Friday, October 21, 2016

Criticism: Eric Kellerman

Eric is an occasional commenter here! The attentive reader will have noted that he is insightful, intelligent, and occasionally drives me insane with rage.

He's also a photographer, sometimes of the Nude, which is relevant to my current train of thought, and he pointed me to his site. So I looked, and saw, and thought, and here we are.

Firstly, to clear away the clutter, Eric is a fine technician, and in my opinion is very competent at executing his ideas. This is not a guy who is missing his marks at all, he has ideas, he shoots them, and there they are. There are no problems in technique or execution, or nothing that stands out at any rate. I'm sure he could go in to detail about the flaws and failures, but they're invisible to me.

Next up, does he have good ideas? Well, yes. Sometimes. There's a fair bit of work that reads kind of like the same old stuff I've been going on about. Juxtapose flesh against other textures, apply dramatic or interesting lighting, portraits, and so on. All very pleasing to look at, well done, and so on. With respect to Eric, much of this material reads to me more or less like a compendium of the usual suspects. I can see literally millions of similar pictures on the internet, albeit rarely such well executed copies. And let me be clear: Eric is hitting his goals here, to my eye. Where I am seeing a shortfall, I do not think Eric does, I assume that the pictures are pretty much just what he was after.

As is so often the case, I must remind myself that doing things which have been done before is a perfectly reasonable, enjoyable, and often marketable, thing to do. It's just not my cup of tea.

Two particular bodies of work stand out, though.

The Box. There's a book edition of this which accurately describes it as a typology. I find a certain fascination in comparing this to other photographic typologies, in particular of course the Bechers, who keep crossing my consciousness (or being pushed there by my wise and educated commenters) and reminding me of themselves. Of course, these nudes are not found objects (well, if they are Eric lives in a fascinating location), which makes me wonder if it's a real typology or not. What would that even mean? Navel-gazing aside, these are interesting to look at. I find that there's not quite enough intellectual meat here, though, perhaps because they're not found?

As I understand it, the essence of the typology style is to show us a bunch of things that have been present all along, but which we have not really noticed. Through repetition, something is supposed to happen. A nude in a box, though, is not typically something we've been ignoring in our daily lives. Eric is taking something already eye catching, and catching our eye with it.

It's still possible that through repetition, even of an already arresting visual, something could happen. I'm not sure what, and it's not reading, for me. I am not perceiving any new depth, and alternative view. It's pretty much the same arresting visual, repeated.

I wonder if some kind of sequencing (and perhaps more photographs) could strengthen this? A typology, ok, but perhaps also a sequence suggesting some kind of progression, a metaphor for something else. I could envision an essay on, let's say, depression, or relationships, or growth. It's also quite possible that Eric explicitly avoided this sort of thing, aiming for a pure expression of form. Making portfolios to suit me shouldn't be anyone's goal.

Beyond that, I am unable to get anything much more out of this work. It feels like it ought to be speaking to me, but it remains frustratingly silent.

The Averted Gaze. This is a horse of quite a different color. The overall concept is very strong, the ungoing theme of the nude woman pointedly not looking at the camera is powerful. What does it mean, specifically? I dunno, and I don't care. The point is that it has a lot of room for meaning, one can read it any number of ways.

Some of the variation I quite like. Sometimes the woman is explicitly averting her gaze from a male figure in-frame. Sometimes she rejects the camera instead. Other times her face isn't even in the frame and we're left to guess that she's probably still averting her gaze (after all, we have noticed the pattern by now). Or perhaps someone else is? Or ought to?

The title helps here, first by setting the theme clearly and second, I think, my posing the question "who's gaze is averted, or ought to be?"

My only real beef here is that it feels a little like a collection pulled from the archives, as it were, and it needs tightening up and sequencing, to my eye. In stark contrast to The Box, the work is stylistically all over the place. Some of the variation, as noted, is great, it lends depth. There's too much variation, though, to my eye, and ultimately it detracts.

In this work we see Eric's mastery of technique paired with a really good idea that uses the nude in a way that is both relevant and potent. If I were advising him, I would urge him to pursue this theme seriously, and pull together a body of work as visually taut as The Box, and as puissant at the work already suggests it can be. I'm not, though, far be it from me!


  1. Hasn't Ruth Bernard pretty much done the 'nudes in a box' thing?

    1. Eric is obviously free to discuss this as he sees fit, but from where I sit it looks like Bernard did a couple of box photos where the box is an accessory used in a couple different wants, and then some related photos with other things used similarly.

      This is quite different from what Eric has done, which uses the same box repeatedly as a unifying element of a complete body of work.

      But I didn't spend a lot of time researching Bernard. Did she do more than the one horizontal and the one vertical on this theme?

    2. Will McBride, too, did nudes in boxes, long ago.

  2. Andrew is right, I think. There a Bernhard photo of a model lying in a cardboard box, and another where the container is an outsize wok-like metal dish. And many many other photographers have posed their models in confined spaces. But I don't know of any systematic attempts at exploring such spaces in the way I have done. Enlightenment welcome.