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Book Review: Lessons in Posing Subjects


Book Review Lessons in Posing Subjects By Robert Heinecken Reviewed by Sarah Bradley Reproduced in its entirety for the first time, Robert Heinecken’s Lessons in Posing Subjects was part of a movement into a different type of work for the image appropriation master. The collection of early 1980s catalogue images have not just been repositioned, but actually re-photographed using a Polaroid SX-70. Reduced to their most necessary details, the catalogue of poses is fully annotated with commentary on effectiveness, pointing out flaws and proper technique.

Lessons in Posing Subjects. By Robert Heinecken.
WIELS & Triangle Books, 2014.
 
Lessons in Posing Subjects
Reviewed by Sarah Bradley

Lessons in Posing Subjects
By Robert Heinecken
WIELS & Triangle Books, 2014. 56 pp., color illustrations, 13½x10".

Reproduced in its entirety for the first time, Robert Heinecken’s Lessons in Posing Subjects was part of a movement into a different type of work for the image appropriation master. The collection of early 1980s catalogue images have not just been repositioned, but actually re-photographed using a Polaroid SX-70. Reduced to their most necessary details, the catalogue of poses is fully annotated with commentary on effectiveness, pointing out flaws and proper technique. The Polaroid images and design lend authority, as if they were test shots made and assembled into a manual from the set of a catalogue shoot. But of course, Lessons in Posing Subjects is satire, perhaps less about photography than the culture that produced these images.

Lessons in Posing Subjects. By Robert HeineckenWIELS & Triangle Books, 2014.

The poses bounce between goofy, awkward and hackneyed. Organizing the images by pose draws attention to the mechanical nature of this type of photography, the banality of its repetitions and the unexpressive beauty of the faces depicted. Hands on hips, heads, necks, the subtle position of thumbs, the grinning mannequin faces and inhuman lack of chemistry between models exist in some sort of smiling soulless netherworld of consumer perfection: a catalogue fiction stripped of any resemblance to reality.

Lessons in Posing Subjects. By Robert HeineckenWIELS & Triangle Books, 2014.

While the images are amusing in their kitschiness, typifying the era with stunning specificity, it’s the narration that keeps the series moving. Heinecken writes in a didactic deadpan, drawing sweeping and hilarious conclusions along the way: “This pose is always employed in an aquatic setting.” “This pose is used only when the garments are in shades of purple.” There is a good amount of blasé acknowledgement of the blatant sexuality in the poses and advice on balancing suggested sexuality with overt (the latter being undesirable) – even, creepily, among the children: “In this way it is possible to project a subtle yet effective ‘Lolita’ sensibility.” Statements that any deviation “threatens the entire idea of the Standard Pose” imply great meaning locked in these gestures, perhaps an agenda – and that ultimately gets to the heart of it all.

Lessons in Posing Subjects. By Robert HeineckenWIELS & Triangle Books, 2014.

Heinecken’s text at once acknowledges how these images reinforce gender roles and power dynamics yet also denuders them by drawing attention to their absurdity. Recognizing photography as complicit in the endurance of these problems, he identifies its use as a way out, reflecting the medusa’s gaze back on herself. They crumble under his heckling.

The reframing of the photographs in this book is funny but also a bit disturbing. Advertising of this era retained a fervor of repression. I even noticed it as a young kid in the mid-80s when games were shilled to me during Saturday morning cartoons. For some reason each ad had to end with one kid yelling “I win!” and almost all of the time that kid was a boy. It’s nearly impossible for images like this to exist anymore, images that are so uniquely unselfconsciousness, part of a self-perpetuating simulacrum idealized to the point of detachment. Yeah, advertising images will always be like this to some extent, but our awareness has drastically changed the landscape.

Lessons in Posing Subjects. By Robert HeineckenWIELS & Triangle Books, 2014.

An exhibition of this work has just closed at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. I imagine it would be interesting to view the work in person, but this series thrives in book form, and WIELS & Triangle Books have produced a fine product, large and spiral-bound with each image spot varnished, and I suspect that Heinecken’s lessons may be more powerful in this unassuming volume.—SARAH BRADLEY


SARAH BRADLEY is a writer, sculptor and costumer, as well as Editor of photo-eye Blog. Some of her work can be found on her website sebradley.com.

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