Photographer Clayton Cubitt started a project in 2012 called Hysterical Literature. In each of the project's resulting videos, a female participant is filmed from the waist up reading a story of her choosing while she is stimulated to orgasm with a vibrator by Cubitt's partner, Katie James. His first subject was adult film star Stoya; her thoughts on the experience are here.
Vanity Fair recently sent writer Tony Bentley to participate in an HL session. Her reading choice? The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.
With Katie now in position under the table, takeoff is imminent and the stakes are high: the sessions are a one-shot deal, no retakes, and no editing of the footage after the fact. It was not lost on me that a perfect triangulation between Clayton (auteur, cameraman), Katie (Hitachi artist), and me (the canvas) was in play, and it mirrored my internal mixture of curiosity, exhilaration, and stage fright. I couldn't help wondering if this adventure qualified as having a threesome with two strangers. But soon enough such intellectualizing sexualizing was rendered naught.
"Rolling," says Clayton, and everything instantly disappeared except the book in my hands and the words on the page. The world was out and I was on.
By the time I'd read two pages, I was struggling mightily to keep my countenance. "She spent half her time in thinking of beauty, bravery and mag-nan-nnn-im-im-ity..."
There's no nudity in the videos, but you might still find them NSFW.
You may have seen artist Clayton Cubitt's NSFW Hysterical Literature project. On YouTube, the videos have been viewed nearly 50 million times. The recipe is simple: a woman, a book, and a Hitachi Magic Wand. In the latest installment, Janet, who's in her early sixties, reads Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's a lovely meditation on women, sexuality, and age. The project is also on view at MASS MoCA's Bibliothecaphilia show.
Clayton Cubitt took photographs of The Beautifully Frightful Wooden Children of Gehard Demetz, now on display at Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea. From the gallery's description of the project:
With impeccable craftsmanship, Demetz builds figures and reliefs of children and rural, often religious, architectural forms. While his subjects often take the forms of adolescent or very young children who are at the precipice of self-realization, their grave expressions and powerful stances suggest something much less innocent than their ages might suggest. Situated on plinths, these life-size works are elevated above their natural stature, allowing them to confront adults at eye level with a fierce or introspective gaze far beyond their years. Rather than being carved from a single large block of wood, these sculptures are built up from smaller rectangular units-mimicking classic building blocks-with gaps in their structures like pieces missing from their bodies or lost fragments of their being.
Photographer Clayton Cubitt and Rex Sorgatz have both written essays about how photography is becoming something more than just standing in front of something and snapping a photo of it with a camera. Here's Cubitt's On the Constant Moment.
So the Decisive Moment itself was merely a form of performance art that the limits of technology forced photographers to engage in. One photographer. One lens. One camera. One angle. One moment. Once you miss it, it is gone forever. Future generations will lament all the decisive moments we lost to these limitations, just as we lament the absence of photographs from pre-photographic eras. But these limitations (the missed moments) were never central to what makes photography an art (the curation of time,) and as the evolution of technology created them, so too is it on the verge of liberating us from them.
And Sorgatz's The Case of the Trombone and the Mysterious Disappearing Camera.
Photography was once an act of intent, the pushing of a button to record a moment. But photography is becoming an accident, the curatorial attention given to captured images.
Slightly different takes, but both are sniffing around the same issue: photography not as capturing a moment in realtime but sometime later, during the editing process. As I wrote a few years ago riffing on a Megan Fox photo shoot, I side more with Cubitt's take:
As resolution rises & prices fall on video cameras and hard drive space, memory, and video editing capabilities increase on PCs, I suspect that in 5-10 years, photography will largely involve pointing video cameras at things and finding the best images in the editing phase. Professional photographers already take hundreds or thousands of shots during the course of a shoot like this, so it's not such a huge shift for them. The photographer's exact set of duties has always been malleable; the recent shift from film processing in the darkroom to the digital darkroom is only the most recent example.
What's interesting about the hot video/photo mobile apps of the moment, Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat, is that, if you believe what Cubitt and Sorgatz are saying, they follow the more outdated definition of photography. You hold the camera in front of something, take a video or photo of that moment, and post it. If you missed it, it's gone forever. What if these apps worked the other way around: you "take" the photo or video from footage previously (or even constantly) gathered by your phone?
To post something to Instagram, you have the app take 100 photos in 10-15 seconds and then select your photo by scrubbing through them to find the best moment. Same with Snapchat. Vine would work similarly...your phone takes 20-30 seconds of video and you use Vine's already simple editing process to select your perfect six seconds. This is similar to one of my favorite technology-driven techniques from the past few years:
In order to get the jaw-dropping slow-motion footage of great white sharks jumping out of the ocean, the filmmakers for Planet Earth used a high-speed camera with continuous buffering...that is, the camera only kept a few seconds of video at a time and dumped the rest. When the shark jumped, the cameraman would push a button to save the buffer.
Only an after-the-fact camera is able to capture moments like great whites jumping out of the water:
And it would make it much easier to capture moments like your kid's first steps, a friend's quick smile, or a skateboarder's ollie. I suspect that once somebody makes an easy-to-use and popular app that works this way, it will be difficult to go back to doing it the old way.
Shouldn't the HDR Hole actually extend below the baseline? Larger version is here. See also Clayton Cubitt's three-step guide to photography:
01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.