Robert Heinecken

Robert Heinecken @ Open Eye

After viewing Warhol and co at the Tate Liverpool, I walked the few hundred metres to the Open Eye, a photography gallery I've visited a number of times since it moved to the Docks a few years ago. They put some really interesting stuff on, and this was no exception, thought provoking and really quite relevant for me at the moment.

I suppose the main component of the exhibition was Robert Heinecken’s
Lessons in Posing Subjects, a rather tongue in cheek selection of images - Polaroids presented in sets of 8 or 10 with accompanying text that describes the posing of the subjects; the right and wrong way of posing models in certain situations - wearing animal print clothing, or hand on hip, etc. As the gallery blurb indicates, the fact that the text is typed gives a degree of didactic authenticity to the work, I feel this is because of the era it hails from, as a modern take on this would lose this to some extent due to the prevalence of easy DTP.

Robert Heineken, Lessons in Posing subjects

As a photographer, I suppose I had a certain expectation these Polaroid images were from commercial shoots, that he had models posing for him in certain ways for each of the images, models responding to the directions to illustrate the points he detailed in the captions ("Removing one fist from the hip and placing it in contact with another part of the body" - from "Fist Errors"), but no. Heinecken isn't a photographer (he called himself a "paraphotographer") and he hasn't. Instead he has used his Polaroid SX-70 camera to re-frame and re-photograph magazine images to decontextualise them from their original consumer purpose to his own, sarcastic and subversive ends.

The work dates from the early 80s, and you can tell. The style of the photographs that have been rephotographed, the clothes being worn, the make-up (where there is a head actually visible), and the theatricality of the poses (some of them at least). Whilst I would have been young at this point, I can still imagine the original works (I have three older sisters too...), the types of magazines they were from, and the version of "America" they would represent. It's all about power-dressing American consumerism, at least that is the major thing I get from them. They correspond to an America I experienced through Hollywood films and the early days of VHS, or maybe that was actually a bit later in the decade but it all blurs now.

At the time they were produced, there was probably something of a feminist backlash too, although maybe this has tempered over time (or maybe not - it's a shame I'll be missing the lecture on feminism, it's something I'm weak on). There's a certain objectification of women on show, although as this is a re-contextualised objectification, there may also be an objection to the original use of the photographs, a form of appellation to the woman reader to look good for her man... Would the fact that Heinecken is parodying this carry any weight with the feminists? Does the fact that he is highlighting the exploitation of women mean he is working in this sphere, or does his overarching style and frequent use of pornographic material in his other work mean that he remains on the "outside"? How does this compare with the work of Sarah Lucas?

In the second room and upstairs is more of his work, now getting more... shall we say “risqué”? Some involves images from "girlie" magazines, fashion magazines and similar, but not in quite the same vein as the "Posing" series, although still as a comment on consumerism. There's collage on show, subverting the main image from lingerie adverts with the inclusion of others from the likes of Hustler to prove a point that "sex sells".

Upstairs, the work returns to Polaroids, but this time I believe they are of "real people" rather than of magazines, he has returned to a more traditional use of the camera... The images are again juxtaposed with text, and through their content they are highly sexualised. There was a video on show too, an interesting insight into the artist and whilst “Lessons” was the main reason for coming, it all added up to an enjoyable and thought inducing visit, and what I would imagine will be a springboard into a deeper look into his work.

After Heinecken, I also went briefly to DaDaFest, but I didn't really connect with what I was seeing. I can't actually remember very much either, so I won't say anything more.