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October 4 - November 10, 2007 at Scalo/Guye Gallery, West Hollywood

by Kathy Zimmerer

“Nikki,” © 2006, color photograph.

“Christina and Cam,”
© 2006, color photograph.

“to come,” © 2006, color photograph.

“Celia and Aude,” © 2006, color photograph.

Jock Sturges’ blithe young women are beautifully photographed and mesh easily with the expansive background views of nature in this current series of recent nudes. Many will recall his defense of the First Amendment stemming from charges brought against him for child pornography in 1990 after an FBI raid of his studio. (He was cleared of all charges.) Then in 1998 there were indictments filed against Barnes & Noble bookstores for selling copies of his books. In his work Sturges emphasizes the pure line and grace of the human figure.  In the large scale color photographs presented here, lovely women are on par with figures by French academic painters such as Adolphe William Bougereau, who was popular for idealized nymphs cavorting in the forest. Though classical in subject matter, many of Sturges’ nudes share the same kind of adolescent, transformative eroticism found in Bougereau’s models of over a century ago. Sturges’ nudes have an unashamed élan and purity that is timeless.  

Sturges also treats his nudes as real people with personalities, in contrast to the classic modernism of Edward Weston’s stunning photographs of nudes in which he treats the body as a formal object. Sturges has used many of his models for decades, and has photographed some of them both as children and eventually adults. This may make you squirm, but his subjects appear to be quite comfortable with him, given the appearance of natural and calm introspection. He often juxtaposes his nudes against a natural backdrop, such as two nudes in a forest with lengthening shadows. They become part of the forest as the shadows and light consume the image.

An intimacy is present in his solo subjects, especially a young woman absorbed in her own thoughts while surrounded by flowers on a porch. His colors are luscious and make the images glow; he surrounds his subjects with delicate sky blues and vivid primary colors, as in “Nikki.” The blue tones contrast with the rosy skin of the model, who exudes a luminescent well being.

In “Celia,” a beautiful woman with brilliant blue eyes looks directly at the viewer, framed by an open door.  She remains calm and focused, her body silhouetted against the brilliant royal blue of the door jam. While posed, each model seems to have an ease that appears quite carefree, in defiance of convention. Many of Sturges’ models have been photographed in France, which alludes to an environment in which they (and Sturges) can be free of inhibitions that are easy to assume, given the artist’s past brushes with the law in America.

Some of these photographs suffer from contrivance, as when two models try to interact together in “Eva” (having her hair arranged), or in “Celia and Aude,” in which Aude embraces a foreground figure who retains most of the presence.  Sturges is generally more successful with his solo subjects. However, in “Christina and Camille,” his serene photograph of mother and child, he flawlessly composes a luminous testament to motherhood.

These photographs blur the boundary between commercialism and fine art, and he moves with great fluency between each pole. Sturges in hardly unique in this among serious photographers of the human figure. With his slender, chic models and shimmering backgrounds, Sturges’ work has, not surprisingly, appeared in Vogue and other high fashion publications. But his skillful eye together with a penchant for the sensual endow his photographs with a depth that elevates them beyond ordinary commercial work.