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Prowess

By Saskia Parkinson

Prowess offers a fascinating look at images captured with the ideas of non-permissive photography and a human's basic right to privacy in mind. With photographs from the most intimate of moments, the pictures present a shocking, illuminating and witty perspective of iconic and taboo subjects.

Beginning with the idea of the 'unseen photographer', Prowess presents 10 works by an up and coming photographer. Sex and intimacy is an important part of the collection, presenting photographs of passion and vigor inspired by the works of Nan Goldin and Bill Brandt.

The UK is one of the most surveyed countries in the world. We have an obsession with voyeurism, privacy laws, and surveillance with image captured an relayed on camera phones and social medias.

Much of Prowess focuses on voyeurism and the hunger for intimate privacy. The issues and ideas raised are particularly relevant in the current climate, with modern day technologies being produced and sold as secret surveillance devices in hotel bedroom and public bathrooms. Prowess confronts this invasion head on, as well as providing an understanding to the surveyors mindset and needs.

The Collection and the Process

In order to judge the success of this series, you need to consider the images both on a whole and as individual pieces of art. Each individual image conveys its own narrative, constructing the series this way allows for a more sophisticated overarching message to be developed across the collection. It was important to me to create film stills that conveyed relevant ideology in themselves, whether viewed as a collection or separately, due to the nature of art galleries. If hung in a gallery there is the chance that patrons will just walk past my work. This is not the case if the images are independently strong. Rather than overlooking Prowess, they will be forced to survey the whole collection from being drawn to a singular image. In order to present images that could achieve this, each image needed it's own story that was slightly different from the next. Throughout the images I have presented varying circumstances that connote or, in some cases, blatantly focus upon sex and intimacy. Reflecting upon the scope of the audience that will be viewing the work at MoMA, I needed to create work that was suitable viewing for every kind of individual. Do I think I have succeeded in doing this? Partly so. I have covered a good majority of the spectrum, in that some people will be displeased or off-put by sexualised art whereas others will be drawn to it, as well as those in between. Certainly, I could have delved into further sexualised work but to present ten images that are appropriate for the broad scale of MoMA's patrons whilst covering the scope of sexualised art would have been a great task. As well as this, I think some of the themes would be lost in the works were more focused towards carnal desire and lust.

I chose to work with the themes of voyeurism, nudity and intimacy. I have the essence of each theme within my work. Nudity is prevalent with the subjects across all images being presents as nude, or captured in a bare state. In the closeup images centered around the face, 'Untitled (14 of 34)' and 'Untitled (28 of 34)', the nudity isn't as literal as in images like 'Untitled (18 of 20)'. The idea of nudity has been conjugated in such a way that it is actually represented through the 'baring all' nature of the images. Presenting the theme in such a way offers diversity and adds depth to my work as the themes are not offered in a one-directional way. As for intimacy, it is already established that the action within the series represents the acts of romantic intimacy quite blatantly. Intimacy is also presented through the nudity, it is implied, in the work with the couple as the subject, that they are intimately entwined with one another and have some sense of feeling for each other; whether that's sexual or romantic is not clear. The dictionary definition of intimacy reads: 'close familiarity or friendship'. This suggests that intimacy is not just between people but also their surroundings. Something I chose to specifically work on in Test Shoot Two was that the subjects looked comfortable and in place within their surroundings; a way in which I added environmental intimacy about my imagery. Finally, the theme of voyeurism was a difficult one to present in a mindful way. Through use of varying compositional elements like framing, leading lines and the golden ratio I provide a sense of the camera embodying another person; as though we are looking through the voyeur's eyes. This worked better in some images than others. 'Untitled (18 of 20)' showcases a couple's lovemaking through a partially open door, to which the camera is as close as it can possibly be without fully interjecting itself within the scene. The idea of the couple being surveyed and captured for the personal collection of the voyeur is strong in this piece in particular. Offering an alternative viewpoint, 'Untitled (39 of 41)' gives the same sense of viewing the scene through the voyeur's eye. To further establish this, the bokeh adds a hazy kind of distortion to represent the neurotic needs of the voyeur's ego and world. As mentioned other images do not present the theme as potently. 'Untitled (26 of 33)' doesn't necessarily seem to be presented from the voyeur's perspective but it does help create a well-rounded collection; an important attribute for all gallery series. This image is an example of utilising alternative camera angles and focal ranges to capture work that intimate in the camera's proximity to the scene, as well as offering the opportunity for gallery guests to feel as though they themselves are intruding upon private matters. 

The notion that MoMA patrons should feel as though they are the intruder implicates them as the voyeur, offering a more personal aspect to the images. By doing so, both men and women are offered the chance to perceive the stills through the perspective of the male gaze. This subjectively associates the male gaze with voyeurism, and centralises the way that this art, specifically, revolves around the sexual satisfaction of men.

The phallocentric nature of my work is extremely relevant as I wanted to highlight how the arts show a blatant disregard for female satisfaction. This aspect, though present, could have been further developed. Had the aim to been to reflect this message within my own work, I would be successful. However, in terms of being representative of all art, I fall short. My photography is quite specific and does not act of behalf of all art. To better capture this aspect I should have looked into the traditional posing within renowned pieces from the Renaissance period, for example, and incorporated them within y work. Taking the posing directly from influential artworks, like the Mona Lisa or The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, would have provided a direct link to the phallocentrophy of art on a whole.

All in all, the collection presents a female character of sexual prowess; this is why it is called such. Entitling the series 'Prowess' enables the female to be sensationalised into an empowered character despite her positioning within the scene. Throughout the development of my work I found myself capturing images that cropped out the female's face, like in 'Untitled (18 of 20)', or providing a distorted and blurred vision like that of 'Untitled (7 of 41)'. I often questioned whether this made her male counterpart and his gratification more poignant, I concluded not. After observing the imagery in each test shoot, and this final collection, it is clear that the sensuality of the action captured is only so due to the female presence. I detailed this observation in Test Shoot Three, where I considered the implications of male and female gratifying work.

Despite providing a title for the collection, I have not given alternative titled for each image. I have done this with purpose. Firstly, neither Gregory Crewdson, nor Cindy Sherman title their film stills; as two of my influences I felt I should adopt this feature. Secondly, by having each image blatantly come from a different photographic session, it is suggested that the voyeur has taken images on multiple occasions, making it a regular occurrence. By having the act of voyeurism presented in such a way, it becomes more unnerving and chilling. 

Having completed the collection I wish I had utilised the lighting at my disposal in a interesting way. I worked using LED panel lights and both the flash and bulb lighting from a Bowen Gemini GM500r. Although I am happy with the stills that I have produced, I using a combination of both lighting types together could have formed images that seem crafted with a higher level of skill and accuracy. 

All things considered, my work shows a suitable level of understanding and competency to be presented alongside the likes of Cindy Sherman, Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall. The film stills produced show thoughtful story telling through use of the constructed image with the operation of varying lighting techniques, compositional characteristic and photographic processes.