It is this exact feeling, perhaps, which covertly appears in anyone who has ever been aimed at with a camera, that has caused a superstition about a particle of soul taken away with every shot.
A “murderous” power of photography is not just sensed, but also reflected upon by art critics, philosophers and, of course, the artists themselves. Since many years ago, when the art of photography has emerged, there has been a fair amount of pictures containing conscious and even straight-forward statements on that matter.
However, the history of photography knows a lot more images where the idea of a camera as the death’s guide to the world of modern people appears if not contrary to, then definitely beyond the author’s will.
The extensive area of nude photography that mostly ignores both the sexual appeal (the main ingredient of erotic and pornography) and any kind of psychological vitality, common to all people, dressed and undressed alike, is of particular interest in this regard. The human body in these pictures represents a kind of geometrical shape that could equally well be a part of a landscape, an architectural element or an object in a still-life. The objectivation, the “murder” of a human takes place in the very mind of the photographer as he imagines the role of a hero (or a heroine, more often) on the picture. The act of photography merely anchors that image.
It is hard to say for sure, who first came up with an idea of depicting attractive bodies devoid not only of human properties, but also of animal sexual magnetism.
In his series “Perspectives of Nudes” Bill Brandt, a Man Ray’s apprentice, has applied the ability of a wide angle lens to transform the surroundings to a naked body and achieved a marvelous result: its flowing lines became fused with the landscape, just like the sea waves, the mountains and the pebble. But the fusion was not entirely painless: in order to reunite with the Nature, Brandt’s models had to sacrifice not only their individuality, but also their anthropomorphism.
A number of Lucien Clergue’s pictures approach Brandt’s “Perspectives of Nudes”. Clergue’s nudes, swept by the sea waves, seem to dissolve in the salty foam: the shapes of the hips are the ripples on the surface, the breasts are pebbles, the locks are water plants. It is virtually impossible to catch the moment when the woman on the picture becomes one with her element. The sensuality of Clergue’s models is the sensuality of Nature; it is above personal.
The heroines of “Nu zébré” (a later cycle by Clergue) are not concerned anymore with their relationships with the surroundings. They are the surroundings. The strips of light, refracted intricately on the surfaces of their bodies, create mysterious, though inhuman images, whose attraction has nothing in common with the attractiveness of the models.
The sophisticated curve of ladies’ curves also enchants the minimalist Ralph Gibson.
Arms crossed, a shadow of a door, a hasty fall of towel’s pleats resemble much more a geometrical dance by Kandinsky than Titian’s naked Venuses.
Guenter Knop has several favorite ways of dissecting nudity. On his pictures female body may be split up into numerous fragments, or caught from an unconceivable angle, or captured in an unconceivable environment, like the paintings of cubists, surrealists and the Bauhaus experiments. Knop isn’t one bit ashamed of demonstrating his preferences in art and never gives in to temptation to picture a woman, simply a woman.
The algorithm of the work remains the same, regardless of the use of wide angle, enhanced contrast ratio or ultra close-up: one must separate the content from the form, change the form and give it a new content.
Like painting, photography has realized that it doesn’t have to copy the reality, even despite their proximity, unprecedented among other arts. According to Barthes, a pictured object and a viewer are connected by a photosensitive surface: “the real body which used to be “there” sheds the emission that touches me when I’m elsewhere <…> My sight is connected to a photographed object by a kind of umbilical cord”.
In his attempt to shake the foundations of photography and get rid of its long-lasting feeling of inferiority as an art (“the document complex”) an artist intentionally excarnates an object of a picture and builds an architectural form out of human material. But the reforming of one peculiar aspect of photography just leads to the amplification of another.
The mark of death, which brands every photo, whatever the content, is especially evident in abstract nudes. The models of Brandt, Clergue, Gibson and Knop live through their “death” twice: first in the imagination of the artist, which dooms the body to an independent existence, and then with the click of the shutter. Photography remains photography, no matter how it tries to escape from itself.