Another with Megan
Love working with this girl. Had so many ideas to cram into one shoot we had to continue another day; can’t wait to finish though. :)
Megan is a fantastic model and an absolute pleasure to work with. You can work with her here:
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Another of Carson on Vogue Italia :)
Work with her, here:
Or contact her agency: www.benzmodels.com
"Lover, come back to me"
Copyright © 2013 Fox Harvard, All Rights Reserved
"The mask which the actor wears is apt to become his face."
Decades before the name became synonymous with racial segregation laws, “Jim Crow” was a showbiz act—a performance first made famous in New York City, by a young white actor named Thomas Rice.
Sometime around 1830, Rice learned a popular African-American song-and-dance routine that was based on the myth of the “trickster” figure, embodied in the character of an escaped slave by the name of Jim Crow. Rice was arguably the first performer to black out his face with burnt cork, eventually refining his act, thus sparking the tradition of other performers mimicking, if you will, the “black-face” minstrel act.
The primary audience these shows obviously attracted was undereducated, working-class, blue-collar whites. Interestingly enough, on a side note history records that some of the very first black-face characters were portrayed by actors sympathetic to the plight of blacks in America; insensitive as the execution of the concept was, the original actors depicted their characters as bright and witty individuals who outsmarted everyone and always came out on top of any situation. But inevitably as time went on and more people jumped on the bandwagon, the minstrel show took on its more renown tone of simple, blatant in-your-face racism.
The model here, Kelsey, is not actually wearing any special makeup—what’s seen here is simply a trick in the post-processing done by tweaking the tones & hues of colors still embedded in the image after conversion to b&w. When originally viewing the raw, untouched image, I wasn’t impressed with it at all.
But I’m not fond of trusting any sort of initial, knee-jerk reaction to anything, so upon a second look I began playing with the image to see if anything of value could be gotten out of it. This particular frame is from a series of frames shot on my back porch with the model in an old nightgown that belonged to her. A lot of what I was seeing when shooting her in that particular garment (seen in two other pictures here) reminded me of some of the dust-bowl era photography I remembered seeing of working class families, many of whom were black. After remembering this I decided to revisit the original image—which I had intended on deleting—and began seeing if I could adapt it to fit some of what I remembered from those old photos. When I saw how much more dramatic and harsh this particular treatment was compared to the other two of her in the same dress, I decided to keep it.
I consulted a friend for his feelings on the piece during editing because I wanted the aesthetic opinion of an artist I respected, and not the opinion of someone who would simply condemn it at face value for fear of looking bigoted if they did not. The opinion was neither strong on one side of the fence or the other, so again I went against my original desire to delete it and decided to post it instead. I neither have nor had any specific objective or intent with this piece; contrary to the way it may appear, it merely exists to raise a question, not make any particular statement. For those wondering, it’s titled after one of my favorite Billie Holiday songs.
Having been raised a liberal thinking artist, I’ve been following contemporary art since I was a child. I was raised a painter and not a photographer so most of my interest generally lay in what was going on in the painting and mixed-media worlds; even still. I’ve always been fascinated by the number of artists who understandably seem to be haunted (and some even possibly obsessed) with the iconic qualities of negative stereotypes, objectifying imagery and racially oriented or downright racist imagery in pop-culture. From senior Jewish artists who repeatedly incorporated the symbols of anti-Semitism into their work, to younger up & coming black artists who frequently use the early 20th century imagery of racial stereotyping—namely those of the “Mammy” character, black-face minstrels, etc.—into their own works (if you’re not familiar with them, please check out the works of artists like Mark Steven Greenfield, Iona Rozeal Brown, etc.).
Aside from the 2-D and 3-D works of the afore mentioned artists, to those put onto film by directors like Spike Lee, the modern fascination with this type of likeness also manifests itself in slightly different and lesser known ways as well: the “Ganguro” fashion styles in Japanese youth culture, the Hajii Firuz performeers during “Nowruz” in Tehran, etc.—there are many different ways (and many different reasons) this sort of imagery—even in negative connotation—remains of interest in today’s society.
Of course, there’s quite a gap between a tin of burnt cork and a few digital buttons in Adobe Lightroom, but upon analysis the degree of transformation (and even repercussion) can be equally as dramatic, depending the artist’s intention and use.
Admittedly, I’m taking a bit of liberty with the political and/or social implications of this work, considering that intent was not present or conscientious at the time I took it, but it certainly got my wheels spinning when editing it. And just like so many other pieces I’ve done, they quite often take on a life of their own, outside of my original intentions—which I think can be a good thing, as it’s often been said that good art should both comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
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I was reluctant to process this frame at all, at first—not because of the possible sexual connotations, but rather because it didn’t really appeal to me on any aesthetic level—too simple, too “Polaroid-y”.
This was one of a few shoots done at the newly refurbished Peabody hotel for the UK youth culture & fashion mag, Mint magazine. Despite the look she gives off here, the model is actually twenty years old yet appears strikingly younger in this frame than in any of the rest from the shoot. Ironically, it’s the questionably cheap and instamatic/disposable quality of this shot that wound up growing on me.
