"Eventually Also Add Text:" The Decontextualized Language and Photography of Lisa Holzer

"But yes, but yes!" © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

Post by Chelsey VanderVliet 

I was introduced to the work of Lisa Holzer in March at the New Museum 2015 Triennial, Surround Audience. Her work, featured on the museum's entrance level, behind the cafe alongside a few other artists nearly escaped my view; I imagine it escaped a lot of views, given the location. There were five, maybe six of her pieces on display, pigment prints on cotton paper featuring lengthy, incomprehensible text pieces, swirls of color, blankness. Contained by milky white frames, each print was preserved behind a pane of glass, some of which were marked with haphazard swaths and/or drips of nail polish. From a distance, they read like enlarged pages from the notebook of a creative, aimless teen. In spite of the awkward location, Holzer's work resonated strongly with me; her playful compositions and use of language caught my eye.

Included in the Triennial amongst a somewhat disparate collection of her work were a series of images, all of which share the title But yes, but yes!, where Holzer paired the names of various nail polish shades with descriptions of the hues they represent. Glancing over them, I laughed with my friends when silly names like "Don't Pretzel My Buttons," "bbf boy best friend," and the ever- provocative "My Very First Knockwurst" met my gaze from behind nail polish-obscured panes of glass. *

*Side note: These are all legitimate names of nail polish colors, Holzer did not make them up; in fact, I stumbled upon a bottle of essie's "bbf boy best friend" months ago and bought it, simply because it is referenced in her work.

The titles and descriptions are listed one after another, creating a gross amalgamation of textures, colors, and personalities. Everything is personified, whining for your attention, and for Holzer's attention as the creator of such images. Her work is deceptive, appearing simplistic from afar, yet a closer look reveals a unique sense of humor. Holzer's simplistic style allows her words to stand practically alone, existing within an autonomous space while remaining oblivious to their own meaning and unabashed ridiculousness, hence the element of humor. While the works I encountered at the New Museum Triennial were not photographs, they introduced me to Holzer's practice and ultimately led me to her photographic projects which possess the same vivaciousness that piqued my interest in early spring.

Whether or not Holzer considers her most recent photographic works part of the same series is unknown to me, however they were recently exhibited together at Rowing London in May as part of an exhibition titled Keep All Your Friends.1 Holzer's photographic pieces are enigmatic and frequently incorporate a variety of media, such as text, paint and even stickers, as in the case of a series from 2013. Her use of photography parallels her use of language -- textural, fragmented, and displayed with minimal to no context, like a patchwork quilt. Two multi-media works from 2015 titled Head of a Partisan are prime examples, as they both combine text and photography in a single image, allowing for a direct comparison of her handling of both mediums.

"Head of a Partisan" © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

"Head of a Partisan" © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

While there is an overwhelming painterly quality to these prints, from what I understand, they are photographs of an "open crisp packet that has been imaged upon" with acrylic paint.2 The strokes/smears of paint range from opaque to translucent in quality, and the foundational photographs are abstract, rendering the individual layers of media indistinguishable. Printed on the upper half of each image is the same paragraph, a curated glimpse into Holzer's creative process (note, this is an excerpt, not the entire paragraph):

"Eventually also add text, only a few words repeated and accompanied by fragile symbols of other dingbats? More icing? It's hot. Don't ruin it. They care. They sweat. They matter. Are you? And let them puke! Heads ache...You could take my breath. You took my breath away. Breakfast? My head aches. I'll fail you too. Hold my head, my hand..."

Her overall tone is somewhat coy, inviting and repellent all the same. The subject matter of these works is purposefully indeterminate. Using visceral language, Holzer emphasizes this, providing us with sensory overload -- "more icing?," "(Birthday) party colors gone awry," "tactile drops of sweat," "Let me puke!" Relationships between text and imagery are suggested, yet not defined. Unable to simultaneously process the lushness of either (text or imagery), we are left uncertain of our comprehension skills. We even begin doubting the very materials Holzer claims to have used to create the works themselves. Could it be that those smears of cyan acrylic paint are actually remnants of a child's deconstructed birthday cake? How about the underwhelming beige-ness that serves as the backdrop -- is it vomit? Are these prints documentation of a food fight? Is the food involved pre- or partially-digested?

