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.