I've been meaning to start a collection of writings about different articles I read about photography for two reasons: One, to get me to read more about photography; and two, to improve my writing about photography. I was debating whether or not to make these writings public in a platform like a blog or keep them in a personal journal but I decided that if people were interested enough to look at my work, then maybe they'd be interested enough to read my thoughts. As a disclaimer: I am by no means a professional critic or writer but that doesn't stop me from writing my opinions (though it probably should). I view this as something low commitment and as an exercise but I would love to have these spark some discussion amongst people. Ok with all that being said, let's talk about Rob Fatal.
I had never heard of Rob Fatal but I was scrolling through SFC (Strange Fire Collective) and the thumbnail image they showed just screamed "queer photographer" so I thought I would check it out. Fatal is indeed a queer photographer and the article is an interview about their new-ish body of work Open Your Eyes, Vato that explores "the Chicano male fear of anal penetration, generational trauma induced by colonization, and the redemptive potential of consent and pleasure". That opening stood out to me because the work wasn't just addressing this general "queer" idea but a very specific aspect of a queer identity (though this idea is not unique to queer people).
This body of work made me think about the queer body and how we navigate our bodies being another challenge of growing up queer. The idea of anal penetration being a sign of submissiveness or lack of power is something that is constantly shown in media through scenes of sexual assault. Thus when I was growing up, I was instilled with this fear of anal sex. This fear hasn't gone away and often times creates barriers with partners I have that want me to bottom. Didn't think I'd be talking about my sex life on the first blog post though I'm not surprised, but I bring this up to highlight an important aspect of Fatal's work and that is that queer bodies need a deeper relationship with their body because of the complications surrounding how we grow up with our bodies.
Fatal makes it known that the models they use have a huge role in the images that are distributed, viewing the project as a collaboration. This is refreshing because so often the conversation about contemporary photographers is that of exploitation and lack of consent. I still have questions about the ethics of photographing others, especially in an intimate setting, but that is for another post. Showing the backside of a model is an easy way to have the work read as predatory, with the model in a seemingly vulnerable position. I don't see the images as predatory however because of the care Fatal takes in arranging a scene and the care they take to make the model comfortable. There is a self portrait included in the series and I wish Fatal discussed how they went about when photographing themselves because I still feel when making self portrait works that there still needs to be this conversation with oneself about how the body is captured.
The work is paired with an essay by Fatal but I do wish the images said more by themselves. The structure of each of the images is simple, with the model posing away from camera revealing their butt in some way. Some have their pants pulled down, some are in a jockstrap, and some are fully nude but the images become very formulaic. To talk about something so specific and personal to each individual, I feel the images need to speak more to that experience and not rely on the vulnerability of men showing their asses. Different perspectives and varying distances from the subject (the ass) I think could relay this message and also having the model step away from a window as the primary light source as it gives every image a feeling of soft intimacy which based on the article I don't think is the feeling many feel about the butt.
I love encountering new artist that further the definition of queer photography and while I do have my criticisms of Fatal's work, I do find joy in the project knowing that this unspoken feeling I have been feeling is not a personal problem and is something that is being explored photographically.