Referencing Ruscha

{For this activity, your task is to produce a series of images as a small book inspired by one of Ed Ruscha’s books.}Rather than taking any of his subject matters to re-visit or re-interpret I chose to use his aesthetic and intent as theorised by himself, other photographers and writers. Describing the camera as “slack-jawed dumb recorder of whatever is put in front of it” (BBC,2007) giving rise to images of “terminal sameness” (Vinegar, 2009). With Ruscha himself describing his intent as “technical data…non-statement with a no-style…collection of facts”. I decided upon using a highly controversial subject matter to submit in a bland and mundane format. Mark Rawlinson in his essay “Like Trading Dust for Oranges” proposes that Ruscha places the reading and intent firmly in the eye of the viewer; therefore my intent is to present the viewer with bland representations in order to question their reactions to the subject matter. Ruscha’s obsession with ordinary things photographed in a supremely bland manner made me consider this approach in order to tame the controversy inherent in the objects I chose.

So my choice of subject matter was something that often invokes a distasteful reaction which directly opposes this theme of the banal. The male member is still a taboo subject so I choose to provoke a discussion by placing it in print and invite the reader to consider their own personal reactions. I have mentioned here before that “People see a dick and freak out.”(Miner, 2013) so my wish is to normalise the sight of this distasteful body-part. I am not the only artist seeking to tackle the taboo; just recently Laura Dodsworth produced an empowering book featuring 100 photographs of penises and the varied stories their owners tell. (Driscoll, 2017).

In order to further the reference to Ruscha I found a similar font to his 26 Gasoline Stations and laid out the cover in a similar typographic style. My book has a different orientation in that it opens from the bottom so that the whole hangs rather in the manner of its contents. Each image was culled from a long-term project of mine so I had to re-edit so that they were no longer high-contrast, but utterly flat and bland in tone. It is created to be the same size as the average condom packet & slips within a protective sleeve (read into that what you will) that warns of its contents. In order to differentiate each image is titled with the initial and age of the subject. Ruscha is accused of a Deadpan aesthetic & I use deadpan in its comedic interpretation to frame the penises as if to say “look at these…aren’t they pretty as a picture”. It is my intention that with the use of gentle humour we can combat phallophobia and allow the responsible male to have pride in his appearance.

The reaction to the book has been pretty positive. It was even suggested I pitch this to a men’s health charity in order to promote discourse about sexual health and genital cancers. This is certainly something I would be proud to be involved with as at the moment there is no suitable outlet for this as a product. I have also been approached by subjects who would like to be involved should I decide to create a second volume, so part ii may be on option too.

Fig. 1 Northey May 2017

Small Books low contrast

Fig. 2 Northey May 2017

Genius of photography, 4 Paper Movies. 2007. BBC4. Thu 15 Nov 2007 21:00, [online] Available at [Accessed 19th May. 2017]

Vinegar, A. (2009). Ed Ruscha, Heidegger, And Deadpan Photography. Art History, [online] Volume(32), page 852–873. Available at: [Accessed 19th May. 2017]

Miner, P. (2013) Ryan Pfluger on His Encounter With Fred Phelps and Hooking Up With Guys via Photography The Huffington Post [online] Available at: [accessed 31st Mar. 2017]

Driscoll, B (2017) Manhood: The Bare Reality. The Huffington Post [online] Available at: [accessed 7th Jun. 2017]

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