Posted in Contextual Studies

Intimate Lives

Intimate photography is based around photographs taken which hold personal and emotional elements from the photographer. This can be things like family events, relationships and symbolic moments. Besides the positives there are also negative theme which some photographers wish to explore. These include  health, healing, transformations, relationships, everyday life, documenting, political and ethical implications -all of which can be used intimately to visualise and keep memories alive. Some photographers have been criticised for using such taboo themes in their work but sometimes these can serve an important and thought provoking message to the audience. They are also sometimes done for the sake of the photographer being able to move on with their life.

sally.jpgSally Waterman’s series “Wasteland” is a set of work  embroidered with personal difficulty and memories of her past. It acts as a therapeutic way of her dealing with her parent’s divorce and her Dad leaving her. In her images she portrays herself as an anonymous figure or ghostly presence. Therapy photography is often criticised but I feel that Waterman and other photographers are  entitled to broadcast their past to people as a way of bringing people with a similar history together.

Tracey Emin uses photography to tell stories of her own life. Her work is classified as confessional art. She is able to establish intimacy with the viewer by revealing secrets about her life as art. Her work has been ridiculed by press on numerous occasions. Most of her work is based on her life growing up in Margate. She gave up art after an abortion but Tracey Emin's Bed Tate Modern FOR USE WITH REVIEW ONLYwas encouraged to start again by Sarah Lucas.

Emin’s bed piece was a very controversial piece if art. It shows her own bed during her breakdown and shows that she is just like other people who go through the same thing. She said that her reason for making the bed piece was to serve as a realisation of what she’s done to herself.
Another piece of her controversial work was the tent called “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept Emin-Tent-InteriorWith” which was full of people’s names who she had slept with. It was said to be a sexually motivated piece of work. It displayed a way of stitching people back into her life, like memories. It also shows her vulnerability as a person. The work is appreciated more by people who can understand, which raises the question of generation differences having an effect on the way her work is interpreted.

Her set of work “I’ve Got it All”, was a way of saying “up yours” to critics, as regardless of what was said about her work, it helped her get a name and make herself famous.Some of her work was criticised for being too “simple” and like “child’s drawings” but her work is more about emotion than aesthetic. C.Tracey-Emin-I’ve-got-it-all-2000-A3-press


imageJo Spence photographed a set of images called ” A Picture of Health?” which was a
photographer diary of her battle with breast cancer. The images tell us about the social experience that comes with cancer, showing us how she felt objectified by the hospital and was not heard. Her work urges people with cancer to stay powerful. After stopping treatment she photographed her transformation of her body. She said “this stopped me disavowing that I have cancer, and helped me to come to terms with something I initially found shocking and abhorrent.” She expressed how she felt it was important to photograph what people don’t see behind closed doors to show what life is really like and she did this right up until she died of leukaemia in 1992.

Nan Goldin photographs personal, sexual, and transgressive photographs of her family, friends, and lovers. She describes her photographs as a ‘visual diary’. She said “these are my friends, these are my family, this is myself. There is no separation between me and what I photograph.” Her work was heavily inspired by Larry Clarke, using photography to visualise the struggles of her life. Her self portraits were based on her abusive relationship which she photographed to act as a deterrent for her to not go back and make the same mistake. She had a strong friendship with the transgender community which she photographed to expose their lives which helps to engage with people who can relate to the transgender society, ultimately helping them to feel more comfortable. She also photographed the underground scene and the rise in AIDS, which helped to recognise the struggles and lives of people who were often ignored. Goldin was heavily criticised for a lack of skill but again, the images are about emotion and engagement with the audience.

Judith Fox photographed a series called “I Still Do”, which was photographed over the course of 10 years. It shows the deteriorating of her husband with alzeimers who would forget how to perform basic procedures within his life. It shows her love towards him and you can almost follow her heartbreak through the process of his deterioration. It tells the story of their ageing relationship full of love which is often forgotten when alzeimers takes over. People have criticised the series saying it’s too personal and that there are things that should be kept private. There is also the case of whether or not she had asked his permission to photograph his illness. I do not agree. A family member of my own recently died from alzeimers, and it was heartbreaking to see her deteriorate into someone else.But I found Fox’s work quite comforting in a sense that it shows that a lot of people go through the same things as you, and it can help you to relate and not feel so alone. I found it quite beautiful that Fox wanted to remember his illness which I feel she can look back on and know that regardless of the illness, he was still her husband. I think it is important to remember every last memory with someone.