The significance of these prints lies in how Holzer uses text, rather than what she is saying, which cannot be interpreted literally, even linearly, as the target of her manifesto shifts every few sentences. Holzer writes in a language only she can read, and her employment of the photograph as artistic medium is incomplete and self-referential in much the same way. She avoids the definitive in all aspects of her practice. By removing her subject matter far from its initial context, Holzer draws attention to her use of photography rather than what the photographs are comprised of, illustrating the most sensational aspects of human behavior.

"The Man Who Is Unhappy" © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

"The Man Who Is Unhappy" © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

While the above images retain their photographic clarity, they still exhibit the same ambiguous characteristics found in the Head of a Partisan series, albeit in visually different, yet conceptually similar ways. The Head of a Partisan images rely on nondescript subject matter and grainy image quality to perplex the viewer, whereas these photographs, titled The Man Who Is Unhappy rely on detail and tangibility to do the same.

To get a better idea of what I mean, try this: hold your hand in front of your face, so close that the details -- the veins, lines, freckles, cuts, or scars - are lost. Now, slowly move your hand away from your face until those details are visible again. Make sure not to move your hand so far that you are reminded of the setting you inhabit. Imagine taking two closely-cropped photographs of a section of your hand to represent each observation. Detail, or lack thereof, would be the primary difference between these photographs, however, they wouldn't be that dissimilar -- both would show something decontextualized. Chances are, viewers would be unable to determine where the close-ups of your skin exist in relation to the rest of your hand, or even your entire body. And while the crisp photograph might provide more context, it probably wouldn't provide much more than the soft, blurry one, unless it includes defining features, such as the topography of your knuckles or the life lines on your palm. Head of a Partisan and The Man Who Is Unhappy are analogous to the blurry/clear hand example, respectively. Texture is a reoccurring element in Holzer's photographs, and she uses it to displace us; sometimes it is emphasized, other times it is muted, but muted texture is still texture in its own way.

The subject matter of The Man Who Is Unhappy is melting Camembert cheese.3 And while I cannot speak for the obviousness of this, as I was made aware of it when introduced to the series, the cheese's glossy-yet-jagged topography is mildly displacing; its subtle opalescence mimics oyster shells and pearls. Placing it against a flat white backdrop, Holzer erases its edibility while emphasizing its plasticity. Suspended from the wall, the fate of the cheese is interrupted - it cannot be consumed, nor can it melt or decay. The shadows and highlights that play along its surface are reminiscent of thick brushstrokes, and when viewed alongside either of the Head of a Partisan prints, it's plain to see, the overtly photographic style doesn't differ from the concealed photographic style all that much. When Holzer employes clarity, she does not do it to reveal what it is she is photographing, she does it to toy with sensationalism. These photographs do not necessarily represent cheese, just as the image below does not necessarily represent viscous, yellow shampoo.4

The Pretty Girl © Lisa Holzer (full size here)

There is a sexual element to Holzer's photographic work, as a majority of her compositions are reminiscent of bodily fluids, however it is implied in a tongue in cheek way rather than stated explicitly. Additionally, the eroticism is more humorous and grotesque than alluring or beautiful in nature. Holzer's work doesn't take itself too seriously, which is how it maintains a level of flexibility regarding interpretation. She may mock humanity through her photographs and text pieces, equating breakdowns with birthday parties and unhappy men with soft cheese, but that does not mean she is exempt from her own criticism. In fact, Holzer is very much a part of her own analysis due to the intimate nature of her practice. The squishy, perspiring surfaces she gives us are undeniably humanoid, but they are more than personified messes, they are personified personal messes.

