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Week 1: What is Worth Recording, part 2

This is a follow-up article to my previous one 'What is Worth Recording, Part 1' where I discussed why some photographers (inlcuding me) are drawn to photographing 'trivial subjects'. Besides other photographers great work I presented some of my photographs that serve to me more and less as a diary. In this second part of my article I would like to discuss what else is worth recording in my practice and introduce work of three other awesome photographers. In the previous article I mentioned responding to a feeling I have when taking a photograph: '..the feeling which urges me to capture this particular subject/situation. An excitable feeling that makes me believe that the subject/situation is very important to be remembered.' Now, what I consider my main work is totally different from the work I showed last time, yet I am still responding to a similar feeling when taking the photograph. The difference is that here I am fulfilling an urge to also show my existence through the photo.

Through my work I am exploring my own identity and translating my inner world non-verbally – in some photographs my poses do not resemble much of a human (not in the traditional way of imagining what a human looks like). In others, I am just a blurry smudge slowly dwindling away. Fairy or witch from the woods or an alien landing on a strange planet. All of these (and more) identities are part of me.

I suppose that not feeling like a human, feeling out of place, like a misfit that does not belong anywhere is somehow part of being a human. I believe everybody felt like that at a certain stage of their lives. I have been feeling this way my whole adult and teenage life so it eventually became a permanent part of my personality and left me bitter. Yet I do not want to imagine what I would be like if I was different.

I am a misfit, I am an alien on a strange planet. But I am also a human, living in the world with other humans, and I am trying to find a place where I could belong. It somehow must reflect in my work. Photography has been my best friend since I started taking self-portraits. It helps me to make peace with myself.

Lucie Nechanicka, 2017-2020

The last four paragraphs are probably as close as I have ever got to explaining my work.

Here I gathered some other thoughts that came across my mind in the last couple of months when I was thinking about the purpose or explanation of my work.

There are many other female artists taking their nude portraits. I love exploring their work because I like to learn about their motivation to stand naked in front of their own cameras and to know what photography means to them. There are three women I would like to mention here.

Anne Brigman was the pioneering, if not the first, female photographer of nude self-portraits. The shocking aspect of her work was not nudity itself but that she (a woman) was also the author of these photographs. It was at the beginning of the 20th century when women’s voices were often dismissed or ignored and the typical woman would be a housewife, not an artist who takes nude self-portraits.

In the American West where she photographed, she would use the natural environment, the rocky cliffs, pine trees, etc to pose among them. The limbs and branches entangled together first appear as one.

The photographs for Brigman were a sublime expression of unity with the earth, a recognition of the sacred in the natural world.

- Anya Ventura, Anne Brigman, 2018

Anne Brigman, Via Dolorosa, 1911 Anne Brigman, The Cleft of the Rock, circa 1907 Her love for nature was rooted in her childhood that she spent in Hawai with her family. At age 25 she married a sea captain and together they sailed the Pacific. While on one of their trips she fell down a porthole and injured her body, severing her breast. As a result to the injury she appears to have undergone a mastectomy. This did not put her off photographing herself nude.

For her, nudity was an expression of the self in nature. She wanted to put the human figure “in rocks and trees,” she later wrote, “to make it part of the elements, not apart from them.”

- Joy Lanzendorfer, Natural Woman, 2019

Her arresting images earned her acclaim and she became a member of the Photo-Secession, a movement founded by Alfred Stieglitz. He found eroticism in her photographs and believed that carnal lust is the origin of creativity. But for Brigman, on the other hand they were far from a hidden sexual desire, she saw them as a manifestation of the spiritual.

She was not precious about her career. I like Brigman’s refreshing wish to almost innocently, or naively, in the manner of Huck Finn sailing on his raft, light out for the territory and try this new medium. It feels very much of a piece with what makes her photographs, her main medium, so good … she didn’t give a shit. She was just going to do this thing.

- Alexander Nemerov, chair of the Art and Art History Department at Stanford University

I wanted to go and be free. I wanted the rough granite flanks of the mountains and the sweet earth. … I wanted to forget everything except that I was going back to heaven, back to heaven in my high boots, and trousers, and mackinaw coat. That was all I wanted.

- Anne Brigman, about Sierra Nevada

Anne Brigman, The Spider’s Web, 1908 Anne Brigman, The Breeze, 1909

Only recently I have discovered the work of Francesca Woodman and her tragic story. Almost immediately I fell in love with her photographs. From Francesca’s work I can feel that photography was almost like an obsession for her, something as essential as breathing to stay alive. Unfortunately she committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.

She was born in 1958 into a family of artists – her father was a painter and her mother a ceramicist/sculptor. Because of this environment, making and talking about art was part of her everyday life.

She started doing photography at the age of fourteen when her father gave her a camera.

Her work is known for photographing herself nude or semi-nude. In her photographs she mostly appears as an obscure figure, her body blurred out or half hidden by objects.

The images convey an underlying sense of human fragility. This fragility is exaggerated by the fact that the photographs are printed on a very small scale – they seem personal and intimate.

