Jordanna Kalman photographs prints of her own photographs, and they become a physical object. She surrounds them with elements from her garden or other personal items. This is done not to evoke nostalgia or sentimentality but to deepen her physical connection and/or claim to the images and distance them from the viewer. Kalman poses questions to herself about what it means to be a woman. This series evolved out of her interest in treating photographs as objects and also as a response to having the work that she posted online being equated with pornography. The misuse of her work notwithstanding, often the interpretation of an image of a nude woman is sexual. “By incorporating the image into a still life, building dimensional layers and distancing the original image from the viewer”, she says, “I hope to shift this sexual evaluation into a more comprehensive, thoughtful understanding. Overall, Little Romances is meant to describe the complexities and anxieties of womanhood.”
I’ve listened to an interview with Kalman, exchanged some emails, and read a number of her posts on the subject of male gaze and the all-too-easy defense some men take when photographing a woman; clothed or otherwise. She says, “It’s a boys club mentality which is dismissive and condescending to anything that colors outside the lines of the cis white male visual agenda.” The approach Kalman takes for the work in this book, and the work which spills over into her oeuvre is brave. She stands up for her opinions and savvily defends her work against ill-considered responses. Her images are not self portraits, yet the emotional and creative placement of her concepts and ideas is far more vulnerable than if one was to simply place themselves in front of the camera.
That said, viewers of her work could easily place themselves in the position of an artist, a photographer, or a woman, who comes under attack for the valid statements made through this body of work. And the visceral reaction against those who get it wrong, misunderstand the message, or pan it as ‘porn’, could easily incite feelings of anger. To that, Kalman says, “I think that anger is good and healthy, but it’s (also) what you do with it. In her ‘Keep the Channel Open‘ podcast interview with Mike Sakasegawa, she cites Rebecca Traister’s book, and proceeds to say, “It’s basically talking about women’s anger. It’s amazing because I read it and just go, ‘Yeah. I am angry.’ But you can’t just spew that out in its raw form. People are going to react badly to that. You have to figure out a way to get your point across like, yeah, be angry. Make it move you. Make it get you out of your seat and speak up for yourself, but do it in a way that people will be able to respond to it and accept it.”
Since the time this book review published in F-Stop Magazine earlier this year, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on anger, transgressions, and the intent of others to meaningfully address topics – or tear them down. Kalman takes the opportunity with Little Romances to address being hurt in a constructive way and in turn, prompt an introspective response from the viewer. I feel her project does not read as coming from an angry or defensive viewpoint – the work has a reflective and transformative quality expressed through symbolism, metaphor, and especially the materials chosen for her final images.
I want to be sure to address the physicality of Little Romances. The physicality of a photo book is something I always take into consideration. The binding of the book is exposed; showing blue cloth stitches running through the the gathered folios (not unlike some of Kalman’s images themselves.) The thick card-stock cover embossed with the title and an affixed image leave me with a distinct feeling of raw materials, a visibly constructed object with some vulnerability. The dimensions of Little Romances is 6” x 9”. It’s a personal size. It’s not a book the size of a coffee table, it is something you hold close in order to read. Thus the work is being viewed in an intimate space. Her images on the page are inset, providing white space around the images and thus a place for the eye to rest, giving the book the feel of a small photo album, or a handcrafted artist book.
Even the title Little Romances refers to something or someone we feel a romantic tug toward – and eventually need to leave or transition into a new state – yet that ‘thing’ we call the romance still bears the acknowledgement of something held dear and cherished. These are personal and/or private things, and their transition through time, and the theme of time and its layers of meaning run throughout Kalman’s work.
These visual and physical aspects are worthy of our attention due to the nature of Kalman’s images. There is handcrafted construction to many of her images; either that of a cut photograph revealing another layer or image underneath, or objects laid upon the surface of her photographs. We see placement of natural objects such as butterflies, slugs, moths, leaves, flower petals and mushrooms. These objects literally move across the images she photographs, or grow through openings, and transform the original photograph into a glimpse of a performance of sorts. The act of photographing a model or subject, then re-photographing that same image with the addition of chosen elements is a performative choice; and her images could be seen as documents of that performance, or insight into the transitive nature of life itself.
The essay by Jennifer Murray in the book intuitively addresses a number of themes significant to Kalman’s work. Murray mentions the aspect of Kalman’s photos questioning her own female experience or roles she’s expected to play in life: wife, mother, daughter, lover, friend. Murray addresses the performative role these images make, and how the performer is Kalman herself; which presents self-referential symbolism in all its complexity. Through her treatment of the images as objects, and by photographing them, Kalman asserts her ownership. With the inclusion of objects and sometimes showing her own hand holding the work, she also reclaims the images as her own. While she doesn’t specifically speak of it in these terms, the theme of control and agency comes across in Murray’s comment, “Individually each image is its own small narrative, but their collection in book form is a curated experience, a journey that Kalman controls”.
“When considered as an object the photograph exists physically in the world, it belongs to someone; it gets held, it has weight, value. I’ve been interested in this concept for some time. It was this interest plus the recurrent use of my images online without my permission that motivated the creation of the series Little Romances.” Jordanna Kalman
by Jordanna Kalman
Contributions by Jennifer Murray
54 Black & White and Color Photographs
128 pages, 9 x 6 inches
Jordanna Kalman is an artist based in New York state. She works on many different things very slowly all at once. Jennifer Murray is an artist, educator and is the Executive Director of Filter Photo in Chicago.