Holzer does not appear physically in her photographs, yet her presence is still felt, not only in her text pieces, but the titles she has derived from French artist, Jean Fautrier ("The Man Who Is Unhappy," "The Pretty Girl," "Head of a Partisan"), that otherwise sound like her own creation.5 Given the lyrical quality of her photographs, language emphasizes the distinct personalities they emit, regardless of whether or not text is actually incorporated. And when paragraphs are overlain, the vividness of her writing plays off the textures exploited (or concealed) photographically. Holzer states that her works “often communicate with one another,” and whether she uses photographs in a traditional manner to emphasize detail and tangibility, or, as a means to an end, as a backdrop, for instance, her work still speaks a unique, self- referential language.6

Chelsey VanderVliet recently graduated with Honors in Studio Art from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. She currently lives and works in Morristown, New Jersey. Working primarily in photography, her work investigates concepts of identity, authenticity, and placement of self. She is fascinated by pathetic imagery, music culture, language as presence, and unease in the familiar. 

1 Lisa Holzer, "Keep All Your Friends," Rowing, accessed August 7th, 2015, http://rowingprojects.com/projects/keep-all-your-friends
2 S. Bee, "Lisa Holzer @ Rowing Reviewed: The open and the opaque," Rowing, accessed August 7th, 2015, http://rowingprojects.com/press/lisa-holzer-keep-all-your-friends
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 "Lisa Holzer Keep All Your Friends," Rowing, accessed August 7th, 2015, http://rowingprojects.com/projects/keep-all-your-friends
6 Quintessa Matranga, "Lisa Holzer Interview," Mission Comics Gallery, accessed August 7th, 2015, http://missioncomicsandartgallery.tumblr.com/lisaholzerinterview


Online Exhibitionism: Exploring the Snapshot Culture and Internet Poetry of Julie Örtegon

Screenshot from the artist's website

Post by Lin VanderVliet

In the world in which URL and IRL realms have become increasingly transposed, how do we negotiate the various facets of online and offline identity? Between the limitless extent of one's image and the limited means of one's body? What part of us is whole and recognizable amidst a seemingly expansive self, and how do we then reconcile ourselves between the (suddenly) interstitial gap of here and there?

The work of Colombian-born interdisciplinary artist, Juliana Oregon (aka. Julie Örtegon) seeks to address such questions. Though not wholly photographic (or specific to any medium), Örtegon's work draws from various social media outlets (such as Facebook, Tumblr, and Snapchat) and relies heavily upon the culture of image stills and snapshots as a means of negotiating "digital and tangible worlds." From the artist's website: "Her current research focuses on the transformation of the self, joined by scrutinizing the ways technology and Internet platforms have revolutionized the way we conceptualize truth, communication, and relationships."1

Örtegon's work is steeped heavily in a language of internet colloquialisms, selfies, and other forms of online exhibitionism, and her website functions in much the same way—as an integral part to understanding the work itself. The site's interface mimics the same lilting, conversational aesthetic of Örtegon's work—with its menu constructed from punctuated faces contained by parentheses which encourage you to click here and there. It's overwhelming at first, but once your dare yourself to click on whichever little emoji appeals to you most, the website's structure begins to reveal itself. It might take longer depending on where you click from, but in my own search I eventually arrived on a page of image and video stills.

