Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Scot Sothern has an extensive record photographing and publishing provocative portraits and scenes. In an interview published in Vice (UK) in 2012, he stated in connection with his book featuring prostitutes,
“I hope the book makes the viewer pause and think about the implications of the work; the fucked-up-ness people are living through on curbs and gutters not all that far from where we live. … I made the pictures because I was angry and I’d been angry all my life; I came from an angry generation and I kind of wanted to tell the world to go fuck itself and take notice of me. It just seemed that a lot of things in this country were very wrong and nobody gave a shit. … I think I can safely say I was never tempted to tone anything down.”
And so here we have his latest work, and fully in-your-face, as were his previous series. This time sexual harassment and exploitation are at the center of the constructed photographic narratives. At first one might feel outrage at the form of Sothern’s presentation, and thus fail to understand the messages which the content is trying to convey. This is a mistake often made, when viewers and readers might be tempted to confuse form and content, message and messenger, a customary response in our current climate full of accusations and misinterpretations. My view is that especially in this #MeToo era, a male photographer is to be praised for calling attention to exploitation through in-your-face depictions and commentary, delving into the realm of the forbidden.
Sothern has taken a child-like female mannequin and created a series of photographic fictions: the “doll” is confronted with situations of hurtful exposure and exploitation through others, placed into a range of settings, as a character that is a child-adult mix. The situations covered range from “bad” company, physical and sexual abuse and violence, to other verbal and physical traumas. The “Little Miss” mannequin maintains a certain child-like naiveté throughout these adventures, and is a kind of helpless or at least somewhat uninformed puppet of her surroundings in all of this. She is dressed, undressed, or disguised for various occasions, and her facial expression is constant and neutral, as we would expect from a mannequin.
From a psychological perspective, this makes a lot of sense, as the figure does not age nor develop further throughout these abusive experiences, but rather is caught up in it all, unable to show emotions, and would be expected to be experiencing difficulties regarding her development. In fact, the explanations that the author voices through Little Miss are those often heard from abuse victims, who may side with their abusers; we also note quite a bit of social and cultural criticism in the form of clichés voiced through the Little Miss character: “around powerful men” — “going to be a dancer, then all the boys will want to kiss her” — “have a baby of her own to love her” etc.
This dark view provided by the creator of these narratives depicting social and sexual expectations and transgressions gives us a visual and mental jolt and quite an impetus for thought and discussion. It is my hope that this book, which is a creative approach to a serious set of problems, will generate lively discussions and contribute to desired solutions.
Photographer: Scot Sothern (born in Pittsburg, Kansas; lives in Los Angeles, California)
Publisher: drkrm editions, Los Angeles, CA; © 2019
Hardcover; 54 pages; 12 x 8 ½ inches; four-color lithography
Photobook Designer: John Matkowski