The projection of intimacy between family members and partners represented by the works of Susan Lipper, Keisha Scarville and Nan Goldin. 

By hazel steel 

The projection of intimacy between family members and partners represented by the works of Susan Lipper, Keisha Scarville and Nan Goldin

Since the beginning of photography photographers have delved into the world of intimate relationships between lovers, family and friends and have tried to portray these feelings throughout the work of their photographs. However over the years the portrayal of intimacy has become very sexualized within the photographic medium, with famous photographers such as Nan Goldin and Ellen Von Unwerth producing increasingly risque and often very erotic photographs portraying sexual intimacy. However if you look beyond the over erotic and sexualized photographs which prevail in our society today you will see many other photographic portrayals of intimacy. In this essay i plan to investigate the difference between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy in photographs and how photographers such as Susan Lipper, Keisha Scarville and nan goldin manage to capture these subtle relationships, which exist between couples and families, and manage to portray them to the viewer through a single caught moment in time.

So what really is the difference between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy? And can you really have one without the other? In Rick Garlikovs essay “The concept of intimacy” he talks about how many things, besides sex, can be deeply meaningful and personal to a particular individual. As soon as an individual has shared these precious moments, thoughts and feelings with another person they are sharing a type of emotional intimacy. These moments can happen between anyone from friends and families to lovers and evan occasionally strangers on the street. These special moments between people are what photographers like susan lipper and Keisha scarville try to capture in there photographic work.

The first photographer that i am going to look at in regards to intimacy in photography is  Susan Lipper. After graduating with a photography degree she started to travel around the rural parts of america, where she stubbled across a small hollow in West Virginia called Grapevine. For almost twenty years she repeatedly visited the place, documenting and getting to know the inhabitants. The work she produced here greatly shows the special connection she had with the place and the people which lived there. At the beginning of her book “Grapevine” she states “I found my self myself driven by a desire for repeated interaction with the community and to specific places and events in Grapevine. And also perhaps to a intimacy never imagined before” (Susan Lipper 1899). This shows the bond she created and just how much she connected with these people. Her photographic works produced here both draws the viewer in and also makes the viewer consider the relationship between the subjects and also the relationship between herself and the individuals being portrayed in the photograph. The main reason why i think Susan Lipper’s photographs capture and project the intimacy between the people she is photographing so well is because she herself has became close and intimate with these people, thus allowing them to feel comfortable being photographed, allowing her too truly see how these people interact with each other in daily life, from the special moments shared between one another to the heated and sometimes scary moments she witnessed while she was there.

The photograph below is one of the photographs from the series Grapevine. The photograph was shot with a Hassleblad camera and printed so the negative produces a frame around it which draws your eye straight to the middle of the photo. The soft lighting creates a calm gentle atmosphere between the two individuals, portraying the ease in which they have with each other. The couple in this photograph feel comfortable enough just to be around each other without having to evan interact with one another, which shows the strong bond in which they share. By having the opportunity to get so close, and create personal relationships with these people susan lipper has been able to witness the small everyday scenarios which make up the majority of special moments between people, which in time leads on to a strong intimate bond.

Another photographer who also portrays intimacy brilliantly in her work is Keisha Scarville. Her work is based around memories, transformation and relationships between her family members. Combining images with beautifully written pieces of text creates moving and stunning photgraphs which portray the close bonds between her own family. Upon viewing her photographs you are instantly drawn into them because her work awakens familiar experiences which you as a viewer have experienced before in your own childhood such as meeting new people, visiting and exploring new places and creating mischief with your friends. Her most intimate series to date, i personally believe, was the series “Many Waters” It was a trip she embarked on with her mother in which they traveled back to Guyana in South America, where her mother was born. It was while she was here she tried to reconnect with her family, in which she had become distant and unfamiliar with. Her way of doing this was to explore and shoot the place in which her family had lived and grew up in. “I need to connect and place myself within my family. I wanted to break through my role as the yankee outsider relative” (Keisha Scarville 2002). The results of trying to do this was amazing. The photographs she captured showed the true bond in which families have, the intimacy and trust between siblings and parents shine beautifully through her photographs.