Near the top of this page is a series titled "Visual Poetry," a collection of "digital macro poetry created by collaging photography, real conversations and a large array of apps and social networking platforms."2 Each collage is distinctly different from one another, though a few seemingly group together based upon their visual treatment. The collages incorporate various methods of image and text integration, with themes revolving loosely around interconnectivity; longing; inwards, diary-style documentation; and outwards performance. One, titled "S*D GRL THEORY," references the growing internet trend of female sadness as a form of resistance and empowerment, while another, captioned "February in Paris 2013.," digs at a heavy-handed and nostalgic Paris, France. The collage features a dark, lush bedroom landscape, backlit by a pair of French windows.3 The text, "How did I end up here/happiest day of my life/I wanted it to last forever," mimics the persistent repetition of a broken record. Örtegon's words are exalted to a level of intentional cliché, wrought with a diaristic longing comparable to Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain, with its numerous countdowns "to unhappiness." The difference is that Örtegon conducts herself in the language of internet poetry. Images are captioned with excerpts from numerous text message conversations confessing loneliness or longing in place of an absence. The dialogues are mostly shown from a singular perspective, where as viewers, we're not privy to their responses. It is occasionally unclear whose messages we're reading—Örtegon's or those of a presumed lover—and we're left to speculate their context. Many of the collages include selfies, while others feature repeated and fractured landscapes with composite effects resemblant of broken windows or mirrors.

Images from Visual Poetry (2014-2015) 

Sophie Calle, excerpt from Exquisite Pain (2003)

Other projects such as "Snapchatte" and "Tumblr" sample from their namesake social media respectively. The Snapchat images, for example, are grainy and almost garish—where scattered digital noise competes with occasionally shouting text. "FOREVER PLASTIC," reads an image of what looks like a heart shaped make-up mirror wrapped in a layer of plastic, reflecting what appears to be a shrouded distortion of the artist's face. As with much of Örtegon's work, the context is limited—and though in perhaps a separate rendition, her words might read like environmental warning, here they appear more reminiscent of a perceived plasticity of the body or of the plasticity of the packaging itself. Others images are captioned by an abrupt or softly intrusive “hi!” or “hey,” and a closer look at the snaps reveals a handful of to be screenshots that have not been sent. We can see how long the timer was selected for as well as options to save or caption the images. They are deliberately revealed to us and yet by way of being partially removed (as unsent messages), become characteristic of a lingering hesitation. Örtegon's description of the work is to "archiv[e] optic conversations. Captur[e] the evolution of relationships that exist beyond the IRL world [and to] Record the uncensored social anxieties (loneliness, depression, aging, sex, fomo, etc.)."4

They're not beautiful by any means but there is something sincere about the eager sentiment that the photos exude, with their bold captions, heavy-handed text and occasionally indecipherable image content. I recall a similar idea I once casually entertained earlier this year, which was to collect a series of fictional snaps and caption them as though sent to an imagined lover. I stopped because I couldn't stand the zealousness of my expressions and the way the images would persistently greet me every time I scrolled through my photos.

Images from Snapchatte (2014)

Likewise, I would imagine Örtegon's work speaks most to my own generation. That its familiarity resonates most correspondingly with the breed of internet surfing millennials (myself included) who've sacrificed irretrievable hours of their valuable lives in pursuit of online social media interactions. To those guilty of hovering over laptops with outstretched fingers ready to spring like uncoiled mousetraps or resigned to tapping small opaque punches into their touchscreen keyboards.

Compared to many of my peers, I'd never felt as though I'd “grown up online.”  I'd resisted that categorization for years, thinking I could, being notoriously bad at technology and having been so most of my life. When I was 11 and Ask Jeeves was still popular, I used to shrink out of doing online research in class. My hands would get sweaty and my mouth would get dry. My eyes would dart around the room before immediately passing the computer to one of my classmates as though suddenly its involvement marked the extent of my use. I was the same way at home. And when I'd visit a web-savvy, AIM loving friend, my technophobia would shift from confusion to awe as I'd sit back and watch while she'd navigate beyond whatever controls her parents had implemented to siphon off her internet use. We'd eat Fruit Roll-Ups and Oreos as she would gracefully toggle between Cartoon Network video games and DevianArt, casually deleting the emails teachers had sent to her parents. I was the last to get Facebook and Skype because no one could convince me that it wouldn't just be strangers trying to add me or randos looking to video chat.

