Arrested Santas, from the Smoking Gun
Bettina Rheims, from ‘The Book of Olga’
Still wondering, at this late date, what to get for Christmas? A whole host of men’s magazines suggest The Book Of Olga, by Bettina Rheims and published by Taschen, an extended nude photo shoot of Olga Rodionova commissioned by her husband, Sergey Rodionov, a Russian oligarch. Things Magazine explains the implications:
This object operates on so many levels it’s hard to know where to start. As an opulent presentation of what is deemed quite literally a ‘trophy wife’, it’s the modern equivalent of Gainsborough or Reynolds, portraiture for the post-Madonna and post-Koons world.
But through Rheims’ involvement the portraits also claim to operate on the level of art, an expression not of love or taste (however misguided this might appear) but a statement of the role of portraiture and presentation within a relationship. The pornographic gaze has evolved from the blurred edges and frenzied brushstrokes of Giovanni Boldini, hinting at a hidden eroticism. Instead, everything is on display. Like Boldini or Gainsborough, these images are struck through with fantasy, and just as in the past, that fantasy doesn’t necessarily belong to the sitter, but to the person who paid for the picture.
Rheims’ participation in this has caused the French press to (typically) announce this project to be a major work of Art, another de Sade, and indeed they managed to pull in some serious high minded erotica cred in the form of Catherine Millet, who wrote the introduction. But you still can’t help but wonder at how high minded this project actually is, given that, despite all of the claims of art and echoes of history and literature, this book doesn’t really extend much farther than that initial ‘opulent presentation of a trophy wife.’
Which is really where this would end, if the scale of the entire project weren’t so magnified: The subject is a well known and extremely beautiful public personality; The patron is a member of a class well known for their no expenses barred lifestyle and frequent lack of morals in obtaining the means to fund that lifestyle; the photographer is a famous portraitist, and not one who just anyone can commission; and the publisher is internationally known for their beautifully made art books. Even the price ($450!) and limited edition status marks this an exemplary late capitalist product.
The kitchiness of the images and the cartoonish scale of all of this is supposed to imply a critique of the system that led to this, but it seems fairly intellectually dishonest that the very people who most benefit from this system (oligarchs and limited edition art book publishers) are the ones who are supposedly ($450!) critiquing it. Rheims, in my mind, doesn’t come off too terribly in this, mostly because her work historically has been wrapped in an ambiguous erotic gaze (see here, and keep in mind that it’s a woman who took these pictures), so this just seems part and parcel for her.
[An interesting post script to this whole affair is that this book is banned in the Rodionov's native Russia, leading Olga to claim that this entire thing is a feminist act of rebellion. Heh.]
I guess it’s worth noting, that this entire thing could have been much more explicit, kitchy, and raunchy, as evidenced by a previous Olga Rodionova shoot for Russian Playboy by David Lachappelle [NSFW], which features, among other things, Rodionova being mounted by a Russian bear and fondled by Russian soldiers in front of a portrait of Khruschev.
For my part, I prefer my photography free, uncomplicated, and on the internet.
Roger Ballen, from his ‘Shadow Chamber’ series
This was picked up elsewhere (A Photography Blog, Gawker, More Intelligent Life [who also recently had an article on how the average public is culturing up which is worth a look]) but I couldn’t help reposting this for the sheer bitchiness of the tone. The following is reprinted from a memo that super-gallerist Larry Gagosian sent out to his staff.
If you would like to continue working for Gagosian I suggest you start to sell some art. Everything is going to be evaluated in this new climate based on performances. I basically put in eighteen hours a day, which any number of people could verify. If you are not willing to make that kind of commitment please let me know. The general economy and also the art economy is clearly headed for some choppy waters; I want to make sure that we are the best swimmers on the block. The luxury of carrying under-performing employees is now a thing of the past. [emphasis mine]
That last post made me think of a photo project that I think is one of the most heart-wrenching ever assembled. I speak of the photographs assembled at S-21 in Cambodia, a Khmer Rouge prison during the infamous ‘Killing Fields‘ period. After the Khmer Rouge fell, the prison was converted into the Tuol Seng Museum of Genocide (the site of which remains the best place online to view the photographs in question), where, in an old cabinet, the photographers Chris Riley and David Niven discovered 6000 6 x 6 negs of various prisoners, most of whom were eventually tortured and killed. This work went on to be published in book form and displayed in an exhibition at Moma (a healthy dose of dystopianism at an institution dedicated to the modernist project, itself sharing uncomfortable commonalities with totalitarian systems). Go ahead and visit the site of Tuol Seng if you feel like wandering around all day with circles under your eyes and a worried, anxious look.
Monica Bielskyte, from her ‘Hidden Places‘ project
Monika Bielskyte is a young Lithuanian photographer who will show part of her project ‘A Place to Wash the Heart‘ at Foam on December 12th (press release here). I’m gonna bet that you’ll either love the work or hate it. It’s got a weird mystical vibe to it, and the text that accompanies the work has the feeling of a shamanistic chant.
Wyne Veen, from her online book ‘Romance Everyday‘
I found this link to booksonline.free.fr over at L O Z, a worthy french photoblog. I can’t find any more information about the project (predictably, when you google search “books online free,” you get a bunch of self published romance novels and fan fiction, not a description of a semi-obscure online photography project), but it contains work by Victor Boullet, Tom Merrell, Tom Nichols, Wakaba Noda, Louis Porter, Maurice Scheltens, Wyne Veen, and Caroline de Vries. Worth a look, though the images take forever to load.