Jenniconography

WordPress’ latest updates have somehow blocked my ability to comment on other people’s blogs, so although I would have preferred to pass this reaction on directly at http://becomingjennie.wordpress.com/ , I’ll have to do it here. Perhaps those of you who appreciate photography and design will enjoy this kind of analysis.

I don’t know Jennie personally, but the care and craft she puts into her highly confessional blog was instrumental in making me want to start writing again, after a 30-year pause.  Her memoir “I Am Jennie” will be out July 10th.  The book’s cover portrays her in a manner that says a lot to me.  Have a look:

I don’t know whose decision it was to employ this pose, but I assume it was done on purpose.  Then again, even if it was a “this seems right” choice, exploring the layers of meaning helps illuminate how everthing connects to everything else.  The photograph pays homage to a famous previous image that served both as a portrait and for purposes of film publicity.  Chicago-based fashion photographer Victor Skrebneski took it in 1967.  The subject was Vanessa Redgrave, and it was adapted to advertise Karel Reisz’ 1968 film biography Isadora.

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was an early feminist, a free spirit and a great artist.  She created Modern American Dance by moving ballet technique back toward natural movement, and she attempted to unify the whole of dance history by restoring ancient styles to prominence in her interpretations.  The idea was to return emotional authenticity to dance by concentrating on the center of the body instead of the feet.  Her artistic actions had a transformative effect after her death, but she moved forward too quickly to benefit from it herself.  She was promiscuous, passionate and courageous.  She was also dissipated by poverty and alcoholism, and she died at age 50 largely unappreciated.

Skrebneski’s portrait was in itself homage to an earlier iconic scene featuring Redgrave in Antonioni’s enormously influential 1966 film Blow-Up.  Blow-Up examines different ways in which the act of producing erotically charged photography causes emotional dissociation.  There are differences between porn (Jennie’s former profession) and fashion photography made to push products.  The fashion shoots get better lighting and a bigger budget.  I’m not convinced there’s all that much difference in intent.  Designer bling will not determine your success in achieving love, and you’re never going to tap that person onscreen.  Illusions are illusions.

Let’s go back to the images.  Crossed arms across naked female breasts mean many things.  It’s a basic, classic art pose.  The action represents modesty, the shield of self-protection, but it’s also a self-embrace.  The different facial expressions combine with the crossed arms to expand the messages.  Vanessa-Isadora is contained, enveloped in ecstasy.  In Blow-Up she’s tentative and vulnerable.  Jennie on the book cover is where she’s trying to be in her life.  She looks at you directly, without invitation but with focus, as an observer.  She has fewer illusions than she once held, because she has survived trauma.  Her nakedness is conditional.

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14 Comments

Filed under photos, symbolism

14 responses to “Jenniconography

  1. A very informative post. Once again, thanks.

  2. A very interesting post about the allure of ‘crossed arms across naked female breasts.’

    Being the warped guy I am, I wondered why Jennie would have ‘Forward by Dr. Drew’ tattooed across her abdomen.

    • As opposed to “Downward” (LOL)? Anyway, Dr. Drew and staff helped her face her substance abuse and other addictions and enter recovery, and they’ve remained friends. I probably should have mentioned that Jennie paints, so I expect she’s well aware of poses used in art classes with live models. Thanks, CaL.

  3. So tired of people selling sex in one form or another, especially when they’re busy proclaiming they’re not. So I probably won’t read this book unless you assure me that it has lots and lots of, you know, pictures.

    • Mikey, why has your site forgotten me? Why do I have to sign up for yet another service I don’t need to have an avatar? Inquiring minds, etc., my friend.

      • WordPress has made a bunch of software upgrades lately they say they needed to fix background bugs, however MANY of us are having problems commenting, following etc. since. It’s a huge topic in the Support Forums. I can’t currently comment on other WP blogs, signed in or not, and I have no idea why you would need an Avatar. I share your frustration, and I don’t know enough about coding to diagnose. Sorry!

    • I don’t know what’s in the book, Bro, since it isn’t out until July. I was reacting to what’s on the cover, and dealing with it’s resonance to the earlier images. I often see earlier echoes of art on book covers and in advertising.

      In her defense, Jennie was a sex worker in the sense of doing it on camera for pay, but her blog has very little about that in it. She’s had emotional traumas and substance abuse problems, and she’s more articulate in her ability to write about the recovery process than many of the textbooks I’ve read. I started reading her work because she was willing to be honest about hurting herself and others, and I found it courageous and inspiring. The book will probably have more salacious detail about her former occupation, but I believe her intent is to make amends and to help others.

  4. I found this post to be very interesting as I am just trying to begin a hobby in photography. The photos are beautiful. They are artistic and full of life. Great post. Some of my favorite blogs are photography blogs.

    • I thought they were beautiful too! It’s interesting to me that the only comments before yours were by men sort of focused on the prurient interest of the book cover text, instead of the grace and emotion of the forms and body language. (Some of the “likes” were from others with photo or design blogs.)

      Because of my experience in health care, I have a greater appreciation of bodies as art forms than before. I’ve seen many more naked people in the past seven years than I had in the 50 years previous, and the training encourages me to view all bodies as wonderful, complex structures. It’s helped me see everyone as more beautiful.

  5. galenpearl

    I thought the photos were fascinating. I’m intrigued by Jennie’s story based on that powerful photo of her. I can hardly bear to look at her face–so direct and honest. As for the commenting problems, I think it’s a marketing decision gone bad. It’s a shame because people are losing readers. I can comment, but there’s no link so I’m adding one. http://10stepstofindingyourhappyplace.blogspot.com/

    • We’ll have to keep doing work-arounds until WP settles their coding problems. Jennie is a strong, smart, creative woman, who had some difficult experiences to overcome. Her story was easy to relate to for me. Thanks for hanging in there, Galen. I AM reading your work.

  6. Do you suppose Jennie’s one clenched fist was a purposeful part of the pose?

    • My guess would be not so conscious, but an honest gesture. I think of Jennie as an intuitive artist. She feels more than she analyzes, and she acts on the impulse. A very interesting nuance to consider, Margie.

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