Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Let’s forget preconceived notions projected onto images of the female body. Yes, I know, we live in a callous time in which some politicians have been elected or appointed to high positions even after engaging in or advocating misogynous crudities from within the stereotypical outmoded repertoire of “old white men.” But the human body at its most basic is simply a beautiful natural vessel for all kinds of miraculous things. Each individual inhabiting each body has many capabilities – thinking, feeling, walking, talking, creating, procreating, and much, much more … surely it would be simple-minded to reduce the viewing of body images to the limited framework of crude clichés. There are many ways of gazing upon the body that are much more productive and comprehensive.
Jordanna Kalman was annoyed that her body images were at times cast into unwarranted categories analogous to base sexual exploitation, applying a rather crude unidimensional gaze upon much more all-encompassing depictions of self and others. Each body and its owner is, after all, asked to and has a choice to play many roles – this becomes more apparent as bits of enhancement are added to our basic natural appearance. Certainly there is also a vast difference between sensuality and sexuality, with many nuanced layers of performance and perception to be observed. And as I have noted before in my review of Doomed Paradise, the notion of ‘shame’ and the ‘forbidden fruit’ is what has led to some of these narrowly-focused misguided interpretive gazes in the first place.
Kalman has reinvented views of the female body by establishing an all-important link between the body and other forms of nature, a more gentle, genteel, and dream-like approach. These other natural elements (such as leaves, flowers, twigs, butterflies, snails) range from the decorative to the purposely distracting. They serve the function of partly deconstructing nude depictions to add complexity – a bond with nature, as well as complex layering with a variety of other elements. While at times partially obscuring sections of the body, this process adds an element of mystery through these added layers, enabling the viewer to add multiple alternate informed gaze options where perhaps previous culturally guided views were more limited and limiting.
A female point of view introduces more subtlety in these depictions and compositions, a perspective that previously had often been sidelined. Hopefully such a nuanced layering of visual elements will also lead to more nuanced gazes and a more comprehensive approach to viewing female nudes, and even those of males. Particularly noteworthy among Kalman’s techniques are a more subtle use of color, alienation effects using reversed (negative) visuals, flashbacks to childhood, obscuring the identity of the depicted person, having parts of the anatomy disappear, and the intrusion of unexpected others into the original image, such as an unexpected hand (or is it a part of the self?). This photobook, well designed and sequenced, is also bound in a manner to allow easy viewing. The project is further enhanced by Jennifer Murray’s supportive essay.
Jordanna Kalman’s work is an important contribution to the process of giving body images the greater respect and artistic stature they deserve, in addition to contributing to an expanded discussion of views of the body as part of an identity. If we hold the opinion that every image created by a photographer is a self-portrait of sorts, we must by extension also accept that each viewer’s gaze upon an image is a reflection of the viewer’s self. I urge you to spend some time with this thought-provoking and attractively presented project.
Jordanna Kalman – Little Romances
Photographer/Artist: Jordanna Kalman (born in Exeter, New Hampshire; lives in the Hudson Valley of New York State)
Publisher: Daylight, Durham, North Carolina, USA; © 2019
Essay: Jennifer Murray
Hardcover with tipped-in image, open sewn binding; 112 pages, paginated, with 54 images; 6 x 8 inches; printed by Artron, China
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