aked and famous
Warning: new documentary series VILE BODIES deals with sex, death and dodgy photos of children. Set your videos now. Words: Peter Ross
The naked woman pushes against the glass. flattening her body. Pressure causes blood vessels and tissue structure to become visible.With her hands she contorts her flesh. pushing it into
patterns not normally seen. Beneath the glass. the
photographer snaps upwards. capturing the poses.
This is the technique used by the artist Jenny Saville and her collaborator Glenn Luchford in the first episode of Vile Bot/it's. Channel 4's new season of three one-hour documentaries exploring how contemporary photography challenges deep taboos about the human body. The first episode — ‘Naked’ — also takes a look at the work of American photographer Joel-Peter Witkin who snaps deformed bodies against exquisite Renaissance-influenced backdrops. Witkin reveals that he had his first sexual encounter with a pre-op transexual at the (‘oney Island freakshow and insists: ‘There's no such thing as normal. liveryone is normal as long as their lives are positively lived'. The final artist in the first episode is New Yorker John ('oplans. who produces monolithic monochrome self- portraits. celebrating his old man's body.
Blown up on a massive scale. Jenny Saville's finished images are a strange mixture of the aggressive and caged. the attractive and the grotesque. The 27-year-old graduate of (ilasgow School of Art is interested in representations of the female body. In her photographs she seems to be throwing herself against the glass as if about to burst from the frame. She challenges the viewer to objectify her form.
‘I wanted to create the feeling that there‘s “too much" flesh.' she says. ‘That the glass is acting as protection from excessive flesh contaminating the outside space.
‘I want the images to push and pull; to operate somewhere in between grotesque and attractive: to ask questions about what types of female bodies are displayed in our visual culture and how we assess them. What is a comfortable and acceptable representation of beauty and what isn‘t'.’ What judgement systems do we adopt when looking at images of women and how they are shaped‘."
96 THE “ST 20 l.1ai~«2 Apr 1998
‘l wanted to create the treating that there’s too much i s That the glass is acting; as protection item excessive itesir contaminating the outside S§3€3C€f tenth; Eir‘ivitie
Part of the Closed Contact series by Jenny Saville and Glenn Luchford
Saville's interest in contorted female bodies was heightened by gaining exclusive access to the surgery of a high-class New York plastic surgeon. There she saw liposuction being performed on the lower face. an experience that made her realise just how unfixed the body shape is.
By working with (ilcnn Luchford. a celebrated fashion photographer. she can comment further on traditional notions of beauty promoted by glossy mags and ads. The traditional photographer/model relationship is entirely reversed in their work.
‘I found the control I have over the models when I shoot fashion pictures no longer applies.‘ says Luchford. ‘When I work with Jenny it is totally different; she is in control and I become the vehicle for her vision and that's what became the motivation for the photographs.’
The final two programmes in the Vile lint/it's series are ‘Kids’ and ‘The Dead‘. The former — showcasing Sally Mann. Jouko l.ehtola and Wendy liwald — explores how art photographers have moved beyond ‘family snapshot‘ images of childhood. ‘The Dead. features Andres ‘l’iss (‘hrist‘ Serrano‘s beautiful images from a (‘hicago morgue and Brit snapper Nick Walpington‘s meticulously staged re- enactions of murders and suicides using himself and his family as models. and could well be the most controversial of the three.
Vile Bodies starts on Channel 4, Mon 23 Mar. 11pm. A book accompanying the series Vile Bodies: Photography And The Crisis 01‘ Looking by Chris Townshend is published by Prestel, £24.95.
Hell For Leather BBCZ, Sat 22 Mar, 9.50pm.
Roddy DOyle received death threats when his controversial series The Family first aired on British TV, His new playlet for the BBC's 'Two Lives' season seems unlikely to garner him many greetings cards either, as it portrays two women reminisCing over a Catholic priest who was bedding them both.
Hell For Leather begins after the two women have JUSI met at the priest's funeral They quickly discover they have a lot in common Mary, played wrth plenty of working-class oomph by Gemma Craven, is appalled to discover that loan (Barbara Brennan) isn't even a Catholic. 'You lot robbed our c0untry and now you’re robbing our priests? It's like the bloody famine all over again,' she explodes,
The uncompromising, irreverent dialogue may irk those who were upset by The Family's blend of domestic Violence and abuse But this gentle comedy is far more concerned With the (OltfllCI between rivalry and sympathy as the two women probe each other for details
Earthy Mary, whose affair began when her husband abandoned her, gets all the best lines 'Brendan came round to comfort me He stayed for a cup of tea and ended up riding me. And I have to say, Joan, it was exactly what I needed,’ she confesses.
Doyle’s ear for dialogue has not faded since his massiver successful sequence of novels about the Rabbitte family began With The Corrimit/nents. The leather-(lad priest is seen only in one brief bedroom scene -- central to the whole piece - as the women discover he had a tendency to shout the same phrase at moments of passion.
'I hope he comes across as very human,’ Dtiyle explains. 'I didn't want him to be the Villain of the piece'
But he insists that Hell For Leather is no tirade against the church.
'With all the ugliness that has come out in the last couple of years about the Church, it is almost nostalgic in leel,’ he says (Stephen Naysmith)
Cracking scripture: Roddy Doyle