Those suspicions began to erode by the time I reached undergrad and my sister had started making friends online after our best friend suggested Tumblr as an alternative to Facebook, which she'd recently deleted. In no time at all I'd become just as much an exhibitionist as the Formspring kids I'd condemned as a teen. Eventually, I was on Tumblr myself, expanding my tiny presence radially to other platforms. I'd developed a habit of obsessively tweeting my anxieties at odd hours and posting semi-confessional thoughts online in the form of ambiguously mashed, written composites. I met friends online too, and though still very much separate, my URL and IRL worlds soon began to intermingle—both knowingly and in a way that's perhaps always felt a bit clandestine.

What determines authenticity? And how does a web presence translate to “real life”?

Screenshots from my personal Twitter account

Images and text from FataMorgana (2015)

Örtegon's work poses similar questions as she grapples with ideas of existing both online and off. This is particularly evident throughout the excerpts of writing which accompany her photos and videos interspersed with lines like "QUESTION AT HAND: WHERE DO I EXSIT?," "Geographical reconciliation," and "What is it that I search for?/Instant coffee/Instant posting/Instant gratification/Instant intimacy/Instant connection/Instant arrival/Instant butterflies/True luv."5 From one perspective these might appear as criticisms inciting the dangers of living a disembodied life, however their intention seems less decisive and prophetic than that. In fact, Örtegon's theme of negotiating aspects of self through digital performance is one which bears relevancy to larger conversations pertaining to the online exhibition of self. This topic is explored in Julie Levin Russo's 2010 essay, "Show Me Yours: Cyber-Exhibitionism from Perversion to Politics." Though written half a decade ago (somewhere between the advent of Tumblr and Snapchat) and with its centralized focus being on LiveJournal and the popular Webcam site, JenniCam (which spanned from 1996-2003), Russo's argument is applicable to much of Örtegon's work and the sentiment which runs behind it—namely, that in discussing what she refers to as “cyber-exhibtionism,” Russo challenges the doomsday prophesies "tied to a dubious faith in the bygone sanctity of the private sphere as the insular and stable domain of healthy subjectivity."6 In other words, where Örtegon's work is rife with details of performative personal intimacies, its authenticity is by no means compromised as a result.

Most exemplary of this is FataMorgana, which takes its name from the Italian phrase referring to a type of horizon dwelling mirage originally believed to lure sailors to their deaths.7 The image can be inverted, right-side up, or repeatedly layered, most often to the point of being incomprehensible.8 Fittingly, Örtegon's work of the same name mimics this disorientation. The work is a web-based page interspersed with images, text, and embedded videos, in which you scroll through a series of numbered parts. At the bottom is a link to a live-streamed compilation and performance of the piece, narrated by Örtegon. She begins by declaring that she is "giving [herself] many lives by reproducing [her] image" before proceeding into a discussion of ephemerality and tangibility.9 She then states "THROUGH YOUR EYES/THROUGH THE RETINAL THRESHOLD/I GIVE SO MUCH/I GIVE SO MUCH INFORMATION/BUT THAT'S HOW I PROTECT MYSELF."10 This is a belief which runs concurrent to that of Russo's argument, which seeks to dismantle an attractive but otherwise pessimistic viewpoint, narrowly dismissive of the ways in which exhibiting oneself online can be subversive.11 According to Russo, such arguments as those espoused by theorist Paul Virilio, while acknowledging of a culture saturated by images and videos,"grossly inflates technological capabilities and the uniformity of their adoption without engaging with existing technologies and their particular uses and discourses."12

Images and text from FataMorgana (2015)

