Eva Stenram’s work is immediately intriguing but simultaneously deeply enigmatic. After puzzling over her photos for several days, LensCulture managing editor Alexander Strecker reached out to Stenram via e-mail to find out more. This is an edited transcript of their exchange:
How did you begin making the pictures in the Drape series? Were there any particular inspirations behind the work?
ES: Most of the time, my work develops out of visual experiments with so-called “found” images. I had been playing around with the idea of using an actual drape as a device to (digitally) cover up whatever was in the foreground of the same image. By coincidence, I started to research mid-century erotica and suddenly, the first works in the series were created.
In a way, Drape also evolved from an older series of work called pornography/forest_pics. To make this series, I had downloaded contemporary hard-core pornographic photographs that were set within woodland areas and then digitally removed all the bodies from the landscape images, leaving only clues to what might have taken place previously within the image. In both works, the viewer’s imagination is gently teased and called into action.
There were works by other artists that were on my mind too—Louise Bourgeois’s La Femme Maison in particular. In this series of works the female body is merged and stuck within the image of the house. Bourgeois said that the Femme Maison “does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding.”
LC: How about
Parts? What set off that strange journey? What was the artistic/creative process like?
ES: I started making Parts a while after I started Drape, and it was informed by noticing how the surrounding interior details started to aquire more significance once most of the model was obscured. The background interiors were suddenly as important as the bodies within the images, and I wanted to examine this a bit further.
To make Parts, again I collected vintage pin-up negatives, scanned them in, and then removed most of the model from the images—simply copying and pasting other areas from within the same picture over the female figure. The leg, however, remains exactly where it was. In Parts, this remaining leg becomes like a component of the interior décor—a part of the female body presented in the same way as a vase, cushion or wall hanging is there to be enjoyed. The images are quite absurd, slightly macabre and quite humourous. In any case, the erotic effect is upended.
LC: It feels that in both series, the tension between presence and absence is essential. Yet photography is usually about “showing” us things (the idea that photography is
indexical). Can you talk about this tension in your work?
ES: Well, I think photography is always playing with this compromise between presence and absence. In documentary photography, there is the framing of the image—what is included in the image and what is not. And of course, the photograph always represents the past (and thus absence)…a photograph is always a moment that is no longer there.
With photographic work that has been manipulated, or indexically confused, an off-screen can also easily be created within the image and different moments of time may collide.
I think there is one history within photography which is more documentary, more “purely” indexical and another which has always used photography as a starting point to make other kinds of manipulations to this process. I really like the surrealist notion of using photography to disrupt reality from within.
Anyway, within my work, I am interested in how all absences reveal something else; absences enhance our looking and trigger our imagination at the same time.
LC: You often photograph women in your work. And yet, you don’t often show your subjects completely. Is there something particular about your decision to photograph (though not fully) the female form?
Recently, the images I work with have included women. I tend to just keep a fragmant of these women, hiding, cropping and obscuring the full view of the female body. This disembodiment perhaps links into a recognition of the body as a constructed, fleeting, changeable things. It’s also in bits. There is no need to show the body complete. I use bits of the body to experiment with specific pictorial or conceptual tactics. In Drape and Parts the viewer gets a chance to imagine the rest of woman (that once was visible in the original photographs).
Now, depictions of women within society is an enormous topic and very interesting—I can only claim to be making small inroads in trying to investigate some of this imagery around us.
LC: You describe yourself as
“a viewer, a consumer of images”—but wait, shouldn’t photographers be the producers? What’s going on?
ES: As I don’t often “take” the images that I subsequently work with, my relationship to the work is a bit different. I don’t have a direct connection to the subject matter depicted, rather I have a relation to the image itself. So the work is more about me being a viewer of images, and trying to figure out this act of looking—how we view images and interact with them. Of course, I then end up producing a new image out of the old, with a new set of meanings.
But in general, we are all consuming a vast amount of images daily. I see a lot of artists, like myself, who seem inspired—as well as challenged—by our contemporary photographic condition.
—Eva Stenram, interviewed by Alexander Strecker