Richard Kern explores the dichotomy between girl and woman, between the nude and the dressed, and between playfulness and seriousness.
Kern does not ask his subjects to pose for him, nor does he direct them. He doesn’t even contact or cast them. Rather, the subjects contact him, and pose for him in any way they are comfortable. They sometimes choose to be portrayed in the nude and they have full control of the way their bodies are photographed. Therefore, the work is a collaboration between the model and the photographer, as they both construct the image.
This process plays out an interesting power dynamic, as the photographer is an older man and the subject is a young woman. Yet, by being seemingly opposed, the photographs are shaped by the male gaze, but simultaneously express the subjects’ agency over their sexuality and their bodies. However, how far is the performance of these young women a true expression of their new-found sexuality? Or is that performance rather shaped by the patriarchy and influenced by the endless stream of pop culture on what it is to be a woman?
Kern explains that he wanted this series of portraits to be about the last stage of innocence, the phase where a girl is leaving childhood and is slowly but surely entering adulthood. The many uncertainties that come from being in between age groups, in a place where it’s unclear what society is expecting of being a woman, are visible through the insecurity and agitation on the girls’ faces.
It’s so scary for a girl to leave her old, but safe, life behind, yet so exciting to be introduced into the thrilling, but possibly threatening world of womanhood. There is a sense of safety, but also danger here. The photographs are layered on top of each other, veiling and unveiling the female body. In doing so, Kern creates a hallucinating image of a feminine subject that is neither a girl, nor yet a woman. Both sides are emphasized through the translucency of the pictures. These girls are about to become women; in their eyes, you can see both the doubts and the joys that come with this new-found social position, role and sexual power.
Richard Kern Artist Bio
Richard Kern (1954, USA) is a filmmaker and photographer from New York. He was a vivid member of the late ‘70’s ‘no-wave’ scene and the underground cult genre ‘Cinema of Transgression’. His cinematographic work is characterised by subversive elements such as violence and sex. Throughout his career, he has worked with musicians such as Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers. His book, New York Girls, from 1997, features punk queens and sub-cultural heroines portrayed in the nude. More recently, Kern investigated youthfulness in his work. His book, Medicated (2020), features photographs and interviews of girls on prescribed drugs. Baron Issue 7 is a continuation of Kern’s ongoing research on the portrayal of girlhood.