- Tate, Finding Francesca

Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 Francesca Woodman, From Space, 1976 Francesca was using her own body because of the convenience as she once admitted. And while she is nearly always present in her photographs, it is often her limbs and torso, not her face.

These images reveal Francesca’s talent for composition, for light and shade, rather than her way with storytelling, her tendency to (self) dramatise.

- Rachel Cooke, Searching for the real Francesca Woodman, 2014

Corey Keller, a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art said about Francesca’s photographs: ‘They are certainly an expression of selfhood. She is not interested in images of women in general, for example, and even when the subject of the photograph is not herself physically, one always has the sense it is about her psychically.’

What was Francesca like as a person? Her friend described her as a very intense and demanding person who was almost like from a different century.

She was totally outside pop culture; she never watched TV; she could not have cared less about music. But if she wanted something, she was going to get it. She was the kind of person you either loved or hated.

- Betsy Berne, Searching for the real Francesca Woodman, 2014

Francesca Woodman, My House, Rhode Island, 1976 Francesca Woodman, Rome, 1977-1978 Francesca committed suicide as a result of depression. Her parents and friend believe that thereading of her work might be overshadowed by her death.

Her mother Betty believes, that fans and critics alike tend to ignore the humour in her daughter’s work.

Her life was not a series of miseries. She was fun to be with. It is a basic fallacy that her death is what she was all about, and people read that into the photographs. They psychoanalyse them. Young people in particular feel she is talking about them, somehow. They see the photographs as very personal. But that is not the way I approach them. They are often funny.

- Betty Woodman, Searching for the real Francesca Woodman, 2014

Let me just emphasise: she had a great sense of humour. There is a great deal of wit in them, and irony.

- Betsy Berne, Searching for the real Francesca Woodman, 2014

Francesca was not famous when she died, her work gained recognition later after her death.

Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976 Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Macdowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire , 1980 The last female artist I would like to mention here for now is Viki Kollerova. I have been following her work for many years as I find it very fascinating and inspiring.

In her surreal photographs she is combining her body with the environment. Or she turns herself into a blur of lines and curves, a body shape that cannot be clearly seen.

She stated that photography for her is a way of self-recognition and a way of living. Her inspiration comes from every day life, her emotions and thoughts. She believes that self-exploration is crucial. She loves concept, but she also admires photos that are driven by emotion, not reason.

An important quality of photography is its capacity to reveal. The choice of an object, the way you look at it, the fervour with which you are willing to follow your concept (or the feeling within) – all this reflects what is or was happening inside of you. Sometimes you understand your concept almost immediately, another time it takes a whole year, and some of the pictures I took are still waiting for me to be understood and accepted. It is sometimes hard to accept your own work.

- Viki Kollerova, On not being there – Interviewing Viki Kollerova, 2016

Viki Kollerova, Prisoner Of Light, 2010 Viki Kollerova, Untitled Viki was born in 1984 in Slovakia, she worked as an English teacher and also a model before she started experimenting with self-portraits.

In her practice of photographing nude self-portraits she has been questioning whether focusing so exclusively on herself is the right thing to do and blamed herself of self-centeredness.

My catholic upbringing raised a rather sensitive conscience and I often ask myself whether it is right to do work which is focused so exclusively on me. In other words, I often doubt that this is the best way to use my talents and energy, even though it helps me in various ways.

- Viki Kollerova, On not being there – Interviewing Viki Kollerova, 2016

Viki Kollerova, Untitled, 2013 Viki Kollerova, Untitled In an effort to silence the voices who keep her busy with thoughts about vanity and alleged self-centeredness, Viki Kollerová — „a girl who tried to disappear” — gradually removed her presence from the photographs taken for the exhibition „NoBody” that she did in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, in late 2015.

- Marcel Pommer, On not being there – Interviewing Viki Kollerova, 2016

I have tried to disappear from the world in a peaceful way, realizing that this is what will actually happen when our lives come to an end.

- Viki Kollerova, on her work NoBody

Viki Kollerova, Untitled Viki Kollerova, Untitled, 2013 All these women come from different countries and different eras, though what they share is the self-exploration through the lens. Discovering and revealing their identities in the photographs.

I was told that my work is not innovative, photographs that I have taken had been done and seen before. I perhaps agree with the statement, however the statement is missing a point – I have no intention to contribute to the contemporary art and bring up a new trend. I do photography primarily for myself.

The difference between me and other artists who were also engaged in nude self-portraiture is that they were exploring their identities, and I am exploring mine.

Photography is like a medicine; you take it to feel better. Photography does make me feel better, helps me to be more peaceful with my inner-self and accept who I am.

I would like to elaborate on John Berger’s statement; A photograph is also a response to how a particular object/situation made me feel and therefore I have decided to not only preserve the object but the feeling, too.

Figures: Anne Brigman: Francesca Woodman: Viki Kollerova:

Text: Anne Brigman:

Francesca Woodman:

Viki Kollerova:

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