The photo above “Ecstasy” from the series “Many Waters” was produced in 2002. This is a perfect example of the way Keisha scarville captures the intimacy between two people. The composition, the framing, the soft gentle lighting all convey a gentle, loving and protective feeling towards the viewer. Upon viewing this photograph you feel the strong bond between the two individuals, you can feel the trust which lies between them and what really makes the photographs moving is that you can relate them to your own personal childhood and upbringing. Scarville’s photographs, including this one, awaken memories which you had previously forgotten about, and remind you of the strong bond which you have with family members in your own life, which really allow you to connect with the photographs.

In contrast to these two photographers, who desire to capture just emotional intimacy in there photographs, is Nan Goldin, who creates photographs which include emotional and physical intimacy, which are extremely sexualized and erotic. Goldin is most well known for her erotic and sexual photographs of lovers in the bedroom- having sex, sleeping, arguing and eventually dying, she has shot it all. What really makes her work stand out from any other photographers who shoot sexualized situations, is that her work never seems to be pornographic. The photographs always have some kind of meaning and the way they are shot portrays a sense of gentleness and love which is projected onto the viewer straight away. “Somebody i used to photograph constantly said it was no different from drinking a cup of coffee with me. I mean it became an extension of me, the camera” (Nan goldin). This quote from Goldin herself shows how her photographs manage to portray a sense of love and physical intimacy without becoming pornographic, the bond she has with her subjects allow her to witness these moments between people without them feeling uncomfortable, which comes across in the photographs. It is this raw, inhabited and intimate way of shooting which has made nan goldin famous throughout the world todaA year after nan goldin graduated she moved to New York, which is where she was  immersed into the punk and party scene which was based heavily on drinking and drugs. And as always she photographed her whole experience, which is personally where i think she created some of her most explicit, erotic and intimate photographs to date. It was at this stage of her life as well in which she started to experiment in using color film. The introduction of this into her work is what contributed to the beginning of her own particular style which a lot of people have come to recognize today. The photograph below is one of her well known photographs from the series “The balled of sexual dependency” The physical intimacy in this photo is obvious, the naked bodies, the erotic embrace and the raw sexuality are the first things you notice however if you look beyond the sexual nature of the photograph you feel as sense of gentleness between the couple, a bond between these two individuals, a sense of emotional intimacy which nan goldin has managed to capture and portray beautifully. The slightly out of focus effect and the soft glow of the natural light all combine to create a very emotional and intimate photograph rather that a pornographic one.

Throughout this essay i have tried to explore the realms of emotional intimacy and how it does not necessarily have to link with physical intimacy, which many of the generation today think  it does because of how strongly intimacy is portrayed in this very sexualized 21st century. I wanted to show that intimacy exists all around us between lovers, family, friends and evan strangers you pass by in the street, it is the simple primary structure of any any relationship you have. The photographers mentioned in this text have all managed to portray these relationships in their photographs beautifully, through the use of soft lighting, composition and framing. The one recurring factor i kept realizing while studying these photographers is that they all had a strong relationship and in turn a strong intimacy with the individuals before they started photographing them, Susan Lipper lived and interacted with the people of Grapevine for over twenty years creating strong bonds and relationships with the people who lived their, Keisha Scarville photographed her family recapturing the intimacy they used to have with each other and nan goldin photographed the people she valued most in her life. “I used to think that i could never lose anyone if i photographed them enough” (Nan goldin). Proving that there was a strong bond between herself and the people she photographed.  This is the reason why i think Susan Lipper, Keisha Scarville and nan golding all manage to capture that single special intimate moment in time and project it so fantastically to the viewer through the photographic medium.

~ by hmsteel on December 1, 2011.

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