La Jeune Fille: 1978, French Edition, Laffont, France

I popped into Ofr. the other day. Its a bookshop cum gallery on rue Dupetit Thours [metro: arts e metiers/ temple] that I’ve mentioned before. Considering its only round the corner I hadn’t been there for a while. Perhaps out of fear — I never leave there empty-handed. NEVER.

Anyway, I browsed the shelves for about 30 minutes. There wasn’t much that interested me this time, strangely.  I’d spotted the new Marc Jacobs/Juergen Teller book in the window post-dinner a few nights ago so I’d been wanting to check it out. It’s OK. Quite hefty. I don’t know. I didn’t feel that familiar pull towards it. I’m more a Wolfgang Tillmans kind of guy, even though you can’t really compare the two, even though its perfectly OK to like both.

Anyway, I digress. David Hamilton. I knew about his work but it was the first time I’d come across his books in a shop — I think. I believe that books find you, not the other way around. There it was, high up on a shelf at the back of the shop. La Jeune Fille/ The Young Girl. First edition. In pretty good nick. I reached up, pulled it down, flicked through and yes, that familiar pull… I HAD to have it.

Hamilton wasn’t fond of working with professional models. And you really understand why. I like the way he captures that fleeting moment of girls on the cusp, oh, what the hell, precipice of change. How wordy does that sound! He is no stranger to controversy with the predictable, unimaginative tag of child pornography being thrown at him more than a few times. There is nothing even slightly “dirty” about his pictures. Technically they are brilliant. There is a gentleness to the light that caresses his subjects. And they are incredibly beautiful images. I find them very calm and quiet. You, the observer, is invited to just simply watch. The subject’s gaze is either direct and inviting or blissfully unaware >> IN HER SOLITUDE.  The tone of the pictures is sweet and innocent rather than provocative and sexual. They seem more sensual and celebratory as opposed to exploitative.

In a way they are quite painterly. Their stillness and muted tones make me think of a Vermeer or Hammershoi, dipped in sepia. I also like the focus on fabric and hair, giving the images a textural couterpoint, the way the aforementioned artists captured the lush heaviness of a silk duchesse, for instance.

A timely purchase, perhaps, as the controversial Larry Clark exhibition continues to pull in the crowds. The two couldn’t be more poles apart but for the naysayers taboo is taboo, I guess. Let it rest, guys.


visit: Ofr. system





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  1. January 1, 2011

    I would not like to call the work of David Hamilton child pornography however that said it would be wrong to say that he does not sexualize his models.
    The social habit of humans is to establish how well one relates to another. This may be on a purely mutual basis although when confronted with the naked body of another the tendency is to ignore that persons characteristics and focus on what the eye can see. The sexual function of nakedness is such that it has a positive visual value in its own right; we want to see the other naked. Therefore it becomes very difficult to photograph nakedness. In the few cases where the artist achieves this it is because there is no room in the picture for the spectator. As an onlooker he is able to recognize beauty but cannot help but feel isolated from it. What a picture of this nature requires is the introduction of banality. Elements of familiarity and predictability are given to outweigh those of the forbidden and mysterious.
    In the case of Hamiltons photographs this is not the case. The first thing I noticed about his books is that the models are never named; they become nameless women, reminding me of the classic figure Venus, the name of sexual desire. In this way they become objects rather than people which is what Hamilton claims to represent them as.
    The similarities between his work and classical art are numerous, not least the implication of virginity which has always been highly prized in erotic art. This is emphasised in their innocence.
    I do not wish to crusade against his work but this is my opinion. I am currently writing on the subject. I would appreciate your opinion and maybe we could discuss this further!

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