Friday, January 18, 2013

The Photography of Viviane Sassen

Nungwi. From the Parasomnia series.
Recently I stumbled across the photography of Amsterdam-based Viviane Sassen, and quickly decided that her work is the most graceful expression of sculptural sensibility that I've ever seen in photography. It doesn't hurt that the pictures are gorgeous, or that Sassen treats color like sustenance. While there are definitely some troublesome "otherizing" tendencies in the work (Sassen is a white European artist photographing East African landscapes and black East African bodies), there are also some extraordinary things happening in the pictures formally.
A press release for an Irish exhibition of Sassen's pictures last fall explained that "the title of the series Parasomnia alludes to sleep disorders and occurrences of anomalous and unusual actions....[the images] are playful and skillful manipulations of the physical body to symbolize moments of ambiguity and disorientation...Within the images resides a latent force of sculptural stasis: the power of the body and the world it is held in. In Sassen’s Parasomnia, as with dreams, we are left in a place of uncertainty with an insistence on our own imaginative response."
Parasomnia. From the Parasomnia series.
Ivy. From the Parasomnia series.
I love this idea of photographing the body as a sculpture in space. It seems like a simple one, but Sassen's execution is marvelous. She locates unfathomable edges and--in water or in night air or in clean blue cotton--submerges her subjects as if to collect the impression of their bodies later on. As her press release claims, there are moments of disorientation. But there is also the sense of a profound "settling in", a habitation of self and setting that is hard to distill in a photograph.
Hundred Years. From the Parasomnia series.

Belladonna. From the Parasomnia series.

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