William.A.Ewing’s The Body. Photoworks of the Human Form
The Body navigates the shoals and rapids of an aesthetically
and politically loaded topic, and manages not only to survive the journey but also to shed substantial light on how photographers
have used the human figure for a variety of pictorial purposes through more than 150 years
New York Times Book Review
The book was given to my partner recently to provide some inspiration for artwork, when taking a flick through out of curiosity I found myself mesmerised, disturbed and equally as poised with pen with some new ideas concerning characters and themes suggested in these powerful images.
The Body is regarded as one of the most powerful photographic books in recent times. Working with both male and female forms, the pictures span a history of 19th century erotica to the sexual politics of the early 21st century.
Images of the body have always intrigued, attracted and obsessed us, but photography has intensified our obsessions. Thames and Hudson
Why? We are on a never ending journey to understand the self and our most basic of desires. Our sexual attractions are sometimes so repressed in our lives, or dressed up or hidden, that when we are faced with brutal open displays of the nude form, we are bowled over by our own detachment from this nature.
In the age of the super-model and the super-athlete consciousness of both the private and the public body has achieved a new immediacy. Thomas and Hudson
Photography made be the antidote to our heightened delusions regarding the political and sociological attitudes that cloud and hinder our relationships with the human form. Our understanding of the body has been induced into a toxic concoction of our political assassinations assigned with stereotypical connotations of gender, and in turn have produced discordant and under evolved perceptions of sex.
To strip the human form bare as it were, is to strip ourselves of the traps we have constructed for ourselves in this area, and return to an honest perception that may offer us a refreshing angle in which to observe human anatomy and our own bodies.
Below are some of my favourite images from Ewing’s collection
Fragments: the body in part
This close up makes me feel very vulnerable, open to attack. Upon looking at it my throat clenches and feels very tight as if I am being suffocated. The poise of the muscles here is spectacular and powerful. I find this image beautiful.
This image unnerves and unsettles me, this I am sure due to the contortioned position of the woman’s body. Her facial expression appears almost unnatural and yet I am transfixed with the juxtapositions I see in this image; one half of the body is reserved in its position; while the other half is reaching out and the scream on the woman’s face to me expresses the idea of something trying to break free.
Eros: the body as an object of sexual desire
A thousand hungry eyes are bending over the peepholes of the stereoscope as though they were the attic windows of the infinite.
And do not imagine that it was only children on their way back from school who took pleasure in these follies; everyone was infatuated with them.
Evocative and sensual in the appearance of silk gliding over and indeed becoming the skin’s surface. Explicit imagery, but this one also attempts to demonstrate an idea of while you show one things, something else becomes hidden. Points to the suggestive nature of sexual exploration and the discoveries one makes when interacting with human anatomy.
Estrangement: the oppressed and victimised body
Mankind which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympic gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that is can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.
Though the subject of this piece is disturbing, I see no evidence of horror in the expression of the body depicted. It’s face is woeful and saddening. It captures me because contained in this jar is a sense of desperation at the distorted being, the skin falling from the subject as the body sags in response to the loss of life built to sustain it.
(Who killed the son of his boss and was therefore crucified)
A direct juxtaposition to the previous image, this one is brutal. The painful death depicted above shows the cruelty and violence humans are able to inflict upon one another. Not only do we hurt, but we punish; demonstrating the desire in our psyche to inflict pain and hurt upon the human body to satisfy our own needs.
Politic: the body as a site of contested meaning and value
The body is a highly contested site – its flesh is both the recipient and source of desire, lust and hatred. Daina Augaitis
William Ewing – All photographs of the body are potentially ‘political’, in as much as they are used to sway our opinions or influence our actions. In this regard, an advertising image is political as the most blatant form of propaganda.
The presentation of the female body and the associations and links it has been paired with over the centuries, have become entrenched in the patriarchal representation of western ideology. The portrayal of female nudity; whether rebuking, criticising or encouraging stereotypical gender roles humanity has created, is one of the most controversial political subjects in visual culture.
Images are used to highlight the differences observed in the many kinds of bodies walking this earth, and with them our attitudes, discriminations, tolerances and acceptances are also depicted; opening commentary on the issues within our society.
Metamorphosis: the body transformed
All photographs, however ‘real’ they appear, involve radical transformations, dramatically so where the scale, the cropping of the frame, and the compression of space into two dimensions are concerned. William Ewing
Aesthetically I find this piece to be stunning, silky in composure and the shapes created by the curve of skin against the black background is sensuous. Gently provocative and with a powerful, yet not brash posture. This piece embodies strength and the beauty of that quality.
Mind: the body in the realm of dream, fantasy and obsession
Must the body exist to be photographed? Some invent bodies at will, coaxing them out of the chemistry and optics of the medium., fabricating them from parts of dolls, or piecing them together from reproductions scavenged from magazines or postcards. William Ewing