Standing in front of a photograph in the 21st century no longer means asking “What am I seeing?”, it is no longer the subject who interrogates the image by scrutinizing visual clues that reveal the message that the author carefully “encrypted” behind thin layers of symbols and codes. Faced with contemporary photography, the spectator becomes an active subject, whose expectations are challenged in order to make sense of the work of art from their own experience. It’ll be that or nothing.
In the work “Drapes”, the artist Eva Stenram proposes a visual game of presence and absence in which the desires of the spectator will complete the reading of the image beyond the appearance. Based on photographs and “found” negatives from the 1960s -mainly from the so-called “adult” magazines, such as the American Cavalcade- that represent women posing in what could be a domestic environment or a photographic studio, the author has manipulated in the darkroom or through Photoshop, digitally extending the curtains present in the background so that they hide a good part of the model’s body.
The alteration of the photograph allows the viewer to become aware of the environment in which the original scene takes place; the imbalance between the foreground and the background created by the woman’s body in the original composition is compensated for by the disappearance of a large part of the figure behind the curtain. The resulting image normally shows the woman’s legs, in which one guesses a pose with an intense sensual charge, ready to be explored by the fetishistic gaze of a male spectator who ironically overlooks the visual incongruities of the image in search of his/her erotic reward.
It is evident that the visual inconsistency of the composition – the rigidity of the digitally added curtains that do not conform to the body of the woman hiding behind them – makes explicit Stenram’s renunciation of creating an illusory and credible appearance, and thus vindicating the position of the woman against the male visual exploitation, which has turned the female body into an exploration territory for desire. By dismembering this representation of the female body, she dismantles the object of machista desire and confronts the spectator with a kind of emotional instability.
In an interview published in LensCulture, the author acknowledges the influence of the work “Femme Maison” by French author Louise Bourgueois, in which a woman’s head is hidden in a house, leaving her naked body exposed and vulnerable, in a clear allusion to what the American activist Betty Friedman called in the 1960s “the nameless problem” that relegated the role of women to that of wives and mothers alien to everything that happened outside the home. In the images from that time that Stenram uses as the source of her work, we see women being photographed in domestic environments, perhaps not to disturb the desires and aspirations of the male public.
Eva Stenram’s work confirms the hypothesis with which this article began, questioning through manipulation the indexical value of the image produces a rupture with reality, and the informative and documentary function is replaced (subverted) by a notion closer to the thesis of surrealism, which connects the viewers with elements of his own subconscious, where he has to direct his “gaze” to understand the image before him.