“I won’t do any more nude work unless it’s an idea that cannot be executed equally well with clothed models,” I promised Megan back when we were still newly together. Nude work bothered her, not just personally but intellectually as well. And not without good reason. I’ve touched on the subject in my work before, and talked about it even more than that, but we have a problem in the art world conflating nudity for any reason with being “art.” As if perhaps it was just the annoying matter of clothing keeping all of our photographs from speaking to some greater truth, some more pertinent meaning. Grab a pretty girl, show her tits, and bam! Art. Right? Hardly.
The laziness of nudity equating art bothers me on another level though. There’s a lot to be said for nude work in discussing the sorts of things that actually matter, of turning the mirror back to our society and making it think for a second about what it is, and what it’s done. And there is work that just does that, and I’ve seen it and applaud each time I do. But it’s far from being the norm. To be honest, it’s far from even being common. Browse the image sites like Flickr and 500px for even a few minutes and you can see enough glamorous nudes of beautiful people to make the porn industry blush. All in the name of art, too. But not much of it will talk about the important things nudes can touch on, important things like body issues–breaking down the ideals put forth by society about what shapes are acceptable, and how young a body needs to be. Big, universal issues that become clearer than ever once we stop covering them up. But that’s not the conversation we’re having.
So I made a promise, not just for Megan, but for a world that deserves something a bit better. No nudes unless the idea just wouldn’t fly without clothes. And because, honestly, most of the time you don’t need nudity to sell an idea, it’s taken a while for me to get here. Blur Screens marks my first nude work since The Great Chicken Skull Revival ended in 2011, more than three years and dozens of thousands of exposures ago. Because it finally was a concept that just didn’t work out if you left the clothing on.
The blur screen–a piece of anti-aliasing screen from the same old projection TV that Naught But An Odd Tree was painted on–is an interesting thing. It was meant for working on an image project flat against it. When isolated by itself it’s just a strange, flat piece of gray plastic. When you place something behind it, however, things get interesting. The closer an object is to the screen the more in focus it is. As objects get farther from the screen they become blurred into oblivion. An effect that’s perfectly suited for the human form. Because of how we curve, how we protrude, it’s impossible to place an entire body close enough to come into focus. Instead, the result is a dreamlike distortion of the body, a bizarre and unpredictable abstraction that changes in effect with each new body type and pose. Naturally protruding parts of the body–penises, breasts, bellies, thighs–tend to render the clearest, leaving the rest of the body to blur and fade. Perhaps not incidentally, those same parts that come into focus the best are among the parts we’ve come to consider the most taboo. Fat. Genitals. Breasts have achieved a different status, but only through sexualization. Without the veneer of attraction, they take on a different effect.
Blur Screens as a result touches on these issues, of body and shape and acceptance. But I won’t pretend it’s a serious discourse on them. It’s a series of play, too unpredictable in results to plan around. The lighting was chose to aspect this fact, helping blend with the already surreal abstraction of the forms to create dreamlike images not easily nailed down. To add something concrete to them, the images are all perfectly in focus. The blur screen itself, a series of fine plastic ridges, can be seen in perfect clarity in each full size image. The impact of being able to see them in person, to see that, adds a depth to them I just can’t reproduce for you online. The tack-sharp exposure of the screen itself while the form behind it remains blurry and abstracted adds a dissonance to the images that’s subtle and beautiful. Buried in here are human forms, varied and natural. But they’re not just another drop in the bucket. It’s not an empty celebration of the naked idealized body. It’s just a brief window into normal people being playful with their own shapes. It may not be enough, but it’s a start.
Realigning the paradigm shifts