That Örtegon herself has had to respond to such criticisms as they might relate to the impact or perceived sincerity of her work appears hinted at within portions of FataMorgana, which weaves itself into its own manifesto/artist statement in proceeding paragraphs and images. The most crucial is where Örtegon confesses the words of a "wise artist" who once advised her by saying it's common for young artists to be consumed with identity and that "it's critical to 'get it out of the system' to be able to step into an ampler understanding that will facilitate the understanding of one's mind and work."  The subtext behind this advice is that it implies that Örtegon's approach is only a preliminary advance towards the pursuit of the "real issues" worth exploring. But FataMorgana is worth more than the mere sum of it's parts, which additionally consists of a detailed record of geographic environments “according to FB," a supposedly revealed "current location," and blue and grey poem (shown below) which states that "I feel like I could brush my whole self away with a scowl and an handwave." A few more scrolls and you've reached a reflected self-portrait from old an Sylvania television screen, which reads "I exist in your bedroom eyes." These are more than just self-inflicted incitements of narcissism. They are heartfelt questions of how to exist and behave, not so much posed by, but rather revealed in a world where privacy is no longer sacred and sanctified.

Text from FataMorgana (2015)

The ultimate strength behind Örtegon's work lies in its potential to unearth. In its ability not just to display, but to also expose the subtle intricacies, longings, and pangs of existential realness that plague the human condition. Örtegon succeeds in communicating those frustrations which live without a name but still persist just as powerfully in spite. In relentlessly providing evidence of her own existence through the distribution of photos, locations, and written confessions, and well as repeatedly asking questions of where and how she exists - questions which frighteningly, yield no answer when asked - Örtegon synthesizes a meeting point - a place of validation, where such anxieties as those pertaining to the self and the construct of identity can legitimately reside.

Lin VanderVliet recently graduated with Honors in Studio Art from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. Her work seeks to promote a sense of  underlying anxiety by combining photographs with typed text. Reoccurring themes include: a fascination with performance, absurdity, the uncanny, and expressions of personal catharsis. Currently, she lives in New Jersey.

1 http://mjortegon.weebly.com/fatamorganaortegon.html
2 Ibid.
3 Ava Tunnicliffe, "Artist Audrey Wollen on the Power of Sadness," Nylon, last modified July 20, 2015
5 http://mjortegon.weebly.com/fatamorganaortegon.html
6 Julie Levin Russo, “Show Me Yours: Cyber-Exhibitionism from Peversion to Politics,” Camera Obscura 25, no. 1 (2010): 133.
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fata_Morgana_(mirage)
8 Ibid. 
9 http://mjortegon.weebly.com/fatamorganaortegon.html
10 Ibid.
11 Julie Levin Russo, 133.
12 Julie Levin Russo, 134.
13 http://mjortegon.weebly.com/fatamorganaortegon.html


Closed-Eye Photo

Post by Anna Hegelson

I can't help myself.

I am drawn to stacks of surrendered photographs sitting in baskets at flea markets, under dirty sheets at garage sales, or in flat files at antique shops. Searching through family portraits, "autographed" Elvis headshots, and authentic portraits of Jesus Christ in all his blonde, blue-eyed glory is a crap-shoot but it can also be exhilarating.  On my best digging days I feel intoxicated by the strange and wonderful things people have decided to capture and immortalize; on the worst of days I think about all the wasted time, chemicals, paper, money, and effort gone into preserving a memory or celebrating a moment only to end up as one more thing to deal with after someone dies. As I search through these stacks I am not looking for anything in particular, but I know it when I see it. I feel a gut reaction, a laugh, a WTF.

My response to this photograph came gradually. First I was pulled in by the rich, faded grays only possible from a century or more of sunlight on silver gelatin. Next it was the clothes: the starched white collars and slicked-back hair parted in the middle. The lace collars and velvety looking dresses. The sweetness of the subjects poses also drew me in: the closeness of bodies, casual arms draped over relaxed knees. Then, I noticed their eyes, or rather, their eyelids. As my own eyes moved from face to face my gaze was not returned but instead met with eyelid after tender eyelid.

And this is when it became a WTF.

