Every once in a while I read an article that makes me gasp at the sheer inanity of it.
Lisa Paul Streitfeld’s article: The Erotic (R)evolution of Photographer Stephen Klein, does just that.
Strap on the bridle and get an apple in your mouth – I’m about to mess some shit up.
Streitfeld’s article starts on the topic of Klein’s latest book, aptly if not obviously titled, Stag Film, and features wide stills of a black stallion attempting to mate with a dummy mare. The photographs are pretty graphic, with wide-angle erect horse dicks, and angles that stylistically mimic the genuine art of pornographic ‘up shots’. There is one image that I find particularly captivating, and I don’t say this ironically. I really think that this:
is a genuinely fascinating photograph. Raw, unbridled (heh) and epic in the power – and honestly uncomfortable when you see the flared nostrils and you really contemplate what you are witnessing…as an uninvited but not unwelcome voyeur. In actuality, the awkwardness seems familiar, and perhaps does well to mirror human/animal similarities.
But the majority of these shots aren’t particularly interesting. There are plenty of horse dicks. Plenty of shots showing the entry-hole of the dummy. Plenty of unbalanced shots that almost seem uncharacteristic of Klein, whose work has shown to have much more depth than in this book (though I admit, I have not seen the entire work and am going off the images I can source online). Streitfeld, on the other hand, seems to believe that this work is some sort of commentary on celebrity, life, femininity and is an epic tome never before revealed to the art world.
“The target of the stallion is inert, infertile, a dummy scented with desire that reduces the natural act of procreation to the cold calculation of commerce. It is heightened realism, starkly authentic in its depiction of the utilitarian act of studding transmuted by the camera into holy rite.”
That is a really convoluted way of saying the dummy mare is there to help collect semen to use on other prized mares, and somehow, the camera is capturing what she sees as a ‘holy rite’. But does that make it good? Can’t you say the exact thing about photographing a dude in a sperm bank? Is the picture capturing a holy rite then, or does it only count when a famous photographer is doing it? I say this as a fan of Klein’s work: many of these images are just uninteresting and frankly, face-value considering so many of his other works have a story – a narrative – and are much more visually striking. These just seem blatant, and while that may be the point, it doesn’t mean the work has to be celebrated as a whole.
“Klein might as well as be speaking about the futility of penetrating (r)evolutionary new forms — never mind attempting to interpret them — through the commercially minded and frenetic pacing of the 24/7 celebrity-obsessed corporate media”
Oh, for fuck’s sake, really? Really?
“Klein’s ongoing formal inquiry into the body as a container for desire. The bulging muscle of the thighs. The bristling mane. Is it any wonder young girls have their first love affair with a horse? The horse represents freedom – the ride across the endless prairie into a sun that never goes down — as long as one charges hard and fast enough.”
Ah yes. As a young girl, I wanted a horse because I thought of it’s sexy thrusting legs, not because it was a beautiful animal that I could run away on, into the magical woods where I would turn into a fairy princess and my horse would be come a unicorn. Not because it represented beauty, elegance, intelligence and the ability to be both stoic and gentle.
No, no, it was because I secretly wanted to fuck.the.horse. Ugh.
Sad, because Klein shot this photo for a pictorial with Madonna. And these horses manage to capture imagination, mesmerize you as they stand amidst hot spring, enveloped in an ethereal aura. This is what I dreamed of when I was a little girl. This was the kind of horse I wanted to be around. And it isn’t because I find it’s powerful legs sexually appealing, or that I imagine it’s virility, or that I want that horsepower between my legs. And frankly, it’s such a sad,sexist and stereotypical Freudian thing to say: that women are attracted to the ‘masculine’ attributes of a horse – just like we secretly want our ‘daddies’, and just like we hope to one day surrender ourselves to this masculine brute force.
Adding to her childish thoughts on women, of which I generally do not attribute to Klein himself, she seems to revel in the idea that these photographs stem from the myth of Actaeon, who was turned into a stag by the vengeful Artemis, “all because he stared at her while she was bathing in the forest. That damned male gaze sourced at the origin of classicism! Klein cleverly gets around this dilemma by leaving the female out of the sex act…And replacing her with a dummy!”
Oh, sexism! It’s hilarious! And what does class have to do with any of this?! And for the record, lest the silly analogy confuse you, that ‘damned’ male gaze, isn’t spurned at all, which is the absurd part. In turning the woman into a dummy, Streitfeld seems to miss the point that the woman is in fact NOT taken out of the picture, but rather forcefully represented as mindless, static, and unaffected by the coerced mating process. So, she is the dummy – not replaced by one. A darling image of woman, don’t you think?
Not to mention, I do not believe that Klein had that misogynistic point of view at all. His women are generally sexualized, but never against their will. His women are always in control of their bodies, in control of the situation, and aware of their sexual power – not allowing anyone, including the camera, to take it away from them. Example: Madonna and the horse.
While some sort of human sexism analogy may be present somewhere else in the book, I’m really not getting it here. Streitfeld seems to this that this view of the dummy woman represents the emergence of the ‘”new archetype of the feminine”, but where is she getting this from? If she means the dummy cum-dumpster is the new archetype, I’ll take whatever we’ve got right now and stick with it.
Klein’s past work with horses has been far more interesting, particularly when you include the implied love affair with Madonna as he does in his spread Madonna Unbound. And it is clear that he has a fascination with the equine, and his previous portrayals of it have been enchanting, and perhaps sexual, though never vulgar. And never so…obvious. And while I appreciate the idea of the book in it’s idea, I find Streitfeld’s article on it truly innane and can’t help but wonder if she masturbates to the sound of her own voice.
How can you write “Thus, the need to reach back to the past – to the bastard child of the collusion between the postmodernisti(c) queen (Madonna) gone baroque by her material lust, nonetheless exposed by her consort/image maker (Klein)” with a straight, fucking, face?
If anything, Klein is exposing taboo, questioning the sacristy of fornication, and maybe, maybe, commenting on a male’s willingness to stick it in any hole that is willing and insinuating the naturalness of that. But I think that is a stretch. I’m sure Klein’s intention was the double entendre, and if you have even seen a real stag film, the way a stag is meant to be viewed (which I have: standing with a group of strangers watching a silent film of two people fucking, in all it’s sloppy honesty) you understand the shared unease that comes along with the raw depiction of real sex on film – whether it be a horse, or a person.
This book is not, as Streitfeld claims, “strategy to expose the technological culture’s denial of the crucial role of the authentic feminine power to give birth to a new society”. It is a foray into the ideas of suppression, expression and anathema of what is appropriate for human consumption. And it’s not that exciting, really. No matter how many run-on, convoluted, sentences you write.