60 x 80 cm each, folded and framed
Printed on Hahnemühle Baryta
Editions of 5 + 2 AP
Paula Winkler In conversation with Ingo Taubhorn
Taubhorn: For many years, the notion that the dream of Europe could turn into a nightmare was considered scaremongering by prophets of doom, rejected with the remark that time will take care of things. But the fierce financial and economic crisis has intensified social tensions not only as regards working conditions and employment, but also at the private level of families and life styles. Where do you place your work, male nudes, in this context?
Winkler: What fundamentally structures life in society is the division between men and women and the corresponding role allocations. This also includes the fact that women are given the status of being an image and thus the object of desire as it were, while the man is the person gazing. In the case of my male nudes as part of the theme of the “New Social,” my perspective as a woman with heterosexual desires and a gender-critical eye is very important. This perspective strongly influences my work. It is important to me to deconstruct the gaze that reproduces rigid and outdated gender conventions.
Taubhorn: How should this group of works be classified in terms of your
Winkler: To date, in my work I have addressed the topics of gender and sexuality by focusing on special, sexually coded groups, such as men on a sex platform or politically motivated drag queens. This time I really want to avoid focusing on the “abnormal” in a bid to highlight its diversity, as the representation of “marginal groups” always runs the risk of the viewer disengaging, viewing the “other” from a safe distance and not feeling addressed. In this piece I focus specifically on norms, in the midst of society, the heterosexual man, and therefore lay claim to greater general validity.
Taubhorn: Naked male bodies have always been represented, in photography, too. It is interesting to see how they are shown in what context and the meanings assigned to them there.
Winkler: Exactly. For example, there are artists studying anatomy, Eadweard Muybridge’s study of movement, and the representations made with a homoerotic interest, coded down through the years in a variety of different ways. When codifying desire, many gay artists
resorted to the ancient Greeks to celebrate the male body in an artistic vein. This kind of codification is highly recognized in the mainstream. Another codification was in the so-called “physique” magazines of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which claimed to appeal to men interested in fitness. These magazines present a lot of flesh. The genitals, covered over, are frequently placed in the centre of the image, and the sports poses veiled the actual homoerotic interest.
Taubhorn: These so-called beefcake magazines were also the product of a homophobic society that did not allow overtly gay images to be published. If you like, these publications with the focus on the physical, uncritical, indeed glorifying representations of the male body were also a political act. What do you believe is the social necessity of the naked body?
Winkler: I question my personal eye as a critical woman who desires men and discern great potential in this regard to subtly intervene in how we construct normality. I am not interested in shocking with naked flesh, assuming that is even possible today. Rather, I want to re-occupy the old genre of the nude and create a visual space for the change in society in gender perceptions. Images of naked bodies shape our understanding of gender and sexuality and I want to participate actively as a female artist in this discourse with a down-to-earth gaze to foster a sensitivity as regards our notion of normality such as to encourage diversity.
Taubhorn: What defines the female view of a naked male body as opposed
to the male view?
Winkler: My view of the male body has many sides to it. On the one hand, I desire the man, on the other I address the representation critically, as I am aware of the power implications involved. This is also reflected in the images: I cannot simply portray the naked man in a glorifying or romanticizing way, as I know only too well the meaning of images and the power relationship innate in views of the body. I suspect that there’s potential for reinterpretation through a mixture of desirous eyes and a non-heroicizing gaze, with a touch of humour on top. I try to elaborate on this and make use of various elements of gay nude photography in the process. I seek to address the idea of a codification of desire through the athletic body and add my own desire (the male rear) to it; this is then the basis for the models’ poses. Although the representation of naked bodies involves the ascription of naturalness, no other genre is constructed in such strong gender-specific terms. I invariably have to ask myself what body is being staged here by whom for whom and what notions of sexuality are active. In the tradition of the image, the male nude is also staged for the male eye. There is no tradition of the female gaze at the male body. As a female artist, this absence grabs me. I ask myself how I can position myself here, what my view of the male body may be, and how it differs from a gay gaze.
Taubhorn: Back to the initial question and the actual topic at hand: New Social?
Winkler: I feel my stance as a female photographer forms the direct frame of reference here. I believe my view of the heterosexual male body reflects the social change in gender conventions and our departure from the traditional ways of viewing nudes. How we see and read bodies depends on social traditions. I visualise a woman’s view of a man who does not fear becoming an object of desire and playfully presents his body, naked. This scenario is manifest in an image that affects how we grasp sexuality and thus helps define “New Social”.