By Jacques Maudy @ the Alliance Francaise Gallery
West End (Brisbane)
From 10th March 2011 until 3trd April 2011
Opening address by Colin Beard
I’m always impressed when someone gets a body of work together and puts it on the wall with dignity and authority. It is a daunting task to put on an exhibition. It involves a lot of work – organising venues, deciding on the images to show, printing, framing, promotion, etc. – But more significantly, it is always a scary and emotionally challenging process of exposing one’s intimate artistic expression for the world to see and to judge. Art requires that – the profound expression of a person’s view of the world expressed with integrity and courage.
It requires particular bravery to put on an exhibition of female nudes – particularly female bondage in a climate of sexual mistrust and paranoia. And that is what Jacques has done.
The female form in art
Artists have been painting the female form since the Dawn of civilisation. There is actually a genre of visual art inspired by what we call The Nude – and, of course with the advent of photography, it seemed inevitable that the Nude should become a favourite subject for photographers.
Do we need to analyse why the female form is such a popular subject when you consider that until the last hundred years, or less, the visual art world has been dominated by men. Men like to look at women and women generally like to be seen – usually selectively.
Look how many PIN-UP magazines there are on the newsagent’s stands – Playboy, Penthouse, Page 3 girls – and there are beauty pageants, beach girl contests. Historically too – it is the beauty of women that has been celebrated in art. With men it is the power.
In the painting by Sandro Botticelli – “The Judgement of Paris”, Paris is asked to judge the beauty of three scantily clad goddesses. Even the goddesses are asking to be judged by their beauty and by their sexual attractiveness. For the man, of course, the pleasure of the gaze is a strongly motivating lure towards the physical charms of woman.
So, what specifically is a ‘Nude’? John Berger maintains that to be nude is to be seen naked by others but not recognised as oneself.
In other words, the naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a ‘Nude’.
Nudity is objectified and put on display. To be naked is to be without disguise. It is about a woman – a specific woman unclothed.
When I think of all the wonderful painters of nude women like Botticelli, Titian, Rubens, Ingres, etc… All of them painted women as beautiful representations of either a romantic or classical ideal. All of their unclothed women were part of a story that did not include the viewer – the women were looking inward – they were part of a narrative. One exception – I do love it – the painting by Ingres – “Odalisque” – the beautiful and exotic lady turning to the viewer with the most man withering look in her eyes. No one can convince me that it is not a sexually charged glance.
Imagine too the shock and horror when Eduard Manet exhibited his painting of ‘Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe’. Here a naked woman sits comfortably with two fully clothed men beside a lake. She looks wistfully out of the picture, towards the viewer while the men are clearly preoccupied in conversation. I guess the shock of this picture is the obvious sexual implications – who is she, why is she there – why is she naked while they are clothed. Is she a prostitute – is she there for the sexual pleasure of the men? In the background a second woman bathes in the lake wearing only a light undergarment. I believe that the naked woman is flirting with the viewer; inviting the viewer to pay attention to her while the two men talk politics.
But lets concentrate on photography. Some of the greatest photographers of the female nude are themselves women. Imogen Cunningham comes to mind – perhaps the woman who defined the classical form of nude photography.
Now to Jacques’ photographs. In many of the photographs, the woman’s body serves as a canvas to be beautified even more by projecting light and pattern. They are ‘Nudes’ in the most classic sense. One may argue that some the bondage photographs are blatantly sexual insofar as they suggest a sexualised fantasy – a woman submitting to the sexual power of another person. Of course they are – but they are stylised – objectified statements inviting whatever interpretations the viewer wishes to place on them. They are like a ballet – forms that are sometimes graceful, sometimes dramatic and all of them project a symbolic protest against emotional repression. They are more about reaching out for liberation than any gesture of sexual perversity or deviation.
The girl on the cross – a reference to the crucifixion of Christ – it is the great symbol of redemption – perhaps also a personal protest of society’s tendency to destroy that which it fears or places a judgement on.
Jacque is one of our more colourful graduates of the Sunshine Coast School of Photography – and we do have some very colourful ones. When someone like Jacques comes along it is like a tornado passing through – a swirling irresistible energy eager to sweep up every knowledge, encouragement and perhaps – permission to venture into a more dangerous world of artistic expression. Jacques photographs did stir a little consternation up there on the Sunshine Coast but it quickly dissipated.
But then, photographs should make the viewer think – should ask questions and challenge comfortable and preset attitudes.
Jacques takes photographs like these because he can. What do I mean by that? Essentially, he understands these complex and private psyches of women albeit from a male perspective. More importantly he can allow the women in his photographs to project or to create intimate images of themselves without embarrassment, judgement and with a considerable amount of photographic skill.
At the School of Photography we do encourage students to push their own boundaries, and providing it is done with integrity, the school supports and embraces individuality and boldness of expression. Great photographs don’t come from safe places – they come from a willingness and desire to explore and nudge emotional and creative boundaries. All forms of visual art offer a form in which to articulate one’s unique and intimate perceptions. Great photography needs to be dangerous because it needs to ask difficult questions.
It is when the honesty and truth of the questions and ideas expressed – and possibly the answers – find a secret resonance with an audience ready to accept it that it becomes great art.
It gives me great satisfaction to be here opening this exhibition because, apart from celebrating Jacques achievement it also attests to the aims of the Sunshine Coast School of Photography. The greatest satisfaction for us at the School of Photography is to see sparks of enthusiasm kindle into flames – flames of inspiration; of realisation of students own creative potential and of what they themselves are capable of achieving through photography.
There is such a rich tradition in photography, as there is in painting and all of the arts, and it is from this tradition of creative expression as well as technical innovation that the future of photography will evolve.
Colin Beard March 2011