Poses and Gazes

[Summer 2002]

by Jacques Doyon

Evergon, Marisa Portolese, and Olivier Christinat offer three very different ways of presenting the female body. Juxtaposed as they are here, they both encounter and confront beauty and age, attraction and maintaining distance, self-affirmation and abandonment in the other’s gaze. Nude or in intimate garb, all of these women are posing.

They have a relationship of privileged trust with the photographer. Evergon’s mother wanted him to photograph her nude and offer her to public view. Marisa Portolese photographed her friends and colleagues; all took up the game of a modulation of plays on sensuality and seduction. One may presume the same of Olivier Christinat’s models, all of whom are in natural and simple poses, and some of whom agreed to take the game as far as poses associated with pornography.

We are fully in the realm of representation, with its codes, manners, and styles, all arising from the histories of art, photography, film, and advertising. A certain mythic imagery of woman is in play here, with its concrete manifestations and its effects in everyday life: as much fantasy as vision of the self, as much projection as capturing, as much construction conceived for the other as trap and imposed limits. Here, seduction is faced with self-affirmation. But it is also about the real. All of these images are portraits, some of them composed but many natural. These women have names – their first names serve as photo titles – and they look at us. Their gaze is sometimes indirect, sometimes even absent, in total abandon before the scrutinizing, desirous, or curious gaze. But most of them face us head-on, sustain our regard, affirm their presence and reality. In complicity with the artist, they speak to us. They may be models, but they are in no way passive. They present themselves to us to out-manoeuvre our projections, to play with and escape them . . .

To paraphrase Dayna McLeod, writing about Portolese’s photographs, the imperturbable gaze of the model is transformed into a mirror reflecting back to us our own way of seeing. A similar questioning is at work in all of these photographs: a questioning that is addressed to both men and women and involves our entire culture. Portolese’s Belle de jour, with its allusion to the Buñuel film, depicting a middle-class woman who prostitutes herself to avoid boredom, can only evoke the space proper to a woman’s self-definition. Evergon presents himself as odalisque in a mirror effect that not only reveals an Oedipal desire, as Alain Laframboise observes, but also opens, through his substituting himself for the model, toward self-portraiture. Christinat has also photographed the nude male body and has long been making portraits and self-portraits, as Lyne Crevier notes, although in relation to other worlds than seduction: those of the grotesque and the canons of religious representation, among others, including a Christ allegory, published as Photographies apocryphes, excerpts of which can be seen on the Web site pascalpolar.be/repartistes/christinat/christ.html. All these images are fascinating.

Also in this issue, a review of Dominique Baqué’s essay Mauvais genre(s). érotisme, pornographie, art contemporain provides an interesting counterpoint to these images by offering an overview of contemporary artistic practices that address problems of representation of the body between the extremes of eroticism and pornography. There are also reviews of several notable events. The first is the major retrospective exhibition of thirty years of photographic production by Lynne Cohen, a Canadian artist who is well known internationally. The second is the recent publication of Martha Langford proposing an unusual interpretation of family and personal photo albums. Finally, Emmanuelle Léonard offers a radical practice of withdrawal in a large mosaic of different workplaces as seen by their users.