Here we are meditating on this image for a while, spending some time. This is Sandy Campbell, standing in front of several drawings made of him by the legendary Paul Cadmus, who also shot this photo in New York City, 1943. I have this photo in a book called Collaboration: The Photographs of Paul Cadmus Margaret French and Jared French. A lovely look into a productive time spent in New York, Fire Island and Provincetown between these artists, lovers and friends starting in 1937 until sometime in the '50s.
I want to discuss two points. One, the most striking feature: Sandy's nudity. I have fun paying attention to nude photographs, not being over or above it. Turn your eyes toward the casual pose and the fresh skin of his face and torso. His compact shoulders, a nipple, his lips, clavicles, his left arm. Don't get so caught up and forget to notice the shirt collar included in the drawings. There's a difference being drawn between 'Art' and another, separate or obscure erotic life. The collar rendered misleads you to reveal nothing of its unfastening.
Sex never once entered the artwork, and yet art was never without it.
Two: this is a picture of several other pictures. With this picture-in-picture strategy the artist provides evidence of his skill in rendering a believable likeness. The photograph brings mechanical reproduction to bear on 'artistic' virtuosity. Within this arrangement, if nothing else we understand that the artist has a talent for capturing the subject with his bare hands as well as with a camera, in accord with the modern era.
What remains is difficult to describe. We can peer into the space between model (whose body we have already described) and the portraits tacked onto the studio wall. What about the ghost of the remainder, (2012-1943=69!), a relationship between artist and sitter, romantic or otherwise, gleaned from a depth of surface tension... what is being shown? Something ineffable.
Sandy sees he's been compromised and thus takes action. Sandy slips in or out of some shadows. He operates within an area which Paul attempts to surround on all sides through the study and practice of observational drawing. Sandy moves and moves and moves. Paul's skill and facility does helpless little to prevent Sandy's comings and goings. To his delight and terror Paul is beguiled and incompleted.
What is the upper hand, after all?