting photograph of a Viet Cong officer being executed in 1968.

The show has been created and curated by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – to where it will transfer in the autumn – but the Tate has tweaked it here and there for London.

Curators would have liked to show Kohei Yoshiyuki's 1971 series, The Park, as it was originally shown in Japan: in a dark room with visitors having to use torches.

The images were taken at night with an infrared camera and show straight couples having sex in Tokyo parks and gay men cruising for sex – all the time surrounded by others looking on, gawping.

Since individual torches would be too much for a mass audience they are, instead, displayed in a dark, spotlit corridor.

The appointment last September of Baker as Tate's first curator of photography reflects the organisation's increasing commitment to the medium, he said.

"The idea also is that photography is taken more seriously within our acquisition policy, that we bring more photography into the collection and that we show more of it," Baker said. That also meant buying more of what could be termed "straight", rather than conceptual, photography and photojournalism.

"There is that whole argument from the 1980s about collecting photographs from artists not art from photographers – that's really a redundant distinction."