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Exquisite Creatures

In the contemplation of nudes, we congratulate ourselves upon the beauty of which humans beings are capable. They reassure us about ourselves, about Being. We are a little lower than the angels, true, but notice that we can get along without that suspect radiance, equal parts paint and literature, on which the angels lean so heavily. The human body is, or can be, a sufficiency.

Gilles Larrains’s images offer a contemplative view of the nude. The young woman with her hands folded between her legs is thinking, questioning the camera (as her interrogatory gaze makes clear). As on others of these pictures, there seems to be an uneasy truce between subject and photographer–almost-but-not-quiet argument, contention, testing. The photographer achieves the image with some degree of mental effort. In another shot, three women epitomize not boldness but bravery. All are heavily laden with jewlery: necklaces, earings, bracelests, pearls, bangles. There are ruffled skirts, a feather boa on the one at the left, rings, watches, petticoats, the whole armorium of allure is represented. The scene is one, finally, of a war party getting ready for a raid, bursting with intelligence, strength, and joie de vivre.

Larrain manages to locate, in all his photographs, bits of the subversive. in another shot the subject, in profile with her hands clasped on top of her head, has moved just as the shutter was released, giving a stroboscopic flutter to the hands, a slight shimmer around the head and arms. The white of the head, shoulders, and arms contrast shaply with the clack velvet of her dress (the pose is reminiscent of Sargent’s famous Madame X, although the model is facing in the opposite direction). It’s a strategy disquieting picture, its strong formal values set over against the irruption of accident, with estmable results.


An atypical experience with Robert Mapplethorpe, Deborah Turbeville and Roy Volkmann will lead to Exquisite Creatures (1985, William Morrow and Company, Inc, New York, New York), a black-and-white symphony around the many aspects of femininity, opened with a score of Larrain’s photographs expressing his inner world.