Sexuality Muted: Lesbian Beds and Sex Bed

It has become even clearer to me that certain visual aesthetics: an object, a hairstyle, a colour and so on, cannot be actively seen to reflect a person’s gender, sexuality or even sex. Certain physical attributes which we associate with a man or women, masculinity or femininity are ambiguous and complex. Nothing is ever what it seems. With this revelation in mind, I wonder how aggressive I should be with gender “signs” within my own photographs. How mysterious should I be? Are signals, props and styling necessary at all? Whilst I’m focusing on gender, sexuality is helplessly coming through when creating and sharing my images so far. For example when I showed an image of a drag king I photographed, a classmate said, “Well that just looks like a lesbian”. Whilst we are all aware that the link between sex, gender and sexuality do not link (most of us can’t tell when someone is gay or straight nowadays) people still hold certain pre-conceptions and stereotypical ideas of what image belongs to the L.G.B.T community. Therefore, would photographing the actually subjects be a mistake? Am I fighting against too many references and other images? Are people even needed in proving my point?

 

Tammy Rae Carland’s series entitled “Lesbian Beds” shows how absence and ambiguity can reveal something much more delicate and enticing as opposed to dead pan faces. Why should we put a face on lesbian sexuality? The series was inspired by the ‘bed paintings’ created by and between Jasper Johns and Robert Raushenburg during their quiet stint as lovers. The photographs are closely cropped aerial views of lesbian beds, formally composed and edited to conceptually resemble abstract expressionist and colour field paintings. Carland photographed the beds after they had been slept in and left them as they were found. She also shot using only natural light, reinforcing that sense of openness, honesty but what’s more naturalness. Carland aimed to emphasise the trace of the body, or rather bodies that had recently departed the sheets, focusing on the imprint and objects left behind. The images encourage you as a viewer to unpick the pieces and with such a dead pan title you can’t help but to seek out signs of lesbianism. But of course you cannot. There is nothing in or about the photographs that signifies “lesbian.” Indeed, it is very banality of the images’ content, the very familiarity of the scene that is repeatedly depicted in “Lesbian Beds,” that makes them so immediately relatable. They look like any other crumpled up sheets and dented pillows. This repetition, this relatable scene reinforces that lesbianism isn’t “taboo”, rather natural. It doesn’t put a face on being a lesbian which is perhaps the most poignant thing here.

 

I recently viewed an exhibition showcasing photographs by William S Burroughs in London and one series resonates with me still. It holds many of the same qualities as “Lesbian Beds” subtle, ambiguous where sexuality is rather hidden as opposed to explicit and rude. “What Was, What Isn’t” feature colour photographs which record the before-and-after of a sexual encounter, probably Burroughs encounter with lover John Brady. The bed becomes a scene in which an action, unseen, leaves traces which are then concealed. Supposedly Burroughs was concerned with the relation between experience, absence, and presence, and how the camera could evoke something that no longer exists-but also how photographs work to influence and construct memories and desires. It’s an interesting series of images and reinforced that a portrait of a person doesn’t mean they need to be seen. I could for example collect pieces which reflect my subjects or take images of their belongings. But would this be too much of a laborious task? I want to highlight that regardless of sex, gender or sexuality we are all unique individuals and in that sense are all the same. Perhaps in order to do this I shouldn’t create portraits of the individuals at all, maybe their belongings or favourite items. Fleeting thought.

References:

Tammy Rae Carland (N.D) Tammy Rae Carland Lesbian Beds [online] available from<http://www.tammyraecarland.com/lesbianbeds.htm/>(5th May 2014)

SFBG (2011) Goldies 2011: Tammy Rae Carland [online] available from<http://www.sfbg.com/2011/11/08/goldies-2011-tammy-rae-carland>(5th May 2014)

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