Many other photographers use intimate photography in their work which is celebrated and criticised by the audience. Larry Clarke’s “Teenage Lust”, shows his youth and the side of society which is less publicised creating curiosity and a shock factor with the audience. It highlights the struggle of youths and when the set was published his portrayal of youth was transferred to a younger generation of rebels.TulsaTeenage-Lust-Larry-C-009

Corinne Day created a sat of images called Diary which was produced over 10 years and portrays a personal photographic account of her life and friendships. The work has a shock factor and sadness to it but is honest and emotional. It celebrates friendship and shows the struggles for younger people. diary3

Sophie Calle created “Take Care of Yourself” which was based on her breakup with her partner via email and was done to help her cope with her loss. She said “at first it was therapy; then art took over.”


Richard Billingham created a series called “Ray’s a Laugh” which shows the family images you wouldn’t expect to see after his alcoholic father moved in and disrupted the life of his mother. It shows the honest truth of family life besides the posed smiles we usually see. It shows disfunticion but also love, but the images can serve to be uncomfortable to look at. It helps the audience to make connections with the images as everyone has problems behind closed doors.3219203

Annie Leibovitz photographed her relationship with Susan Sontag behind closed doors to show their true lives together. She photographed her right up to Sontag’s death and bringing her body home as a way of remembering every last memory they had together.susanseattle.0

Sarah Lucas is famous for her promiscuous sculptures and photography which makes everyday items have a sexual connotation. Although in some cases her intimate links with her work are only assumed, there are some pieces which have an obvious link to her life. There are also bits of work she has created and subconsciously linked with her intimate past without realising until after displaying them.

Lucas tries to tackle sexual stereotypes in her work. As an androgynous character herself, the stereotypes of gender are something that bother her. She was influenced highly by the literature she read about feminism and sex. One of her immediate sources of imagery was the tabloid press which made her begin to explore the representation of the female body. She saw women through the eyes of a man but as a woman felt objectified by the representation, which was the message behind her work. Her poses also show a sense of masculinity but involve suggestions of female gentalia, suggesting the equality of gender. Lucas was also angered by the attention males got from the press and the little amount of work they had to do to get this. She says “I was more angry when I wasn’t getting any success and people around me were. I was furious with all these blokes with their one-line ideas getting successful around me.” Her work stands as relatable visualisations for people who don’t feel obliged to be classed as one gender, similar to herself.

In her work she tries to display her fetishes and obsessions like in her exhibition “The Fag Show”, in which she explored her obsession with cigarettes as a material for art, suggesting the connection between smoking and sex.

In 2008, her ex-boyfriend Angus Fairhurst hanged himself. Lucas believes that a lot of what killed him was the extreme, sudden exposure of their generation. Now, while his death is always there, it is particularly present when things aren’t going well. “In the sense that I do have doubts and when I’m putting a show together, and the day goes badly, I’m thinking this is how he must have felt.” She also struggles with depression. “I sink like a stone,” she says. The idea of suicide and depression is shown in some of her work where she asks if suicide is “genetic” and shows such things as her “bodies” hanging from above. Although this might not be intentional it has a strong link to this idea. There is also a sense of loneliness in he work which could suggest the idea of depression also.

Some of Lucas’ sculptures and photographs of male nudes depicts the bodies of her former lovers, similar to the tent idea by Emin. Lucas says she didn’t set out for it to be autobiographical but over time she has seen her own life shining through her work making them more personal to her.

It would also seem that she was inspired by the lack of support and ambition that her family had when she was younger, which could explain why aesthetically he work is quite simple, but has a strong message behind it. “Someone like Tracey [Emin] had a background of quite a lot of ups and downs, really, in terms of fortune. [And] her dad was a sort of businessman. Whereas my family – they had absolutely no ambition. It just wasn’t there. I remember my mum being absolutely against homework, ‘because you’re there all day anyway’.”

“The creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly. ” Roland Barthes creates a good point here which suggests that by publicising your private life you create a relatable issue, something someone can value because of their own experiences. I feel that intimate photography shouldn’t be criticised but embraced, as a way of bringing society together to celebrate the things in life which we don’t always want people to know about. Together it can be used as a way of coping and moving forward.


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