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Friday, August 27, 2021

Something to Look At

Here's a photo.

This is by Irina Rozovsky, from a series (and book by MACK) "In Plain Air," a series of photos taken in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The series is mainly idyllic photos of the park, largely but not exclusively people chilling out. This one is notable, though.

At first glance you'd imagine that the young woman is relaxing on a tree branch, like some beautifully feral creature, at home in the forest, half asleep blissfully absorbing the sunlight. It you move on, that's all you're going to get. My cynical side suggests that, in fact, this is the impression we're supposed to get, we're not supposed to look very closely.

Look more closely. Her right hand is outstretched, resting on the trunk. Her left is tucked under her head, which is oddly lifted up. Perhaps she's in motion, lying down, but the impression one gets upon close examination is that her stomach muscles and neck are engaged. She is holding herself in that position, with no small effort.

Having spent some of my life experimenting with such poses, lying down on branches, I have learned that humans are not jaguars. Not even a jaguar would attempt to rest on his back on a branch, anyways. The secure posture on a branch is belly down, arms and legs dangling, face mashed into the branch. For humans, this is still fairly uncomfortable, and I can hardly imagine a less photogenic posture. In my judgement, the young woman is in a fairly precarious perch, muscles at least lightly engaged to maintain her position. In short, she is posing. The position is not natural, it is not comfortable, and she was not in it for long. She is not a gorgeous panther, half asleep in the sun. She is a beautiful girl, posing, beautifully.

Is she posing for the camera, or just generally posing? Beautiful young people do tend to just generally pose in the normal course of their life. Perhaps she was just trying it out, perhaps she was directed by the photographer, perhaps she is posing for her lover just out of frame. But posing she surely is.

With this in mind, looking through the rest of the series, I, at any rate, note a certain camera-awareness throughout. The general sense that I think we are supposed to get is of candid photos of people chilling out in the warm golden sunlight (or the equally beautiful crisp snow,) but closer examination suggests that while these people were maybe chillaxing a moment ago, they are now posing.

This doesn't necessarily detract from the work, I suppose. I cannot help, though, feeling a certain note of falseness.

It feels very much as if we are supposed to get a specific thing from the work, and that this thing is an illusion that can only be maintained if we don't look very carefully at the pictures. It feels a little like a cheat.


  1. Well, there it is: Q. 'Do you mind if I take your picture?' A. 'Um ... ok' [assumes pose]

    Now try it with a jaguar.

    1. Only other jaguars should photograph jaguars because representation.

    2. "a quintessential American melting pot"

      Be interesting to see if photoland's most rabid nutjobs run with that one!

    3. I believe that they are currently distracted by the Taylor Wessing prize.

  2. Had a quick look through the images displayed on the MACK site. Looks to me that in at least half the photos that contain people, the people are aware of the camera and, thus, posing. Personally, I like images where there is a feeling of candid but you just know there’s something else going on.

    1. Yeah, I dunno if I'm right about feeling like this book wants to be taken as a set of candids or not. In a sense that kind of uneasy ambiguity is the bread and butter of certain Serious Art Photography these days, I guess? Maybe that's the intent. Maybe Rozovsky is "playing with the dialectic" here somehow.

      It's caught my attention, at least, which a bunch of legitimate candids (i.e. snaps) of people at the park probably would not. So maybe it's a success.

  3. I suppose others have also noticed that a branch is broken.

    1. to be honest I had not! I was too focused on the girl. Thanks for pointing that out!