*This post features graphic nudity*
Chicago artist Jayson Bimber’s digital collages are comical in their approach to notions of the sacrosanct in both religion and art. His two interrelated series’, Masterpieces and Good is Dead recreate modern art masterpieces as well as stories from the Old Testament through the process of collaging material from pornographic and popular magazines. The resulting images search for an exchange between popular art, religion, and pornography; and behind a field of humor and satire, they pose challenging questions about the sincerity of moral teachings and the legitimacy of fashionable values.
Gregory Jones: First off Jayson, How did you get your start with photography, and who were among your early influences.
Jayson Bimber: As a sophomore at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania I took a photography class to fulfill a requirement for my Animation degree. I had never considered photography in any seriousness but as the semester progressed I had fallen in love with the masters most young photographers enjoy, the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus being particular favorites. The following term I took the next photography course, switched my major, and began working with my mentor Kathe Kowalski. Kathe’s approach to photography was very documentary with emphasis placed on making beautiful prints. I was also very lucky to go to school with some really awesome young photographers (LaToya Ruby Frazier, Greg Mrotek, and Lisa Lindvay among others) and we were close so even out of class discussion typically focused around photography. I would have to say Kathe foremost and then my classmates were the most influential on me.
My own photography practice drastically began to change when I started looking at Jeff Wall. Up until that point my focus had been documentary, printing standard 11×14 silver prints full frame. Within a few weeks of being introduced to Jeff Wall, I also saw the movie Harold and Maude for the first time and, kind of strangely, those two things clicked in my head and led me to start staging my photographs, drastically digitally manipulating them, and printing inkjet as big as I could.
GJ: Your work involves collaging pornographic images to create allusions to art and biblical history. Tell us a bit about the decisions that go into selecting and combining these various pictures.
JB: My artistic practice starts with me conceptualizing a project first and then beginning the steps to make the images. This root concept began with the goal of trying to make a “photographic” image without using a traditional camera and instead by scanning found material. I wanted to see if it would be possible to source magazines and digitally collage body parts to make a new “person”. The first one of these I created was mostly unsuccessful. The image was maybe 8 to 10 scans from magazines to create a bikini clad beauty in a traditional beach backdrop. It was bad. Coincidentally, however, the woman’s gesture reminded me of one of the models in Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This led me to remove my created ladies bikini, add four other nude models and create a backdrop similar to what I saw in Picasso’s painting. This was the first image of the Masterpieces series where I re-created art historical nudes to comment on the imaging of the body in contemporary media.
Some of these images were based on Modern Art paintings and some were from the Renaissance. I really liked some of the Renaissance paintings for their additional narrative element and began to explore that more. This breakthrough came in the Judgment of Paris (after Ruebens) image. I started focusing on creating new images from Greek mythology and some also from the Bible, both important subjects through the cannon of art history. Eventually I settled on focusing on creating the stories from the Old Testament.
GJ: In your series, Good is Dead, there’s a strong juxtaposition at play involving ideas of decency and goodness. Between the stories of the Old Testament, and the pornographic imagery you’re using to depict them, we find ourselves in the middle of a clash of moral philosophies.
JB: Yes, a lot of that came to light when I began making images not based on particular paintings but instead based on the subjects from the canons of art history. Like I said, I was exploring both Greek mythology and biblical stories, creating images not based of particular painting but instead a popular subject matter. I made a Leda and the Swan image, a very popular subject in art history, playing with it in a popular contemporary centerfold composition and the swan very much being a phallus. At the same time, I made an image based on the Betrayal of Christ. I was fascinated with the idea of Christ being implicated in execution worthy crimes by a kiss, a loving gesture, from another man. Judas doesn’t simply point Jesus out to the Romans, he kisses him. This particular image, The Betrayal of Christ, was definitely the genesis of my future work.
I grew up in a family that was the loosest type of Catholic, attending church only on Christmas and Easter. I was a confirmed Catholic but realized before that even happened that that terminology meant nothing to me. This is why I was much more comfortable exploring the moral pedagogy of the bible, it was familiar.
I believe the Biblical text itself creates a juxtaposition and my job is to point that out. The Old Testament is very pornographic, everyone is having sex with each other for any reason imaginable and then killing each other off.
GJ: There’s a powerful quotient at play in your work, an intersection between art, pornography, and religion. What draws you to this intersection, and what are the threads that tie these ideas together?
