Eva Stenram is an artist concerned with the exploration of the act of looking. She primarily uses found imagery taken from sources such as family photo albums, erotic magazines and the internet, often using digital techniques to subvert the intention and function of the source material – for example, transforming the familiar into something sinister or uncanny. She says this about her practice:
“My work is about being a viewer. As I am usually not the photographer, the work is not about subject/photographer, but about my relationship to the image as a viewer. My work is often about this act of looking, as well as the relationship between the public and the private, which is at the core of the photographic experience.” (Shore, 2014: 28)
“All my source materials are photographs that captivate and entice me – my source material is both my source of inspiration and the raw material to create the work from. I enjoy working with photographs, intervening and reinterpreting the image, keeping the photograph in a state of flux and transformation…The intervention may subvert, undermine or challenge the photograph’s original function, or it might conversely serve to highlight and underline some of the original characteristics and functions of the source photograph. Overlooked parts of the image often take centre stage.” (Photoworks, 2016)
Soutter (2018: 117) notes a psychoanalytical reading of Stenram’s work – her quirky and uncanny projects could be classed as what Freudians would refer to as a ‘return of the repressed.’:
“If technology is sometimes figured in terms of power and mastery, Stenram evokes a technological unconscious ruled by thwarted desire, whim and reason.”
Robinson (2005) says this about Stenram’s practice:
“Eve Stenram’s practice revolves around making manipulations to photographic images, so that they invert, undermine, or contradict their original or intended meanings. Stenram reworks the different genres with which we classify photographic images, and the different uses to which the medium is put, in order to create visual paradoxes. Rather than taking the recent history of art as her primary starting point, the artist most often draws upon vernacular or ‘found’ imagery – that is to say, she investigates what photography is at the service of, in the wider world…In each of these cases she intentionally bends or breaks their rules; our expectations of how they function are frustrated or inverted…in each of her bodies of work to date, she has tested the nature of our investments in the medium.”
Prior to making this series, Stenram had experimented with using digital techniques to extend background sections of images, usually curtains or drapes, to obscure what was in the foreground. By chance she came across some vintage pin-up images on eBay and the project fell into place. She says this about ‘Drape’:
“Erotic and pornographic images are some of the strongest in our society. They never fail to elicit a reaction when they are viewed. Pornographic images are staged scenes – yet they are ‘real’. They are fascinating also because they are functional images. Normally, erotic and pornographic images offer a public glimpse into private and intimate space. Similarly, in Drape, the curtain or drape covers the intimacy of the body. The curtain reiterates its role as marker between public and private space.” (Shore, 2014: 28)
“It became both a way to highlight the viewer’s voyeuristic desires and to refocus attention to the rest of the photograph. The photographs hierarchies were reversed – background became foreground, the exposed became hidden, what was overlooked became significant.” (Jansen, 2016)
The images frustrate the viewer as the focal point of each picture is obscured. And yet, the pleasure in looking, particularly the viewers voyeuristic desires, remain and are even emphasised.
This series uses 1960s pin up models as the source material. The pictures are digitally altered to remove all traces of the model except for a leg – something that the explanatory text on Stenram’s website results in an image that is artificial, theatrical and macabre. The viewer is forced to both piece together what is missing from the scene and have their attention drawn to the background of the scene – something that is not the intended subject. The severed legs become fetish objects that concentrate attention on the textures and materials of the stockings and feet.
Lewis Bush (2013) notes the essay ‘Photography and Fetish’ by Christian Metz which assigns the private, domestic world as the birthplace of the Freudian fetish. The sexual attachment of the fetish object often has no obvious erotic value, by erasing everything except the limbs of the subjects they are transformed into fetish objects and their erotic charge is heightened by the depersonalising quality of pornography.
The source for these images is amateur hard core pornography taken from the internet and displayed as small, low resolution prints which gives an intimate scale as viewers need to get close to view them. They show strangely blank forest scenes – Stenram has removed the figures that were once present but there is a clear sense of something missing. For Soutter (2018: 117) the viewer requires knowledge of Stenram’s conceptual strategy in order to unlock the meaning of the images. With this knowledge, the previously benign, and even banal, images become seedy and sinister – the opposite of erotic. The context, meaning and function of the original images is transformed in a pointed response by Stenram of the endless tide of pornography on the internet.
Stenram describes her aim for this series as wanting to reverse the power dynamic between the viewer and the viewed:
“My interest was first of all in erotic imagery and pornography. These photographs are captivating partly because they are so functional, their purpose is clear, and also they are of course very strong images that never fail to elicit some kind of reaction. They are intimate, yet they are made for public consumption.”
This series came about from experiments with old 35mm slides that had belonged to other people. Stenram digitally separates the subjects in the photographs and displays them next to each other – the viewer is able to recognise the artifice created and visually piece the images together with a single moment becoming fractured into two or three. For Stenram, this is an act of deconstruction which forces the viewer to pay closer attention to the individuals position and body language within the frame.
This series is based on three famous hoax pictures: The ‘Cottingley Fairies’ (1917), Loch Ness monster (1934) and Roswell alien autopsy (1995). Each of these hoax images were created using props and through processes of double exposure, combination printing or retouching. Stenram aims to ‘correct’ the images and restore reality to them by removing these manipulations, returning them to their ‘straight’ originals.
Robinson (2005) says this about the series:
“Stenram’s digital illusion removes, rather than recreates the existing illusion. The project is a kind of triple-bluff, where the photographs’ status as real or imaginary is impossible to determine. It is unclear how much of the photograph is ‘real’; how much ‘vintage’ retouching from the 1910s; and how much is Stenram’s own work. The results are experiments in visual ‘reverseengineering’, as well as being meditations on the past and future of the medium.”
Bush, L. (2013) Eva Stenram: discomforting domesticity. Disphotic. Available at: http://www.disphotic.com/eva-stenram-discomforting-domesticity/ [accessed 4th August 2019]
Clements, L. (2012) Eva Stenram: Drape. 1000 Words. Available at: http://www.1000wordsmag.com/eva-stenram/ [accessed 4th August 2019]
Jamison, S. (2013) Eva Stenram and surveilling the veil. In the in-between. Available at: https://www.inthein-between.com/eva-stenram/ [accessed 4th August 2019]
Jansen C. (2016) Photographic pastiches of vintage erotica. AnOther, 23rd September 2016. Available at: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/9084/photographic-pastiches-of-vintage-erotica [accessed 4th August 2019]
Photoworks (2016) Interview: Eva Stenram. Available at: https://photoworks.org.uk/interview-eva-stenram/ [accessed 4th July 2019]
Robinson, A. (2005) The Condition of England. Available at: http://www.ngca.co.uk/docs/Eva-Stenram.pdf [accessed 4th August 2019]
Shore, R. (2014) Post-Photography: The Artist with a Camera. London: Laurence King.
Soutter, L. (2018) Why Art Photography? (2nd ed.) Oxon: Routledge.
Strecker, A. (s.d.) Drapes\\Parts. Lens Culture. Available at: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/eva-stenram-drapes-parts [accessed 4th August 2019]