Now You See Me: Exploring Body Politics at TJ Boulting

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A new group photography exhibition at London’s TJ Boulting gallery will explore the diverse use of the body, and primarily the female body, in photography.
Coinciding with the opening of Photo London, the exhibition presents a combination of established and emerging photographic artists, each of whom apply a varied range of techniques to explore their body within the medium.

Image © Haley Morris-Cafiero
American photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero sets up her tripod and takes self-portraits in public places without pre-meditated direction or composition. Only afterwards does the artist select the images. By doing so, she reveals stranger’s faces contorted in disgust or laughing at her size, interactions originally from beyond her eyeline.
The photography serves as a fascinating insight into the cruelty of human nature, charting bold territory for a photographer as a way of relating to their own body.
The ultimate exploration of the physical self in relation to personal existence is depicted in the work of British artist Jo Spence, who lived with cancer for the last decade of her life. The images in this exhibition are from the series she created from the experience, titled The Final Project.
Image © Jo Spence
Concerned with the passing of time and with her own physical deterioration, Spence often showed her body in various double exposures on top of earlier work.
She would often show her body ‘returning to nature’, floating superimposed on a rocky shore, or superimposed against images of torn materials, blood cells or landscapes.
The nude female body has long been celebrated as an aesthetic form, but here three female artists show themselves in subversive, playful forms, a vessel for making broader points about our societal and cultural hang-ups and concerns.
Juno Calypso’s surreal self-portraits, taken as her alter ego ‘Joyce’ in a honeymoon hotel in Pennsylvania, reference both society’s obsession with beauty, with references to both iconic advertising campaigns and popular horror films.
Image © Juno Calypso
Image © Juno Calypso
Rasha Kahil’s project In Your Home shows the photographer naked or half-clothed in someone else’s home in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, and the city of her birth.
When her host had left the room, Kahil would quickly removed her clothes and pose for a self-portrait, using the self-timer on a small, compact camera. Her host would return oblivious to what has just happened.
The photography, Kahil says, is a way of “intuitively and secretly appropriating other people’s private spaces with my own nude body.
Image from the series In Your Home © Rasha Kahil
“The privacy of my body overlaps with the privacy of the domestic space, and the resulting marriage is exposed through its confrontational display into the public sphere. The layers of appropriation are multiple: I invite you to peer into the privacy of my body while simultaneously taking over the privacy of another’s domestic space,” she says.
“There results, through the displacement of the body, a sometimes fusional, sometimes clashing layering of two subjects – one present and the other absent– in the frame created by the photographic composition.”
Image © Rachel Howard
Image © Rachel Howard
Primarily known as a painter, Rachel Howard’s self-portrait, taken in 1995, is of the young artist pregnant with her first child, revealing her bump from under her wedding dress, “physically and mentally trapped in her seventh floor council flat in Brixton.”
Image © Thomas Mailaender
The exhibition also exhibits the work of cult French artist Thomas Mailaender, whom presents two works from his series Illustrated People.
Mailaender took old large format negatives from the vast London-based photographic archive, the Archive of Modern Conflict. He then burned images directly onto the skin of people using UV sun lamps. The body itself becomes part of the image-making process, a brutal twist on the physical nature of human skin, as it imitates the developing chemical processes of photography.
Now You See Me is exhibited at TJ Boulting, 59 Riding House St, London W1W 7EG,  from 18th May to 2nd July. More information available here.

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.