I have been of late reading monographs from famous transgressive photographers—Essays on Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin’s I Will Be Your Mirror, Arbus’ Revelations, Wolfgang Tilman and a few others, and the work that chills/excites/moves/ me are not the ones that are supposed to, the nudists, the circus freaks, the fisting, the heroin addicts and the hard cocks—what is supposed to transgress has become boring.

Desire escapes, a limpid balloon on a line, and I want something else. The pictures that transgress for me, are the throw away shots, the super commercial work, the formal work, the photographs that are the closest to normal.

Mapplethorpe’s portraits from the 70s, including Patti Smith’s Horses, the sly and wise Ianna Sonnabend, Louis Bourgeois holding a phallus with a grin. All of the ones that look like they should be on the back page of disposable Catalogs, the well light and well designed skill of a Parson design graduate is soft, lapidary, exquisite, and much better then any man with his elbow up somebody’s arse. Or a scant 6 pages in the Nan Goldin volume, a two page spread of black trees and green grass taken out of a train window, on the way to Berlin and two shots broken horizontally, across a single page. One of fog bound skyscrapers in Kyoto and a medium close up of pink blossoms. The Arbus photos are the formal and well posed work with her husband at Vogue. Clear, concise, ripping away the rococo silliness of 50s pop, in black and white. Wolfgang Tilliman’s oranges, squash, tomatoes, on the window sill.

Think of it this way—each of these photographers have a public personae that assumes total honesty; an emotional frankness. They take pictures that are voyeuristic. But they are not honest, and they are not voyeuristic, they are carefully composed, surgically constructed to slice taboos, but the cleanness of the photos and blandness of something that is not supposed to be bland betrays. Think of the photos mentioned in the previous paragraph. They are commercial work, intended for other people, or tourist shots meant to pad a book, or playing with another genre. They are at a point, where the photographer says something that is unrelated to the construction of personae. Considering how rare that is, its surprising that they are not written about more often.

(Think about AA Breakfast by Tillman’s and what he really ate for breakfast. AA Breakfast is a sex act photographed high above the earth, on the way to England. It’s a nice penis. It is a well-composed shot, well light, with excellent tendencies towards colour. It’s also exactly the kind of photograph expected by consumers of Tillman’s and it is the work that got him famous. It is unrelated to the everyday, quotidian practice that marks the strength of the best work. The best work is another breakfast, one of muesli, yogurt, fruit, well light, and so close to a still life, not quite Northern.)