One cannot talk about the distorted body in photography without referencing the work of photographers Bill Brandt (1904 – 1983) and André Kertész (1894 – 1985) both of whom explored the endless variations of the contorted body as a photographic object. While Kertész played with wavy carnival mirrors for his 1933 Distortion series, Brandt created really dynamic images of distorted female bodies by placing his extremely wide-angle camera at close range to the body. Despite the amusing effects, these works remains visually discomforting.
Lin Wei’s research evokes the visual imagery of these two masters, although drawing more on their unsettling effect than on the means through which is obtained. Photographically, Lin is not using external elements to create the distortion, indicating her intention to concentrate on the inherent potentials and limitations of the human body. Lin is interested in capturing not only images of contorted bodies but also in revealing the misleading impressions that the most familiar human object can unconsciously produce. Lin calls to mind the Freudian concept of the ‘uncanny’.
The uncanny arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when something is both familiar and unfamiliar, leading to an uncomfortable feeling and difficulty rationalising the object. In Lin’s images, the bodies are manipulated into contorted geometries and abstracted forms. Although the body remains legible (as a human form), it is detached from our usual perceptions of it, creating a chasm of ambiguity. Reminiscent Surrealist experimentations and their rhetoric of contradiction, Lin’s abstracted body dismemberments provoke a strange curiosity. Their decapitation in particular produces discomfort, making the remaining body parts a sort of corporeal puzzle. The absence of a recognisable face as well as the impossibility to identify gender contributes to creating these ambiguous images that are both fascinating and slightly disturbing.
Lin’s references to Surrealism and to Hans Bellmer’s Doll are unsurprising. Doll is exemplary of both an uncanny and complex illustration of body, and psychoanalytic distortion in modern art history. However it also embodies some of the main qualities of Surrealism such as subversion and eroticism, sadism and fetishism.
In her earlier work, Lin proposed to study the body as a sculptural object. The preceding series Body Form #1 and #2 formed the basis of her visual exploration. The close-up black and white images of Body Form #1 reveal a nuanced attention to the volume and textures of the human body. The peculiar framing and subtle use of light combined to a black background contribute to a strong visual impact, which highlights the three-dimensional qualities of the photographic object. Almost unrecognisable as a nude, the form becomes legible as a sculpture, reminiscent of the radically reduced formal vocabulary of Edward Weston in his well-known images of Peppers and Nudes. With the series Body Form #2, Lin pushed her exploration further by considering the body as a whole. Less abstract, the use of colour and of a neutral grey background gives back its human qualities to the body, once again recognisable as a nude. Placed on what seems to be a plinth, the body is literally elevated to the rank of sculpture. In this series she fully explores the malleability of the body and manages to imbue a sense of movement.
In Body Form #3, Lin challenges her understanding of the body as a sculptural object by hiding it behind cubic plinths, allowing strange new forms to emerge whilst paradoxically emphasising the ultimately human character of the body. The cold concrete floor and the minimalist neutral plinths accentuate the warmth and the colour of the lively human flesh. The introduction of external props in her composition contributes to indicate the physicality of the body. In Body Form #5, the bodies seem to emerge from sheets of pastel coloured paper that become a central substantial component of the visual composition. There is something almost vulnerable and poetical in these bodies that seem to try to stay hidden from the external gaze. The texture of the slightly creased paper, the manifold pastel colours and the imperceptible movement that animates the bodies all contribute to a sensuality and sensoriality distinct from previous series. There is a form of communication and continuity between the skin, the paper sheet and the background that invites a consideration of the relations between the surfaces, the abstract forms, the physical and the sensorial.
Beyond rendering the physicality of the body, Lin’s photographic compositions suggest the human corporeity, both physical and sensorial, a reality that is unstable, mobile, made of forces and delicate intensities.
Lin Wei graduated with a Bachelor Photography and Situated Media (Honours), University of Technology Sydney in 2014 and is exhibiting Body Form #5 as part of the Australian Centre for Photography Emerging Artist Program from 31 January to 22 March 2015
Images 1 to 5 : Body Form #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 © Lin Wei
Image 6: Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930. Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Mrs. Drew Chidester; © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
Image 7: André Kertész, Distortion #147, 1933. © Estate of André Kertész
Images 8 and 9: Bill Brandt, Nude East Sussex and East Sussex, both 1977. © Bill Brandt Archive