With the popularity of photographers such as Jock Sturges, Sally Man, David Hamilton, Jacques Bourboulon, etc., not to mention the proliferation of both legal and illegal Lolita-esque imagery on the internet, the wanton way the mainstream (everyone from MTV to Disney) sexualizes it with such fame & favor seems to tell that more people find young girls erotic than American society is generally willing (or ready) to admit. For a photographer to refuse to address this aspect of his or her work—if the work includes such imagery or symbolism—or for a viewer to ignore it, would not only be irresponsible, but enabling a staggering amount of denial.
Producing work that addresses (or at the very least reflects) puerile sexuality—especially if one also makes money from producing said work—quickly and easily produces two questions: first, does the artist actually have anything meaningful to say through the piece, rather than simply being a deviant or a guileless porn merchant? And second, even if that is the sole purpose of the artist, what does the viewer make of the widespread use of such images created for nothing more than the fetishistic pleasure of those who get off looking at young (or deceptively young-looking) girls?
It should not be denied that the creation and acquisition of such works do involve the open-minded who are genuinely interested in the philosophical and conceptual nature of all aspects of human sexuality in the arts; yet I would imagine the greater truth is that the vast majority of this subject’s demographic fan-base is comprised mainly of people who spend their time or money looking at it simply because they “get off” on young girls.
Analyzing it after the fact, I guess the reason this piece grew on me at all is because it seemed to straddle the line between those two realms so faultlessly; its complexity appears deceptively simplistic. I purposely framed it off-center and lit it to look like a seedy candid from a series of personal pics, clearly shot in the disposable privacy only a hotel room so easily provides. Going back and looking at it again, specifically in order to title it, I saw how it could come off as either just an innocent snapshot (that accidentally looks somewhat inappropriate), or could come off as—were there more to come—the first in a series where something horribly perverse would almost certainly follow its progression. Or rather, could this picture be the last in a series where a despicable act has already taken place?
What is the purpose of the lollipop? Was it given to entice other pleasures to come, or as a reward for acts already performed? Or is it purely incidental? Do the hand-prints exposed in the flash on the headboard bode to some lewd and obscene act involving the girl, or is their presence totally innocent: simply a left-over from some previous occupant? Perhaps I’m taking a bigger liberty with this than was originally intended, but still mysterious (and legitimately questioned), nonetheless.
To be truthful, I often feel I come perilously close to making tired and obvious statements about sexuality and femininity in my work, but in the end each piece always seems to have an overwhelmingly redeeming quality that separates it from being subject to such triteness. Whether it’s a subconscious variation in style, or the personality of the models, each piece seems to take on a distinctly unique life of its own once finished. And I have to add I actually prefer it that way; to let the model’s character or beauty carry the work, rather than allow it to appear cluttered with transparent and overly-evident concepts plonked down by the artist.
Going back to the two questions that work such as this inevitably raises, which interpretation is “right” depends on judging the relevance of the social context in which the image is published, exhibited, and/or displayed. If one truly believes that art can be understood independent of these contexts, and one also understands that there is a sharp distinction between the intentions of the artist and the way that art can be used by the viewer, then these works can be seen as a simple depiction of young beauty, without scurrilous intent. But, reluctantly, I have to say that such an understanding goes deeper than just that.
As previously suggested, girls today are hyper-sexualized yet at the same time are seen as innocent and too young to possess any individual sense of “true” sexuality. We sexualize young girls in order to exploit them for money (the teenage Olsen Twins, the teenage Lindsay Lohan, the underage Britney Spears writhing in music videos, etc) and then chastise them for being exactly what we programmed them to be. We sexualize young girls while at the same time both pretending & lying to everyone else that children couldn’t possibly posses their own sense of sexual identity. We grant them zero right to their own sexuality until a magical age (that somehow changes from state to state, country to country), then BAM!!!—immediate 100% liability & responsibility for themselves at the stroke of midnight on their magical-date birthday. It’s fucking absurd.
For an artist to depict young girls in that manner (intentionally or not) without addressing the highly charged sociological connotations of his work (albeit ignoring them) and indeed to then profit from them without acknowledging the way his or her work might be perceived, is frankly irresponsible.
I’m fully aware that it’s setting impossible and pretentiously high standards to insist that all artists constantly remain conscientious of all the social implications of their work, and that is not my purpose. A great number of artists I know are less interested in (and some even incapable of) understanding the social and political dimensions to their own work. The process of creation can be exhausting and can leave one little to no energy for peripheral considerations. There’s an entire range of possible reasons why an artist might choose to say ,”I do what I do to create—let others worry about the politics.” I often choose to address these issues with my own work because I’m highly conscious of the implications inherent in it. But to be completely honest, this is usually only after the fact. It is not only central but direly imperative to my work that as little external influence as possible enter into the creative process. I tend to examine my work, just as one reads here, only after it’s done.
This is because I don’t believe it’s possible or even realistic for me (or any artist, for that matter) to be completely responsible for everything that a piece can encompass. I feel during shooting, editing, or running post-production it’s important that I not over-analyze a piece, for fear of destroying it before it’s even been given life—much less alter it in some fashion that the work doesn’t warrant or deserve. In short, I feel the need to stay partially disconnected from the meaning behind what I’m doing until it’s truly complete.
And even though the process of creating a photograph is quite akin to painting (what with lighting and colors, and layering on other elements in order to create a final picture), I don’t often feel like a painter while doing it. I feel more like a sculptor—chiseling away at things until I find what’s underneath the surface; clearing away different bits until the piece says for itself, “I’m finished”.