v2.14 / Eric Kellerman’s Tenebrisms

There’s a poem I love by Heather McHugh that describes sunlight shattered by trees and water—an event without boundary, without order, yet somehow channeled by the eye, as if in deference to sight itself. In the opening lines, she says:

The sun that puts its spokes in every
Wheel of manhandle and tree

Derives its path of seashines
(Sheer centrifugality) from my

Regards. I send it
My regards. Some yards

Of lumen from the fabrika
Have come unbolted from the look

Of it (or likes of me) . . .

It’s the way I feel when I look at Eric Kellerman’s images of striped light colliding with dark torsos, scapulas, and the dunes of the mons veneris. The eyes (mine, at least) respond in kind—unbolted, loosed from all sense of origin, cause, effect. A complimentary esteem. To the tenebrisms: my regards.

Eric Kellerman

These photos form part of an ongoing series called Tenebrisms. The word “tenebrism” (deriving from the Latin for “darkness”) usually refers to a style of painting associated with Caravaggio and others, where deep shadow prevails and strong contrast is used to heighten the drama of the subject matter. However, my tenebrisms are far from dramatic; on the contrary, they are rather quiet, reflective things. No Judith beheading Holofernes here.

Kim’s Downward Slope © Eric Kellerman

Like one or two other photographic styles I have evolved, the first tenebrism came about accidentally. The stripe of light, created by the flash of a snooted studio lamp through a narrow gap between two abutting boards onto a woman’s angled face, cast an interesting shadow—one that, following the contours of forehead, nose and chin, appeared to be the profile of another dark face superimposed. I call this photo Eclipse, for reasons obvious when you see it!

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Becky’s Dark Portrait © Eric Kellerman

The stripes my studio lamps and abutting boards generate are not as a rule smooth bands of undifferentiated light—for one thing, their passage through the narrow gap also endows them with interference patterns in the form of alternating substripes, both lighter and darker. These add variety and texture to the image.

Elle-Beth’s Back and Side © Eric Kellerman

But best of all is the unpredictable journey undertaken by the stripe as it encounters the contours of a complex volume like the female body. Anatomical discontinuities are brought together by highways of sinuous light adjusting their routes, widths and intensities according to the terrain traversed. This is where the precision work begins, a choreography of muscle, bone, sinew and skin. Every small move, a single breath, a twitch, can make or break a photo.

Laura’s Undulations © Eric Kellerman

As I’m a photographer who believes in improvisation, the sudden spotting of a potentially good tenebrism will certainly induce a frisson. “Hold it!” I hear myself shriek at my already very still collaboratrix. “Don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t think!”

Portrait of N © Eric Kellerman

Serendipity beats meticulous planning any day . . .

Kellerman’s The Box was one of 2015’s “books of the year,” awarded by the Federation of European Photographers. See more from Kellerman on Facebook and check out his most recent book from Edition Galerie Vevais!

Feature Image: Anna’s Shoulders © Eric Kellerman

v2.6 / Carol Espíndola without Disguise


Carol Espíndola takes seriously John Berger’s classic distinction between nakedness and nudity:

“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. . . . Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise.”

Espíndola erases nudity, beginning with her own body. But the erasure doesn’t end there, because the “cuerpo femenino,” she explains, is “espacio donde pasa tiempo.” If the feminine body is a space where time passes, then it’s where the body’s troubled history can be addressed as well. These photographs occupy that history.

Carol Espíndola

Nos comunicamos con el mundo con nuestro cuerpo. En el caso del cuerpo femenino, es particularmente importante el peso el cuerpo en la forma de relacionarnos con los demás. Los medios de comunicación, las representaciones de la belleza a través de la historia del arte, el mundo de la moda, han generado un estereotipo de belleza que busca un cuerpo femenino perfecto.

We communicate with the world with our body. In the case of the female body, weight and shape are particularly important in the way we relate to others. Representations of beauty through media, the history of art, and the world of fashion, have generated a stereotype that seeks a perfect feminine body.

La corteza de Venus 02 © Carol Espíndola

A través de mi obra fotográfica me interesaba hablar del cuerpo femenino ante la crisis de la transición de la juventud a la adultez, de la relación del cuerpo femenino que envejece con los cuerpos femeninos más jóvenes, del sobrepeso en la relación de la pareja, de los estereotipos de belleza vs. el cuerpo femenino real y del anhelo de juventud en el cuerpo.

Through my photographic work, I became interested in talking about the crises of the female body: the transition from youth to adulthood, the female body that ages alongside younger female bodies, overweight in relationships, stereotypes of beauty vs. the real female body, and the yearning for youth in the body.

Sobre el nacimiento de Venus II
Sobre el nacimiento de Venus © Carol Espíndola

Como en casi todo el mundo, en México, aún nos enfrentamos al machismo en la vida cotidiana, a la presión social para cumplir con el estereotipo de belleza en boga. A la crisis emocional que muchas mujeres enfrentan al dejar de ser jóvenes y “dejar de ser bonitas.”

