Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published on our previous platform, In the In-Between: Journal of Digital Imaging Artists, and the formatting has not been optimized for the new website.
Through an intertwining of domestic imagery and the female form, Swedish-born artist Eva Stenram offers challenges to her viewers on multiple fronts. The literal veiling of her figures, borrowed from 60s era pin-up images, offers a direct comment on antiquated domestic gender roles, leaving to the imagination how men would be depicted in a parallel body of work. In addition, and beyond ideas of the female as subject to the male gaze seen so often in history’s pictures, Stenram’s work can be seen as a metaphor for the current debates of surveillance, and the dwindling division of the public and private spheres.
Sarah Jamison: First off, what initially drew you to photography, and whom do you count among your influences?
Eva Stenram: I started working with photography in my final year as an undergraduate student in 1998-99. I started off making some staged photographic works, performances for the camera inspired perhaps by Cindy Sherman. I then discovered Photoshop, which I immediately loved. It was very liberating to be able to mix together photographs taken in different places and at different times. At this time I made a new version of my family album, ‘Retouching History’, my first substantial project using image manipulation. Besides Sherman, at the time I was really interested in Jo Spence’s work. I also started to look at what other artists were doing using image manipulation, such as Wendy McMurdo, Paul Pfeiffer, Jeff Wall… I have always been very interested in the photographers associated with the Surrealists – Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Jacques-Andre Boiffard. This is the work that I most often return to.
SJ: Drape is a series of re-appropriated vintage pin-up photographs, digitally manipulated to obscure the female model. Why do you feel it is important for the images to be vintage pin-ups? In what way would the use of contemporary images not suffice?
ES: I came across a vintage pin-up image by chance that I wanted to use – it became the first image in the project and set the tone for the rest of the project. I am attracted to the aesthetics of mid-century pin-up photographs. They are beautiful and compelling images that it was a pleasure to work with. I also think I was drawn to the 1960s images because this was really a time when women’s place and role in society was drastically changing. Women’s particular relationship to the domestic was coming to an end.
Having said that, more recently I have worked with (I think) 1980s amateur erotic images in the same way. These also work for me, so perhaps contemporary images would too. I’m not ruling it out.
SJ: I view your use of the drape not only as a metaphor for domestication, but also as an aesthetic, creating an image that is devoid of stimulus. This banal approach to images is a contemporary choice, used as a tool for symbolism and transcendence, favoring ideas over objects. Can you talk about your approach to using this aesthetic in your work and how it functions as a tool for exploring your concept?
ES: Yes, I wanted to make the photographs more muted. Usually erotic or pornographic images are quite ostentatious, they don’t fail to attract attention and demand a response. I was interested in quieting them down, concentrating them, making the viewer pay attention to the whole of the image. Most of the model slips away, but what remains in the image become more captivating. The viewer’s gaze is deflected and redirected.
I was interested in using the drape or curtain as a barrier between the public and the private. Usually pin-up images are intimate images intended for public consumption. Digitally putting the curtain in front of the model reinstates the privacy of the model, yet of course re-exposes (some of her) for public consumption yet again.
SJ: The use of re-appropriated images is a tradition in conceptual photography. Examples can be seen in Richard Prince’s 1970’s series Untitled (Cowboy), as well as Penelope Umbrico’s series Suns. What are your views on the amount of pictures available in the digital age, and how does re-appropriation add significance to how images are read?
ES: I think we have been trying to deal with the astonishing amount of images in the world for some time. In the 1920s artists started working with collage, largely a response, I think, to the arrival of mass media and thus the sudden availability of printed images in large numbers of magazines and newspapers. It was the start of a throwaway picture culture – photography was no longer something exclusive. Today this has of course intensified. Perhaps artists like myself use appropriation in an attempt to make work about being viewers, about being consumers of images.
SJ: In your artists’ statement, you clarify that each image has been re-appropriated from either “original medium format negatives…[or] the 1960’s men’s magazine Cavalcade.” Why do you think it is important for these images to be used from their original sources? Particularly when they are to be digitally altered and viewed in a completely different format then initially intended, such as a computer or gallery wall?
ES: For me, and perhaps for the viewer too, it is interesting to know what the original source is – if it is from a negative, magazine or from the Internet. It tends to affect how the photograph looks and how I subsequently print it. For me the final work is the gallery print, not the image available on the web. For example, the Drape (Cavalcade) prints, which derive from the magazine ‘Cavalcade’, are all printed at the original size of the magazine page. I like that it retains the size at which it was originally viewed.
SJ: As a society, we enjoy the act of looking behind hidden constructs, as well as creating images and information for others to look at. This is evident in the mass amount of images available on social media, where images are easily available for any stranger to view. The whole process of image making is focused toward attaining a gaze. How do you see your images addressing the audience– not only with regards to their own desires to be a voyeur, but also addressing the issue of our society’s obsession with the gaze?
ES: It is really interesting that the idea of being under constant surveillance used to be something that felt threatening (Orwell’s 1984 for example) to something desirable – it now leaves us feeling secure and also signifies a sense of worth. In the (now defunct) TV series Big Brother the punishment is to be excluded from constant surveillance. Photography has of course a particularly rich relationship to issues of looking, being looked at, surveillance and privacy.
SJ: Last but not least, what are you looking forward to in the next year, photographically or otherwise?
ES: Photographically, I look forward to working on some new projects that I have started as well as continuing the longer ongoing ones. I look forward to traveling to Moscow for my next solo exhibition at Pobeda Gallery in September. I hope for a mild winter, a new washing machine and eagerly anticipate learning new things.
Eva Stenram is an artist that uses found images, such as negatives, magazines and images from the Internet as her source of inspiration and working material. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden and lives and works in London, UK. She is a graduate of the Royal College of Art. In 2012 Stenram was nominated for the Rencontres d’Arles Discovery Prize, and in 2013 has solo exhibitions at Ravestijn Gallery (Amsterdam), Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool) and Pobeda Gallery (Moscow). Stenram was selected as a finalist in the Hyeres International Photography Competition as well as the Aperture Portfolio Prize and is the first prize winner of the inaugural Cord Prize.