Sunday, April 11, 2010

Jock Sturges' Controversial "Naturalism"


Despite his stature as an accomplished art photographer, Jock Sturges is a paradoxical figure. Although based on a sublime representation of nature, youth and beauty, his work can induce discomfiture, at least among Americans. Famous for his photographs of young people, especially girls on the cusp of womanhood, Sturges typically poses his subjects outdoors, often on beaches where the sand and sea set off the soft, sculptural contours of their budding femininity, which would be no problem if they were wearing anything at all, but most of them aren't. And while photo books featuring nudist families with kids were once commonplace, all that ended as the age of Oprah and openness led to the publicized child abuse scandals still ricocheting through mass media today, making any nude images of children a verboten subject—at least in America. Most Europeans take nudity in stride, leaving Americans to squirm confusedly when confronted with beautiful and beautifully photographed youths who happen not to be wearing anything.

A few are partially covered. In FLOSS ET MEGAN-TARA, MONTALIVET, FRANCE, an older and a very young girl appear huddled in a dark shawl or blanket, but Stuges’ typically tawny flesh and sun-bleached hair are present, as are the contemplative expressions. Some are seen over time. EVA, LE PORGE, FRANCE, above left, appears as a mythic nymph floating in a black and white sea in 2003, and then reappears in 2006, below, framed in a sunny window as an older, maternal woman arranges her golden tresses in the shadows behind her. She turns up again, in a spectacular 2009 image, top, as a mature young woman reflected in a mirror-like tidal pool while a very young girl stands as still as a statue nearby. And it’s hard not to think of mythic Greek deities transported to the coast of France in these oddly obsessive visions of stylized, idealized, and mostly very young and blond, French women at play--even as we marvel at how they function as Rorschach tests for whatever Americans project on them.
JOCK STURGES: PHOTOGRAPHS
Through May 28
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313, www.agallery.com