Woman with Clay 1996, Picture Story
Sep 9th, 2020 • Stories
A friend from Quinninup and I had been working in a Melaleuca swamp near the Donnelly River with clay as part of the evolving Mergence Portfolio. In this, and other work with women in the forest, I prefer subjects who are proud of their female maturity. I am open to the signs of wear and aging. As with the forest around me, I prefer women to be natural. With one exception I have not worked with women who are fine-art-photography* models as they imagine that looking pretty or sexy is what is required and need far more direction than friends, who are much freer in their outlook and acceptance of their body image. Professional fine-art-photography models also tend to have tattoos and are generally shaved. I do not work with women who shave or have tattoos.
Clay was as a body covering in reference to Ankoku Buhto and to give her a not-skin texture. The clay was not used for any kind of (non-understood) Aboriginal reference, Aboriginal culture is far too complex a subject for me to play with, and clay covering is used in many other cultures.
The bulk of the images show the subject at some distance and with a wide angle lens, so she became an almost lost image in the swamp-scape. We later made some closer images, portraits with clay-plastered hair and ending up with other close images. The rhombus form, made by tilting the camera sideways at 45°, was to align the frame with her squatting position., giving her greater prominence than the normal orientation.
There is a strand, a Barthesian punctum, at the very bottom of this picture, I could have removed this in the printing, but chose not to. The punctum strand had freed itself from the clay-held mass and it stayed.
I accept this is a confrontational image. I believe pictures of naked women should be strong, confrontational and political.
I will end this with a response from another friend who visited the John Austin Survey II 24 year survey exhibition, and who commented on this image.
". . . And "Woman and Clay" made me so uncomfortable I had to look away several times before I could take in the fluid and starkly sensual depiction of a woman embodying nature. To see the goddess innate in every woman hanging in front of me was astonishing and empowering."
RD, personal communication 2017
Hasselblad 500CM camera with 120mm S-Planar lens, Ilford FP4 film, developed in replenished D76d. Printed first on Agfa MCC, later on Fomabrom Variant to life size.
* This brings me to the current "Fine Art Nude” field of photography, which is rarely fine, rarely art, rarely engaged, never political and despite the subject matter, rarely erotic.
There is also a nod of acknowledgement to Laura Mulvey and her essay Visual Plerasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975.
John Austin, Quinninup
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