Intimate Lives

Family and the intimate lives of, and around, photographers is often a key subject in their work. The basis of ‘intimate’ photography stems from and borrows aspects of photography more commonly thought as of family photography. Those snaps of holidays, special occasions and the happy times that want to be remembered.

These images aren’t technically strong from a photographer’s standpoint or taken with any particular care at the time. They are to document and remind us of the happiness and the occasion we are celebrating.

However, while many of the ‘intimate’ photographers may use the visual and aesthetic qualities of these snap shots, the emotion and narrative behind the images is a lot darker and not always about something positive. This makes the genre slightly taboo in some cases and uncomfortable viewing in others.

Sally Waterman – PastPresent (2005)

Waterman’s body of work, PastPresent, is a series of images of locations from her past containing actual family snapshots in those settings. Waterman revisited locations from her childhood whilst trying to cope with her parents divorce.  It was a cathartic exercise for her.

The childhood images placed over the same locations, slightly altered through time yet still recognizable, I feel represent her memories of happier and simpler times she had in these places. At the same time they could be representing a bitterness towards the places that were once happy, but are now not because of her parents separation.

These family shots, taken originally with happiness and a positive narrative, now have a slightly deeper and darker story to them.

There is an ethical question surrounding intimate live photography, and whether it is exploitation and if the work ever goes too far. Many of the subjects and narratives in the work are though of as taboo and therefore make uncomfortable viewing for many.

This genre of photography often leads to exploitation of the subjects. Artist, such as Tracey Emin, lets us into their own lives, showing their emotions and turmoil’s. It is their lives to show and self-exploitation is seen as expectable as you can only chose to hurt yourself. I feel if someone is comfortable and brave enough to show their intimate life, no matter how dysfunctional and taboo, they should be free to. However, I do not consider some of it tasteful, namely Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’. I think there is a line that can be crossed between what is socially expectable and what isn’t, and for me, with my cultural and social influences it is not acceptable or something I wish to see.

Larry Clark – Tulsa – 1971

However, I feel some cultural and media influences make work that maybe uncomfortable viewing, and use it be incredibly controversial, a lot more acceptable in today’s society.

The body of work by Larry Clark, entitled ‘Tulsa’ shows Clark and his friends with guns, doing drugs and the aftermath of this. Published in 1971, the drugs and guns weren’t overly shocking due to the nature of society at that time. Though, the fact these were people from a place like Tulsa, Oklahoma, and not New York made it shocking. Looking forward to the context of these images today they aren’t overly outrageous. For me, Drugs and guns are part of many areas of society and the media influence through shows such as ‘Skins’ and what is now acceptable to be shown on the news, doesn’t make the site of someone shooting up or carrying a gun, or having been shot at all alarming.

Intimate life photography is a very personal experience and the effect and impact certain pieces of work have on a viewer is purely down to that viewer’s life experience. This means no two people will have the same opinion and view of a body of work, as everyone’s life experience, and cultural and social influences are different. Even a seemingly happy traditional family shot, to one person, could seem darker and sinister to another.

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