hile the titilating title of Bert Stern's new photographic exhibit, "Peep Show" suggests the promise of porn, the show, at the Vered Gallery, delivers an exotic and erotic fantasy which, as it fulfills itself, becomes art.
In superb sequence, a pair of identical women (the Lavender twins) seem to be suspended in a perennial state of climaxing passion, moving like ocean waves, over and over, peaking to a frothing edge before curling and crashing down, while the male artist-voyeur records it all.
Working together for over two years in an evolving and spontaneous script, the twins learned to allow themselves to be accessible and exposed to the unrelenting scrutiny of the male artist. Together, artist and models find the visual aethetic for wordless sensation and intense feeling.
Whether a woman photographer would show women as Mr. Stern does is doubtful. I cannot conceive of Consuela Kanaga doing a Bert Stern photographic metaphor on women.
Light And Energy
We see it all in the nuances of light and skin tones, sculptural mounds and hollows of bone and flesh, radiant and darkening in exquisite hues. Mr. Stern is surely a 20th-century master of black and white photography.
Into his closed world of narrative and vision, he brings the highest traditions of portrait and figurative painting and invests it with his own idiosyncratic energy, a new twist, flickering patches of light and dark an ever-changing pattern of reflections, recalling most particularly the paintings of Rubens and Bonnard. He plays his images as intensely vibrating chords that quiver in the light, from black to gray to white.
Then, to see each figurative image doubled-stated as reflections of their original amplified selves- is to enlarge nature as art. Each emotion and physical manifestation is sounded, resounded, echoed, and mirrored in each face and body.
In the mystery of "Candelight," we see the dark haired twins in portrait, their luminous skin and classic features facing each other across the light of the candle. The rollicking humor of "In the Kitchen" shows the twins naked in long white aprons, their backs to each other, balanced in symmetry.
We see the naked posterior of the sisters whose back is turned and the exquisite frontal view of the other, her lovely face warmed by the pleasure of stirring the pot.
My favorite is the double portrait "Sisters," matted in the round, the faces reflecting each other as a reverberation of being in the moment and , at the same time, in a pulsing, throbing dream.
It is a metaphor for the whole experience of resonance, its depths and hollows, its thunder, its ringing, its echo.
Bert Stern works in the spirit of Picasso, who said, "When I paint, my object is to show what I have found and not what I am looking for.... We all know art is not truth. Art is a lie... In our subjects we keep the joy of discovery, the pleasure of the unexpected."
Basically, Mr. Stern records the metamorphosis of the picture as if he were materializing a life. In the end, as Picasso also noted, the picture does not change. The first vision remains intact, repeating itself throughout, whatever the action-looking in the mirror, looking in the mirror, looking into each other's faces, breathing a sigh.
These 17 photographs, all of them made at the photographer's Sag Harbor house, are about as personal and intimate as you can get, totally magnetic in their eroticism, allowing the viewer to join the photographer as voyeur.
They recognize the creative relationship between the artist and his model as they turn each other on, taditionally a powerful reality for the artist.
Secrecy And Sin
The Vered Gallery has redecorated its space to enhance the ambiance of the secrecy and sin, with the prints hung on newly painted red walls and heavy velvet drapes creating an interior enclosure to protect the privacy of "Peep Show."
A few shots from Mr. Stern's memorable study of Marilyn Monroe, the last pictures taken before she died, are also on view. Done in a two day session and published in his book "The Last Sitting," this is probably the most intense study of a beautiful woman ever made.The Easthampton Star, October 24, I996
Mr. Stern's frankly erotic photographs are not about sex, per se, although they might be about the male (female) gaze. They are about paying homage to women, Mr. Stern noting to this critic on a separate occasion that he believes females are closer to God and the earth than men. He himself has had especially meaningful relationships with women throughout his entire life.
Taken from another, nonsexual perspective, Mr. Stern's pictures may represent a "Doppelganger" literary device which conjures up the supernatural (apparitional) appearance of a living person- his or her double/counterpart. There are several photos, in fact, that evoke a dream-like mood.
The doubles concept can also be applicable to various psychological theories that explain divergent behavior, of course, and to Lecan's idea about the "Other". More relevant to Mr. Stern's photographs, however, is the idea of the "mirror image" that we all possess. (There's a particularly potent picture of a twin gazing at her mirrored reflection.)
Whatever "notions" one might receive from Mr. Stern's show are superseded by his aesthetics. Like Irving Penn, Mr. Stern also has a penchant for perfection: his fine detail and stark eloquence make him a man who captures the very essence of human nature.By Marion Wolberg Weiss