As a photographer, I’m always curious how other photographers work with models, whether they be friends or strangers. The tritely titled documentary People *LOVE* Photos (couldn’t they have come up with anything else? The Naked Eye? A Thousand Words? Look At Me? ), directed by Christian Klinger, looks at three very different women photographers, and what struck me most are the very different ways they interact with their human subjects.
Tanyth Berkeley works in the Diane Arbus tradition of street photography. A street photographer has a number of choices to make in her quest for subjects: do you shoot inconspicuously, as Robert Frank and Walker Evans often did? Or do you interact with your subject, as Arbus did? Berkeley is not a gregarious speaker but her unassuming personality helps her interact with strangers, as we see in sequences that follow her on a photowalk in the streets of Manhattan. She dresses in a kind of New York photographer’s camo, in dark hues and with only a single camera, but the spare arsenal is a way not to hide but to approach strangers with all her cards out.
Ashley MacLean and Traci Matlock (aka Rose and Olive) were discovered on the photo sharing/social networking site Flickr, of which I am a member. They are extroverts with a capital E, as also suits one of their specialties — erotica. I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or if it’s a result of their personalities, but their interview segments are the best sounding parts of this documentary. No attempt was made to mix down ambient noise in other segments, and in some scenes, particularly those on the streets of Manhattan, this is very distracting.
The sub-heading of this segment is “Sexuality,” and at one point I started to get the feeling that the director was exploiting models in a way that the photographers didn’t. It’s one thing to photograph the female form in the nude; it’s another to show the photographers spraying down a model’s breasts with a water bottle. But when the artists start feeding each other raw eggs while topless, you realize that letting it all hang out is just part of the their work. Sexuality is not always portrayed in comforting ways — bloody and bruised bodies are not unexpected sights in their work.
Elinor Carucci is probably the best known of the photographers shown here; her monographs have been published by Steidl and Chronicle, two of the major art-book imprints, and her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. Her work seems to be the most personal of these artists, and the most intimate: Carucci’s subject is her family. She examines her relationships with herself and her blood kin in a way that combines the family surveys of Sally Mann with the diaristic and sometimes sensationalistic work of Nan Goldin. Throughout the simple nudes, even those of her C-section scars after giving birth to twins, are about her relationships. A photo of her crying, snot-nosed child has apparently upset some viewers but Carucci feels it’s simply an ordinary shot of childhood.
The original score to the documentary is a circular piano figure that sounds unresolved. The music lends a dramatic tension that does not at all suit the proceedings. The music reminds me of the tinkling Ligeti piece featured in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and that alone should tell you how inappropriate it is for a documentary about photographers who go about their work with eyes wide open.
One of the marks of a good photographer is the ability to edit. Robert Frank shots hundreds of rolls of film for the project that became his iconic book The Americans. People *Love* Photos is only 97 minutes but, though no fault of the subjects, seems much longer.
Photo of Tanyth Berkeley courtesy Amadelio Film.