Reappropriating found imagery and 1960s pin-up pictures, Eva Stenram explores the relationship between photography and dance
When Swedish photographer Eva Stenram was approached by curator Jane Won to produce an exhibition for London’s Siobhan Davies Dance Studios, Won was quite clear that the purpose of the images would be to inspire the studio’s dancers. “I had never thought about my work in the context of contemporary dance before, but was intrigued by the invitation,” Stenram confesses. And she successfully fulfilled the request.
Looking back on her diverse range of work – from manipulating school photos to digitally-altered lone-legs around a house in Parts – it seems Stenram show no signs of artistic limits when it comes to subject matter. The new images, segments of 1960s pin-ups she bought on the internet could easily be imagined as scenes from a contemporary dance, however movement isn’t her real subject here. “I am interested in static poses and how ideas of holding a pose might be translated to a muted dance.”
Forming a dark disconnection between the subjects and subject matter, the manipulation Stenram uses reveals the capacity that digitally altering or distilling has to distort and alter the story of a pre-existing image. In honour of her new exhibition, we showcase a selection of images from Positions, new photographs with a different approach on parts of the female form – this time with bodies attached. Below, we talk to Stenram who reveals the thought process behind her images, her artistic progress using erotic material and why she prefers her women faceless.
What is the story behind these images and who are the women in them?
Eva Stenram: Alongside the first new work that I made [for the exhibition], Arrangement (After Irving Klaw), which utilises three risqué photographs taken by Irving Klaw in the 1950s of Bettie Page and other pin-up models, I made three new works [shown here] – Score for a Sequence of Poses (Portrait Position I), Score for a Sequence of Poses (Portrait Position II) and Score for a Sequence of Poses (Landscape Position I). These works are photographic scores made from a sequence of poses and gestures appropriated from pin-up photography. The work invites active interpretation in the form of dance, so potentially there is a concrete interaction with the dancers in the building – but rather than actually being realised in dance, the scores are primarily there to be imagined as dance. Movement is not my real subject here – rather I am approaching dance through stillness.
“I am interested in seeing and using erotic material in a different ways. The works talk about sexuality and are about experiencing erotic imagery as a viewer – I am investigating the gaze of the viewer” – Eva Stenram
Your images for this series are quite different to some of your previous works, for example you have used image manipulation in the past, have you used that here? Can you tell us about the creative process for Positions and what was different this time?
Eva Stenram: I have indeed not used image manipulation for Positions – instead I simply cropped the images. The process didn’t feel that different – in both cases I am in some way distilling the image, reducing it down to a simplified version of the original image.
Your photos of women and women’s limbs generally don’t include faces, what do you hope to express with this?
Eva Stenram: By removing, hiding or cropping out faces my work can focus away from the identity and facial expressions of the women and instead focus on other interesting aspects of the photographs: the postures and poses of the body, the interiors and sets that they are within. The body is constructed, fleeting, changeable and in bits.
Do you feel sexuality is a key part in what you hope to express in your photos?
Eva Stenram: I am interested in seeing and using erotic material in a different ways. The works talk about sexuality and are about experiencing erotic imagery as a viewer – I am investigating the gaze of the viewer. Photography is always this oscillation between presence and absence – what was within the frame of the image and not, what has been and is no longer. This is definitely one of the main interests for me in using photography – how absences can enhance our looking and how all absences reveal something else.
How have you progressed as an artist?
Eva Stenram: In making Positions, I have been given the space to experiment in the context of a new subject – dance. As I was thinking about my work from a new point of view, it freed me up and I felt able to make a series of exploratory and more tentative works. New directions for making work opened up and the outcomes are uncertain – a good place to be, I think, as an artist.
Eva Stenram: Positions, curated by Jane Won, will be showing at Siobhan Davies Studios London from 16 January – 22 March 2015. Stenram will be in conversation with the exhibition curator Jane Won on Friday 27 February at 7pm, and will give an exhibition tour on Thursday 12 March 2-3pm