Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Interview With Joel Simpson (3)

E.G: How do you see a woman’s body?

J.S: Through my 10x40 binoculars if my neighbor across the street leaves her bedroom light on…just kidding.

I love women’s bodies. I think breasts are among the great wonders of the world. I sometimes try to image what it’s like to walk around with them, knowing they proclaim out in public your womanhood, your capacity for nurturing and love. Sometimes it almost seems like revealing too much. How do we men contain ourselves? We must be at a very advanced stage of civilization to merely look and not ogle or want to touch.

So I’ve never gotten over my adolescent fascination with women’s bodies. My inner adolescent self thinks it’s pretty neat that I’ve contrived a way to photograph women naked whom I hardly know. But my models are my serious collaborators, highly motivated artists, whose medium happens to be themselves (like a singer, whose instrument is her body). They work very hard, and I demand a lot from them, and we produce wonderful things together. I most love to work with models who are as fascinated with the end products as I am, and this includes most of them.

It’s also important to recognize both the diversity of women’s bodies and to honor the stages they go through as they age. It’s unfortunate that the commercial world has so promoted young, nubile bodies at the expense of older, more mature ones. I think breasts that droop are icons of generosity, of warmth, of nurturance, of home, of safety. They can be organs of these same things. I remember a scene in a Bergman movie where the amply endowed house servant offers her breasts to the tormented, anguished mistress. It illustrated the consoling power of this woman’s breasts.

E.G: Did women - directly or indirectly – influence your artistic style?

J.S: I suppose I’ve developed an artistic style out of my fascination for form and my attraction to women’s bodies, and my attempt to combine the two. I’ve literally projected my artistic ideas onto the bodies of my models, and in so doing have discovered something about my own passions and drives.

The female photographers who have influenced me mostly belong to the current artistic community, since it is only recently that barriers have come down against women in the visual arts. Georgia O’Keefe is a notable exception. Donna Ferrato is a distinguished woman photographer of erotic subjects, but her approach is more photojournalistic. Diane Neumaier, who teaches at Rutgers, has edited a very fine book on New American Feminist photographers called Reframings. It’s a very provocative book, almost completely post-modern, and one which I learn from.

E.G. What are you trying to show by transforming living human bodies into prehistoric art?

J.S: I came to what I call “virtual sculpture with prehistoric references” after experimenting with a number of projection subjects—buildings, vegetables, etc. When I focused on placing rock and wood surfaces on living bodies, though, I created a mysterious illusion that the viewer was seeing actual sculpture that looked very ancient. This was a wonderful discovery. Then I had to figure out the significance of this sort of thing for my artist statements, and I came up with the fact that this work illustrates our deep connections to our mostly forgotten prehistoric ancestors. Recently, though, I’ve come to realize that the rich forms and patterns I’ve projected actually serve as visual analogies of otherwise invisible energy.

E.G: What is the role of politics in your photography?

J.S: I’m very involved in politics, very disturbed at the direction our country has been going in for some time. I consider my photography a means of witness to any political event I manage to attend. This includes most importantly large anti-war protests in Washington, D.C. or New York, but also smaller local demonstrations and lectures. Many of my photographs have been used by activist organizations for their websites and email blasts.

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