Joel-Peter Witkin’s Grotesque Yet Beautiful Photographs Capture Private Erotic Longings

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The legendary photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, previously featured here and now on view at LA’s Jack Ruthberg Gallery, weaves strange erotic narratives through his staged images, some of which take weeks to complete. His body of work reads like a love poem to the grotesque, transforming what society deems taboo into miraculously beautiful scenes.

Witkin’s images avoid judging the body, opting instead to reveal mankind’s universal but most private erotic yearnings and fears. In his reinterpretation of Canova’s famously sensual yet demurely reclining Venus, for example, naked male genitalia slip from cover as if by accident, the organ poignantly vulnerable, delicate, and human, seemingly caught between erection and flaccidity.

Sexual hunger again becomes the subject of another image that seems to deconstruct Romantic paintings like Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa, famed for its haunting depiction of dead, drowning flesh. Here, a suspenseful, tragic rescue effort is transformed into a sort of desperate orgie on the verge of climax; a pair of heaving breasts is grabbed like melons.

The erotic, though filled with the dangers of physical and spiritual nakedness, is often elevated to the divine. A shirtless woman, her breasts bared, inserts her finger into a book much like the Virgin Mary in Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation. In these photographs, nuns pose alongside nudes, and horns (symbolic of lust) are merged with crowns of thorns (symbolic of Christ)

The gorgeous set of images challenge societal ideas of social acceptability, implying that the most exquisite beauty is often found in our most frightfully private moments of lust and longing. Within all of us, lies erotic impulses that can manifest in magical and dangerous ways. Be sure to check out Witkin’s work at Jack Ruthberg Gallery, where he will exhibit alongside his long-estranged brother, the legendary painter Jerome Witkin. (via Lenscratch and Etherton Gallery)

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Malika Gaudin-Delrieu’s Touching Photographs Of “A Happy Hermaphrodite Prostitute”

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“Hermaphrodite [sex … is] the sex of the angels,” explains Claudette, an intersex sex worker, to the photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu. The pair began their collaboration after meeting in Claudette’s native Switzerland, where Gaudin-Delrieu was documenting the country’s legalized prostitution. With her recent series of photographs, the artist elegantly dispels stigma around complex gender identities; as seen through her lens, Claudette is a woman, a husband, and a father.

Ideas on prostitution, a field often associated with the abuse and exploitation of women, is also complicated by the work. Here, sex work is seen as a means of self-actualization and joy; “Claudette is the opposite of a victim. She controls her life, makes her choices clearly and knowingly. She does more than just live her life, she loves it,” says Gaudin-Deirieu of her subject. A courageous activist for sex workers’ rights, our protagonist stands before a dark auditorium, bathed in spotlight, silently inhaling, poised to speak.

Laced throughout the work are subtle moments of love and intimacy. The series, romantically titled La vie en rose (presumably after the love song by Edith Piaf, a prolific French singer who was cared for by sex workers), focuses in part on Claudette’s 52 year marriage to her wife Andrée. Claudette’s quiet warmth and affections, seen in her and Andrée’s sleepy embrace, permeates throughout the entire visual narrative; with the same profound care, she counts her earnings, dresses in lingerie, rubs her neck.

Claudette describes her work as “[assuming the role of] ultimate femininity […] with happiness and a sense of relief,” and her nuanced relationship with her sensual yearning shines through in the images. We follow her as stops in the street, seduced by a lingerie shop window, as she dresses herself, fingering the textured fabrics as they cling to her body. Claudette’s life, as seen through streaming sunlight and soft darkness, is magnetic, alluring, and unexpectedly soothing, and viewers are left to ponder an indescribably complex global sexual and political landscape. What do you think? (via Feature Shoot and HuffPost)

Writer’s note: Gaudin-Deirieu’s work and this post are in no way meant to be taken as a generalization of the lives of sex workers; instead, they are meant to highlight the life an individual. As the artist explains, there are as many views on prostitution as there are people practicing it. For many, it’s a form of abuse; for Claudette, it is not.

The word “hermaphrodite” is usually considered to be offensive, and in no way is this post meant to condone or encourage the use of the word under most circumstances. Here, it is used only because Claudette herself identifies with the word. 

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