Saturday, May 30, 2009


Je t'aime in the shadows, Berkeley, California, October 2007.

In the age of the video scandal, where privately recorded intimacies become lurid public spectacle, it takes art to restore context to the intimate image.

Photographers have used the private image, both erotic and familial, to mine their personal and sexual relationships for meaning. Noboyushi Araki has relentlessly photographed every intimate sexual detail of his life and his many lovers, and the seamy underside of Tokyo's underground sex and bondage culture. His themes of sex, life and death challenge social taboos with their use of the visual language of fetishistic pornography. German fashion photographer Juergen Teller, a friend of Araki's, is also a visual diarist, turning to his wife, child and (very often) naked self to create images that are as sexually frank as they are funny. Nan Goldin, recipient of the 2007 Hasselblad Genius Award, has been called the Robert Frank of the 1980s for her depiction of the attitudes and sexual mores of her generation. In Ballad of Sexual Dependency, she chronicled her personal and sexual relationships with her circle of friends and lovers in the age of AIDS, a groundbreaking work that broke social taboos. Donna Ferrato's Love & Lust is equally provocative. Ostensibly about the sub-culture of sex clubs, it is equally about Ferrato's quest to explore the limits of her own sexuality.

In Living with His Camera, Jane Gallop writes about what it's like to live under the constant gaze of the camera of Dick Blau, an art photographer that she has been living with for more than twenty years and the father of her children. Blau's ever-present camera recorded every nuance of their family life, private, eventful and mundane: "The Leica is a camera for bed and breakfast, pajamas and toast," Gallop observes wryly. "As long as I've known Dick, there's been a Leica around." For Gallop, the cover photo of her sweeping the floor naked, observed by but oblivious to Gallop's camera, is both symbol and parody of the "stock representations of domestic life . . . both serious and a joke."

Above all, the intimate photograph can reveal the threads of love, affection and complexity that bind family members, spouses and lovers, as seen most beautifully in the work of Israeli photographer Elinor Carucci. Winner of the ICP Infinity Award for Young Photographers in 2001, Carucci started photographing her family at the age of 15. In her portfolio, Closer, she assembles portraits of herself and her family that are remarkable not only for their visceral sensuality, but for the unblinking trust she elicits from every member of her family. Carucci's lens literally zooms into the pores of her family's flesh. In a series of macro portraits so close they resemble abstractions, she photographs marks and creases on skin left by pillows, bedsheets or zippers; stitches on her husband's wounded finger; nipple hair being plucked by tweezers; her mother's eye, held wide-open by a Revlon eyelash curler that resembles the torture device in A Clockwork Orange. Together, the individual photographs create a group portrait of a very specific, idiosyncratic family unlike any other, rendered with knowingness and care. "I can't show intimacy in any general way, if there is such a thing as general intimacy," Carucci says. "I can only say something universal about intimacy through actual intimacy. Mine. The actual relationships I have with specific people. With these people that I love."

Noboyushi Araki, From Tokyo Lucky Hole.
Juergen Teller, From Do You Know What I Mean.
Nan Goldin, Couple in bed, Chicago, 1977.
Donna Ferrato, Worshiping Marlena, Lifestyles, Palm Sptings, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, Eran and I, 1998.
Elinor Carucci, My father and I, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, My mother and I, 2000.
Elinor Carucci, Eran and I, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, Wedding rings, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, Mother is worried, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, My mother's back, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, Mom hugs dad, 1994.
Elinor Carucci, Eran almost touches me, 1999.

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