Why, why was every single person closing his or her eyes? Clearly this was choreographed, right? The photographer directed everyone to close his or her eyes as some sort of joke. Maybe, given the Victorian interest in photographing the recently deceased, it was some kind of twisted joke. ("Hey, everyone! Pretend you're a corpse!") Considering the standard photographic technique of the late 1800s required at least a five-minute exposure, then lugging film cassettes back to the darkroom, processing each negative one at a time, letting them dry, creating a contact print for each sheet, reviewing, selecting, enlarging, and finally printing the selected image, this would have been a rather expensive and time-consuming joke: all in all, at least a one- or two-day venture.

Maybe this photograph was an error. Perhaps the shutter was open when the photographer thought it was closed.  Maybe the photographer instructed everyone to relax their eyes because they would not be allowed to blink once the shutter was open. Maybe she didn't realize her mistake until reviewing the negative in the darkroom, squinting in the red light and cursing into the darkness.

There is a certain tenderness, a vulnerability to this particular pose that I am also drawn to. There is an intimacy in seeing someone with his or her eyes closed. This is how we see the person laying in bed across from us, or the person we sing to sleep at night. People you trust and who trust you, people who are unguarded around you.

This brings to mind the Punctum, the concept made famous by Roland Barthes in his raw and strange little book, Camera Lucida. I have to admit, it took me a while to come around to Barthes. But the odd connection I felt to all these inward-gazing eyes got me thinking about the Punctum again. Barthes chose this Latin word, meaning to prick, punctuate, or mark with a pointed instrument, to describe the unexplainable emotional connection to certain photographs--a personal connection that stands in contrast to the Studium. Studium refers to a general study or interest in a particular photograph. The Studium of the closed-eye photo is due to my general historical interest in Victorian culture. The more slippery, elusive, and personal nature of Punctum is what gives a particular photograph an emotional, versus an intellectual, charge. This is why photographs are more than just historical documents, why they connect us to the very core of what it is to be human. According to Barthes this has to do with our relationship to mortality. Bound up in photography's history is a shifting of consciousness around death. The idea that a person's likeness could be separated from their mortal body, that we could look at a loved one after they'd died, signaled a profound shift in the way we experience life itself. For Barthes, the awareness of his likeness being separated from his body makes the act of being photographed extremely uncomfortable.
 I (Barthes) do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares). In terms of image-repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis). (13).
Also bound up in the history of photography is the ongoing struggle to understand time, to understand what a moment actually is. There is something about this closed-eye photograph that brings me closer to what Barthes tries to elucidate here:
What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once. The photograph always leads to the corpus it is the absolute Particular, the sovereign Contingency, matte and somehow stupid, the This, in short what Lacan calls the Tuche, the Occasion, the Encounter, the Real….the fact of being thus of being so. (4).
So I will continue searching through stacks of rejected photographs, seeking more closed eyes, another jolt of mortality, another way to understand what it means to be human and experience time-hey look it's Elvis!


Anna Helgeson is curious. Curious about the ever-present past, how fantasies become common sense, cultural erasure and how we decide what is funny. Using performance, photography and words she invites you along to explore the absurd and splendid within these questions.

Helgeson has staged performances, hung photographs and created installations throughout the United States including exhibitions at Work Gallery (Detroit, MI), The Milwaukee Art Museum, Lucky Star Gallery (Milwaukee, WI), UW Milwaukee Union Gallery and Rose Street Gallery (Burlington, VT).   She has also presented papers about queering art for The Queer Studies Conference hosted by UNC, Asheville, and lectured on topics of race and whiteness at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Milwaukee School of Art and Design, and is featured on the website companion to “Reframing Photography; Theory and Practice” (Routledge Press). 

Helgeson received her BA from Ripon College and her MFA (Cum Laude) from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.  She currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina and works for the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design.

Works Cited
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. Hill and Wang The Noonday Press, New York, 1980. Print.