Saturday, June 18, 2011

Steven Tynan - A photographer of self nudes

A few years ago the gentleman running the selfportrait gallery blog (which is still up, but has not been updated in a long time now) learned about some of my selfportraits and asked if I would donate one to his gallery. During our interaction he said that some of my work reminded him of Steven Tynan.

Not knowing who Steven Tynan was, I obviously ran a search and found his website. Steven is a professor of photography with an extense body of work in nude selfportraits.

Steven poses in the nude in several indoor and outdoor locations, in what would look like a house or farm. Sometimes he is only partially clothed, as if he was a child in the act of being mischievius. Sometimes he's riding a tricycle, or laying down on the field, or playing with toys (a ball, a dinosaur), working out or dancing. In a few photos he is actually urinating against a wall or in the grass, or even holding his penis, not unlike a baby that finds his penis and just holds it with curiosity. In some of the photos there is a dog or some cows.

His expression is often dry, emotionless, as if he was silently questioning the camera or the beholder. Steven is what you would consider an average looking man, not a supermodel type of person. Bulky, with rough expressions, mid aged. He never tries to look sexy or desirable in the photos. He just happens to be there, he just happens to not have clothes on, or to have his pants all the way down or things like that.

My appreciation of his work is that beyond the normal looking man, there is a child who once was told that it was not appropriate to walk naked outside the house or in front of his peers, and in being told so he was "stripped" from his nudity, stripped from his "innocence". He learned that he had to dress, like Adam and Eve did when expelled from the Garden of Eden. But once the child is no longer a child, once he becomes a proper adult, there is a rebellion, a longing to claim that right that he once had to not care, to be innocent, to walk naked here or there just for the hell of it, and so he tries to claim that right, that feeling once again, and in doing so, he questions the camera and the beholder with his eyes, which seem to be asking: "is this alright? does it matter that I'm naked?"

Some of his photos seem a bit more disturbing. In some of them there is an expression that I can't quite read. Is it anger, pain, or orgasm? Is he rebelling or punishing himself? His muscles are tense, his eyes closed, his face and neck distressed. I lean to believe it is the pain of shedding the social conditioning, it's anger at the loss of innocence. There's nothing else in his work that could suggest sexuality, so I find it hard to think that this expression could be of sexuality, but I'm reminded that as in Queen's song, "pain is so close to pleasure".

Finally, one last element of disturbance, at least from the point of view of our social conditioning, is the presence of a child in some of the photos. I would assume it's his son. The child is usually aside, clothed and unconcerned about the actions of the man. There's nothing inappropriate going on, as long as we assume that there is nothing wrong with a child witnessing the non-sexual nudity of a parent.

In a way, the presence of that child speaks of internal loneliness. Perhaps the only person who has no problem accepting the nudity of the adult (who was once a child) is the child (and perhaps the dog as well), the only one who doesn't see any mistery or any wrong connotation of shame or vulgarity into his actions. Perhaps that child is there to remind us of that innocence, that both the artist and we, the spectators, forgot a long time ago, when we learned that being naked was shameful and that we had to conceal our bodies behind fabric to be allowed in society.


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