Experience

Trash for People: 5 Most Provocative Photographers

Vise-gripped penises, hanged pigs, furry arm-pits and pornographic self-portraits: Alena Datsko is trying to analyse why Arthur Tress, Roger Ballen and and other provocative photographers are interested in all that stuff and even more and what can be so appealing about their art.

Life chronicles of gay people, transvestites, normal people making love, taking showers and dying of AIDS while totally ignoring the camera that is following them about. Total absence of glamour, beautiful light and composition. Just raw reality with moles on buttocks and shaved male ankles.

A major part of Nan Goldin’s photographs are a study of love. The way it sometimes turns out to be: with sperm, violent sex, mutual abuse, and commitment to empty your lover’s night pot until the day of their death.

Nan Goldin shoots the most intimate moments: erections, sexual intercourse, aloofness that comes right after sex. But she does it in a very intimate way: she sits down on the edge of their bed to take close-up pictures of her subjects.

This degree of openness is only possible if the model totally trusts the photographer. Nan’s friends knew that she would never publish their pictures without their explicit consent. That’s why they never tried to escape, to hide from the omnipresent camera.

Nan is only interested in feelings. That’s why when you find in her photographs a likelihood of a good composition or interesting light, you get all excited about it. For those are rare treasures.

Golding is indiscrete in an almost cruel way. She does not spare moral prejudices of the beholder. Sometimes she makes you feel like putting a blanket over two naked guys messing on a bed. Or ask a lesbian with bushy armpits to get dressed.

Photographers normally cut dirt out of the frame or at least try to somehow embellish it. But Nan Goldin’s photographs remind us that the salty sweat caused by passionate sex and a medicine-smelling farewell kiss are probably what love really is about.


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Fun porn shots with his own participation, sex coercion in exchange for The Vogue cover shots – this is Terry all over. He contributes for major fashion magazines and trademarks while shooting whoever and with whatever kind of camera he choses. During his photo shoots he offers his models drinks and is usually the first one to start undressing to make them feel more at ease.

Sex is the most important thing for Terry in the shooting process. And sex can be shot with any kind of camera and with any light – the result is guaranteed to be cool. Under condition that the camera is not too heavy to prevent the participants from managing to do a blow job to the photographer. So Richardson always has a compact cam on him – just in case.

To him all women are sex-craving females. So he tries to get that furious sexuality out, strip it out of clothing and ideas of what well-brought up girls behave like. Of course many people are jealous of Terry who created the world where he is the King and everyone else is his subject with a tendency to fuck in front of the camera.

Sometimes his rivals’ treachery works and Richardson loses some of his contacts with magazines and fashion brands like the Vogue and H&M. Nonetheless, millions of fans and his faithful friends Miley Sirus, Chloe Sevigny and Jared Leto are a guarantee that Richardson will stay in business while he breathes. So if you need to shake your boobs in front of a camera, show off your weirdness and get someone scandalised you know the expert.

And yes, if you have to be an outrageous photographer, you have to do it Terry Richardson’s way – with the whole world as a practicing ground and unshakable immunity to public opinion.


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Jürgen Teller is a funny guy who proudly shows off a pot belly in his selfies, shoots ‘amateur’ commercials, makes expensive top models lye around in the middle of a road at the outskirts of Kiev and makes of a 47-year-old mummy pose for Death.

You should fall in love with Jürgen Teller for the mere fact that he rehabilitates any amateur shots you have ever taken. No matter if they are boring and honestly lousy. If you are taking a picture of something that appeals to your person it has by no means to remain in history.

If you get it, this opens a whole world of possibilities for growth. There are no rules. No boring or interesting themes. There is just the eye, the heart and the camera.

Teller’s amazing humour lets him make a joke out of everything and anything. A gaping zombie-like dressed-up top model. Or a naked Kate Moss in a dirty garden wheelbarrow. Or a mom in a croc’s mouth, that’s so hilarious, haha!

Teller can even be funny around death. So you should keep it in mind: if you are really afraid of something, you need to laugh it off – by making a photo joke about it. Then the fear will crawl, whining piteously, back into the subconsciousness.

And what can be funnier than the pushed-up by the silly commercials image of the modern manhood? Marketers sell us the idea that one has to smell of a good perfume, show off pronounced muscles and be a vegetarian. Does he, really? Jürgen Teller saves the world by showing the truth about the cool man.

This ability to break stereotypes brings Teller a substantial income. He shoots ‘trashy’ commercials fro Luis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss. That is, for everybody who has enough money to hire Teller and has enough courage to let him shoot the way he wants – and not “so it looks nice and expensive”.


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Penises gripped in a vise or balancing on bicycle cogwheels. Children stuck in sand and pecked to death by crows. Scary masks and otherworldly still-lives.

Some of Arthur Tress’s photographs are so scary they make your heart sink.

Tress, born in a dysfunctional family, spent his childhood years in an atmosphere of permanent conflict. Emotionally drained by his father’s illness and death, he outbursts his pain in his pictures. This art therapy is a way to disease inner pressure and save the head from blowing up to pieces. When you are sinking in your own fears, you can’t be too discreet. You need to ladle out emotional grime and generously pour it into photographs in order to survive.

That’s why Tress ‘cleans the chimneys’ by taking photographs of children’s nightmares and hospital scenes with gothic atmosphere. He lives his own nightmares anew by dissolving them in scary kids in masks, crows and figures in black shrouds. And magic places like car cemeteries or abandoned piers are fertile soil for scary fairytales.

Surreal images by Tress wake up ancient animal panic – unfathomable and uncontrollable. And Tress uses it to scare the shit out of New Yorkers by showing them what life after an ecological collapse will look like.

Nightmares tell stories about people that they don’t know about. In order to take photographs of people the way they really are you need to dive inside them and see what they are afraid of.


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Rats and hanged pigs, village fools and headless bodies, smeared walls and scary faces made of bread.

It’s hard to imagine that the photographer interested in all that is not a 17-year old rebel but a holder of a bachelor’s degrees in Psychology, Economics and Geology.

For more than 40 years Roger Ballen has been conducting a research of his surreal inner world by means of black-and-white photography. With each project he goes deeper and deeper into it and surfaces with images that are more strange and repulsive than the previous ones.

These images break our protective shell in order to shake hands with every repultive thing, fear and shame inside us. There’s no controlling emotions and protecting oneself from these photographs. They just get under your skin.

For nearly 30 years Ballen has been doing exhibitions that made art critics faint with fear and loathing. And all throughout that period he kept shooting weird people, strange graffiti on walls, grimy mattresses and abused animals, converting them into fictitious fruits of his subconsciousness.

A long-term experiment like that and total disregard of the fact that your photographs don’t bring you any income is only possible if you have a well-paid job. So it is to his job that the geologist Ballen owns his own world of nightmares and enchantment, his ‘shadowland’.

By creating it, he confirmed that when you look at honest photographs, they have such a powerful impact – they change something inside you. That’s why they grip your attention for so long as you are gazing at them and stay in your memory – forever.


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