JB: The intersection of art and pornography came about in the Masterpieces series. Not all the images from that series are pornographic while some are very. Contrasting Woman in Sun (after Hopper) which is pretty PG-13 with Nude Descending a Staircase (after Duchamp) which is XXX we can see this. Typically, the more abstract paintings tend to be more graphic. Most of this comes from gesture but also the source material. While typically the masters limped around representations of genitalia, blurring, shrinking, or simply not painting those parts, I felt like I needed to make those front and center, fully represented. It’s funny but something else I thought of when working on this series is how contemporary pubic hair stylings changed the pornographic nature of the images. Like if these images had been made 20 years earlier, it would have been easier to hide genitalia behind a big pubic bush, but with contemporary stylings trending on the prepubescent, everything was just way more out there.
I am always interested in playing in intersections when creating images. When I started working on the Good is Dead series, I started covering up the models much more but tend to think some of those images are way more pornographic just because of the sourced Old Testament tale. Incest, rape, and murder all being the common themes.
I don’t really know what ties art, pornography, and religion together other than myself, things that I am interested in. I think it was a pretty natural progression from my Masterpieces series to the Good is Dead work. I think the work just got more involved, having more meaning behind it. Instead of just showing the body, I was showing the body of a person doing these strange things. I think another intersection of the work that I liked it to play in was pop-culture and maybe this ties in with religion. I wanted my people, these manipulated airbrushed people, to link the cult worship of the contemporary celebrity to the worship of the characters in the Bible.
GJ: It’s a rare experience to look at contemporary images that contain such the strong comedic element that you instill in your work. What is the role of humor in your pictures? Is it serving as a type of commentary or satire?
JB: I see the banality of many contemporary images, especially in photography, as a problem. I think photography has became uncomfortably boring as a way of seeking to seem smarter. This banality stops some viewers from accessing the work at a elementary level. When I made the Good is Dead images, I wanted them to be big, loud, and funny. I think a lot of that comes from my own personality, but my desire was for people who viewed them for the first time to access them from a point of humor. The break through here was Abraham and Isaac image. There is this story of a guy who’s told he has to sacrifice his child to prove he loves God. As he’s about to slit his own boy’s throat, God changes his mind and says, “No, just kidding, kill that ram instead.” That’s just crazy! So I tried to tell this story and my first attempt looked very similar to everything we have seen before, it really kinda sucked. So, I’m sitting in critique with this image knowing I have to change it and just kinda sketch out the exact drawing of Abraham choking out the ram that I would make. It was really just like yes, this. The craziness of my image matched the craziness of the story. I think I tried to do that a lot in Good is Dead work.
It’s very much about satire. Religion is such a serious subject and I see the best way to critique its shortcomings is by my mocking of it which allows for the viewer to question the tales as well.
GJ: What’s coming up for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise?
JB: For the past year I have been working as a Research Associate at the University of Notre Dame. I run the Digital Printing Studio, teach, and make art. I have recently started two new series of work, both of which I am pretty excited about. The first is a still image series that uses leaked/stolen celebrity nude cell phone pictures. I manipulate the images to re-contextualize them and link them to art historical imagery in order to comment on the roll of the image maker in contemporary society. The second body of work is a moving image series titled Highlight. In this series I film myself reenacting memorable sports highlights. The highlight activities are difficult and take many attempts to get right, but I show my failures as well as my successes. I see it as a combination of early [Bruce] Nauman video work and [John] Baldessari’s ball series and having conceptual ties to nostalgia, narcissism, humor, and masculine identity mixed in.
Unable to reveal his true identity for security reasons, “Jayson Bimber” sunburns easily and is an avid painter of pet portraits. He also really likes hot dogs.
Jayson began his art education at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania where he majored in Photography and Graphic Design and minored in printmaking. He then received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in photography. His image making practice employs digitally collaging and manipulating appropriated imagery from magazines, weekly advertisements, and found internet photographs to comment on representation in the media, art history, and the role of the contemporary image maker. He has a strong interest in the imaging of celebrities and pop culture.
Jayson has spent the last several years working as a Digital Imaging Specialist specializing in retouching, digital compositing, and fine art printing for artists and advertising agencies in Chicago, IL. He frequently notes that if he had to go back and do it all over again, he would be a Harlem Globetrotter, specializing in spinning the ball on his finger and his greatest regret is life is that he cannot dunk.
Introduction and Interview by Gregory Jones
Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published on our previous platform, In the In-Between: Journal of Digital Imaging Artists.
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