I was delighted when I heard that my photograph Debbie Notkin and Tracy Blackstone from Women En Large was the juror’s choice in Body, an international photography exhibition at the PH1 Gallery in Budapest, curated by Zsolt Bátori. One of the reasons in that the overall quality of the exhibition is thoughtful and excellent.
It is always inspiring to see how photographers approach an exhibition theme from different creative angles. Photographic depictions of the human body range from the aesthetic through the documentary to mystic uncertainty, renewing, commenting on or criticizing received modes of expression…
The human body has been the central subject of various photographic genres. From documentary, event and street photography to fashion photography and the nude, photographers have always found ways of constructing images in which the specific portrayal of the human body gains significance. That significance may stem from the rich layers of meanings emerging from specific socio-cultural contexts, the visual interaction of the human body with the surrounding physical space, or the intriguing compositional possibilities offered by the body itself. Some explore movements, study expressive gestures and postures, some concentrate on the anatomical beauty, some narrate whole lives through the depiction of the human body. Others may offer stern visual criticism of our normative conceptions of the human body and the ways it is portrayed in mainstream Western media.
I read the juror’s critique of my photograph this evening and it’s one of the most sensitive and perceptive commentaries I’ve received on a photograph.
Laurie Toby Edison’s Debbie Notkin & Tracy Blackstone is the juror’s choice of this exhibition. This complex image incorporates several layers of photographic meaning. Our initial reaction to the calm composition might be to contemplate the symmetry of the image and the captivating texture of the curtain that takes up a significant portion of the photograph, providing an excellent nonfigurative background for the shapes of the two women on the couch. The lighter inner part of the two sides of the curtain lead our eyes down to the two figures emerging from the darker shades of the blanket on the couch. As we are drawn to the faces, it might even take some time to realize that the two bodies are in the nude. Indeed, it is one of the most powerful aspects of this image that nudity is portrayed in such a “natural” and subdued manner that it goes without saying – almost even without registering on our perception. It may take some extra effort to understand why the nudity of the figures is not more salient, despite also being an identifying thematic and visual feature of the photograph. The secret might lie in the bright serenity in the look of the two women. Their expressions are filled with such joy and peacefulness that the image simply washes all received – and often oppressively reinforced – social conceptions of the human body light years away. Social criticism is delivered in a serious, beautifully composed but at the same time effortlessly cheerful photograph.