|Contact Us Become a Member
Skin & Bones star in Gory Exhibit
In one of the most bizarre and potentially controversial exhibitions of the decade, self-proclaimed ‘realist photographer’ Kevin Damme displays the history of photography in “Sestus”. No ordinary timescape though. He claims to have included exhumed bodies and remains of some of the most famous names in photography. From Niecpe to Steiglitz, Moholy-Nagy to Adams, no one is sacred it seems, and Idaho police seem to agree. They are checking his claims to have dug up graves of the well known photographers, 19 in all, and are prepared to lay charges if convinced that Damme’s claim is valid. They are likely to hit a legal stumbling block though - none of the alleged exhumations occurred in the state, and many were from outside the US.
Damme seems not to mind, however. In a forceful lambast about the public’s ability to reconcile artistic merit with what may disturb them, he says it is his right to follow a destiny mapped out from his early days in a small art college in Boise, Idaho. Laughing off jokes about wings on flies as frivolous, he describes his early work - “insects I’d dowsed in developer would walk across the paper creating a work that was finished when I fixed the image in hypo.”
Certainly, the images he showed First Contact, when he had used a similar process on colour paper, were intriguing, reminiscent of tracks in an endless desert that you half remember from a plethora of bad movies, watched as a child.
And somehow, it is not a long distance from those works to the ones in “Sestus”. Asked why he needed actual body parts, he replies “there comes a time in every image-maker’s career when they realise they are dealing with reality secondhand. I guess on one level, this is a coming back to confront reality directly.”
Taking Damme at face value; that some of what he shows is indeed parts of our photographic heritage, it becomes hard to castigate. We the viewers are implicated in this seeming transgression, as soon as we cross the threshold. We’re forced to push past mouldered cloth and twine; at one point most will edge up against a grossly damp piece of foul smelling detritus as we avoid a very realistic limb of unidentifiable kind.
Long sheets of photographic paper, damp not from water but a suspicious excrescence guide the flow of the viewer. We all wear thin leather gloves, handed out in the foyer, our complicity implied again. We, too, have crossed over from viewer to accomplice, and as we read the news clippings which Damme adds to each morning, we almost expect the law to be trailing us.
As can be expected, the religious right have joined the bandwagon of opinion against the artist, and phrases like “an abomination before God”, and rather more basely “he should be strung up” have been bandied around, and the protest which has formed outside does little to inspire confidence in an appreciation of artistic worth, or that Damme will get a fair go in court, if matters do get that far.