In Mexico, as in most of the world, we still face machismo in everyday life—social pressure to fulfill the stereotype of beauty currently in vogue. In turn, many women experience an emotional crisis when they stop being young and “stop being beautiful.”

La corteza de Venus 09 © Carol Espíndola

En la serie La Corteza de Venus, utilizo el autorretrato y el retrato de mi familia (específicamente mi esposo y mis hijas) para hablar de ello, para que mujeres y hombres reflexionemos sobre el tema. Para éste proyecto realizo acciones que simbolizan el acto de detener el tiempo. Me interesa el uso del paisaje como estudio y llevar el paisaje al estudio.

In the series La Corteza de Venus, I use the self-portrait and portrait of my family (specifically my husband and my daughters) to talk about these crises, so that women and men can reflect on the subject. For this project, I perform actions that arrest time, symbolically. I am interested in using the landscape as a studio and taking the landscape to the studio.

Sobre Friné
Sobre Friné © Carol Espíndola

En La Atlántida, continuo con el mismo tema, pero ahora realizo collage, apropiación y reinterpretación de pinturas, que a través de la historia del arte representan la belleza y el papel de la mujer en el mundo. Es un proyecto sobre la utopía del cuerpo femenino perfecto. El nombre de la serie viene de utilizar a “La Atlántida” como una analogía de la búsqueda de un lugar imposible, ubicada en la búsqueda de ese cuerpo perfecto de mujer.

In La Atlántida, I continue with the same theme, but now I make use of collage and the appropriation and reinterpretation of paintings that, throughout the history of art, have represented the role of beauty and women in the world. It is a project about the utopia of the perfect female body. The name of the series comes from the story of “Atlantis,” an analogy to the search for an impossible place—in this case, the search for the perfect female body.

Sobre Frida
Sobre Frida © Carol Espíndola

Para mí el cuerpo femenino perfecto se asemeja al paraíso, al mundo perfecto en el que hemos de habitar alguna vez. La culpa, la lujuria, casi todas las formas de pecado, se atribuyen a la mujer desde su creación en el paraíso y su destierro hacia el mundo. No hubo vuelta atrás.

Ever since the story of creation in paradise, women have been blamed for guilt, lust, almost all forms of sin, that exiled us to the world. For me, the “perfect” female body resembles that paradise, to which there is no going back.

Follow Carol Espíndola on Facebook, Instagram, and  Tumblr!

v2.5 / Stephan Brigidi Unbound

In the deep fall, the body awakes,

And we find lions on the seashore—

Nothing to fear.

The wind rises; water is born,

Spreading white tomb-clothes on a rocky shore,

Drawing us up

From the bed of the land.


These lines come from a poem Robert Bly wrote about Stephan Brigidi‘s Angels of Pompeii.* They return to me now, in the company of Women & Rope, because in both series, the “deep fall” wakes the body “from the bed of  the land.” Hence the angels. But there are lions too—call the lion what you will: the eruption of Vesuvius, the serpents of Laocoön, or as Brigidi recognizes below, the emotional impotence we sometimes struggle to escape. There’s such strength in these images. Something bound has been loosed, which is the only difference I can imagine between an angel and a lion.

Stephan Brigidi

from “Women & Rope” © Stephan Brigidi

The origins of this small group of photographs, comes from a 16mm film I made in 1975 called Le Sacre. The 7-minute film was based upon a man who was not connected to his own feelings. I presented a rather detached man, who was unable to express himself in any emotional way. I realized this as a common male plight, where so often his feelings are internalized. The man remains impotent to his own experience.

from “Women & Rope” © Stephan Brigidi

One sequence from the film presents two women in a playful tussle of temptations with each other, a rope binding them together, or binding them apart from the man who is incapable of any attachment to the sensations the women evoke.

from “Women & Rope” © Stephan Brigidi

Later that same year, I spent about five months in Rome, working and teaching. I became well acquainted with Gian Lorenzo Bernini, master of human form and gesture. The Greek sculpture Laocoön is another archetype that influenced my work. I then traveled to Paris and visited with August Rodin, who imbued in me a deep provocation and appreciation for the body’s inner psyche. I knew that my still photography would build from these examples.

from “Women & Rope” © Stephan Brigidi

My work became a three-month continuous study of the two models with a lengthy rope, amounting to a thousand negatives made and considered. Women & Rope culminated in a short suite of eight prints that spoke to my curiosities of human form and the enigma of human emotion.

from “Women & Rope” © Stephan Brigidi

I have always admired women for their natural ability to emote and connect together. We men have much to learn from our sisters.

* Robert Bly and I collaborated on a portfolio of prints and poems called 8 Angels of Pompeii in 1991.  We later produced a small book together simply called, Angels of Pompeii published by Ballantine Books 1992.