FLESH (road kill and cocks)

by bjmuirhead

My first exhibition in several years is now on at MARS on theGRID (first floor, 488 Ruthven Street, Toowoomba) until January 12, 2015.

Inevitably, people have asked me what the show is “about”, as though there is an easy answer.

The difficulty is that I don’t work in “projects”, i.e., I don’t think about something, work out an idea and then illustrate it photographically. This is one reason why it has taken me between more than four years to shoot the main part of the show, though some of the road kill images are ten years old.

What this means is that there wasn’t coherent easily stateable idea which guided my photographs. But there were clear beginnings which I can talk about, and so I will.

ROAD KILL

As it has been

As it has been

My shots of road kill began when my mother was dying. It was clear that little (nothing) could be done, and I was driving the two thousand kilometres between Severnlea and Cairns regularly. There was, and always is, a lot of road kill on the highway, and it was inevitable, with death weighing heavily within, that I would stop and look closely. Equally inevitable was that I would take out the camera and start shooting the more interesting corpses.

The shots began, therefore, as a matter of simple equivalence: in terms of flesh, and flesh alone, there is little difference between a dead kangaroo or fox or rabbit—it all is rotting flesh which once was inhabited by a consciousness. Of course, we are heedless of road kill, and usually ignore it in a way that we cannot and do not ignore human cadavers, especially those of our family and friends.

Had I been documenting, as so many do, I would have had enough for a show within one or two trips, but I was looking for those rare cadavers which spoke beyond the mere reality of their death, which spoke particularly to whatever within me was struck by the equivalence of corporeality, of life. These, unfortunately, were few and far between.

MALE GENITALS

Muirhead-to be a man-7--lr

To be a man #7

 

Some years after my mother died I was taking a lot of female nudes. My primary focus was on blandness, on trying to create photographs which were almost bland enough to be ignored. I wanted photographs which the viewer could find almost nothing that their eye could attach to, images which needed to be studied in order to discover their depth (if any—some have said what I was doing was a total waste of time, and achieved little or nothing).

At the same time, almost as a guide of what not to do, I was aware of the tendency to reduce women to their genitals, usually fingered open so that both sets of labia are shown. These shots, usually, are not worth looking at—they say nothing about humanity except look, let’s fuck this because that’s what it’s for. It led, over a period of time, to a fascination with the idea of photographing male genitals, but not in a sexual manner.

And so my shots of male genitals came about, but I had, then and now, no real idea of what they are “about”, I just wanted to create visually interesting shots.

INTERPRETATION

The difficulty with interpretation is that there is no clear guide unless it is provided by me, and I really don’t have that guide. The nearest thing I can give to a guide are the following observations.

In terms of a theoretical approach, you could say that I was tired of seeing female genitals in close up, and decided to redress the balance.

More important is the idea that it all simply is flesh and, if you want, you can think about the images in the exhibition as a continuity between the beginnings of life (well, the products leaving a penis are necessary) and the ending of life, the connection between the road kill and the male genitals being flesh. (I would like, one day, to explore this further with a female model and road kill in the same shots, but not only do I not have a willing model, I also am not very sure about how I would take such shots so that they would make visual sense.) It is all about life, about the corporeality of life and death.

A moral interpretation also is possible, along with considerations about beauty. Generally speaking, the male genitals are not commonly seen, and rarely featured except in pornography (there are exceptions, of course, e.g., Mapplethorpe), so that merely seeing them is a challenge to one’s moral perspective, and, coupled with road kill, to one’s sense of beauty. If I was an active art critic still, I would certainly take this approach because it makes it easier to frame the images. As it is, I want them to be framed by what they show themselves, and how they relate to each other as flesh.

Whatever interpretation the viewer gives them is alright by me.

Text and photographs  © Copyright 2014 BJ Muirhead All rights reserved
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