JOCK STURGES. Photographs. Scalo, 208 pages, $65.
The arrangement of the photographs is generally chronological, which is highly significant. Over 15 years of Sturges' work is presented. In most cases, the images of each subject are in chronological order. Time and change, metamorphosis, is one of the things his work is about. Growth and maturation. Sturges has remained close to his subjects and now photographs the families of subjects who were children when he met them. We have the opportunity to see the adult-to-be in the child, and the child-that-was in the adult. Because the personalities are as revealed as the bodies, we see that "growing up" is not without its misgivings, but is not to be avoided either.
The implicit subject of Sturges's work is his melancholy acceptance of the passage of time, the loss that he speaks of. Sturges photographs the people and families he has befriended in naturist communities in Northern California and coastal France. The most striking thing about the photos in the new monograph "Jock Sturges" (from an exhibit at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main) may be the sense of what time doesn't change. Look at the photos here of Misty Dawn, a skinny, fair-haired girl with impossibly long limbs, taken over a period of 12 years and following her from childhood to adolescence. There is no way in which the young woman we see in the later photographs is not present in her as a child. She has a way of meeting the gaze of Sturges's camera that, without a shred of provocation or hostility, seems to lay down a challenge to the photographer to capture as strong a sense of her as she has of herself. Even when she stands with her eyes closed, her arms either behind her head, arching her body forward, or by her side with palms open, there's no point at which she isn't totally at ease with herself.
The paradox of Sturges's photography is that even as we watch his subjects come to define who they are -- the same look or way of holding the body passing from child to adult, and in some cases getting passed on to the subjects' children -- he reminds us of the human capacity for mutability. Sturges's marvelous photos point to what isn't contained in them: the spaces between.
"I am fascinated by the human body and all its evolutions. The images I like best are parts of series that I've started, in some cases, with the pregnancies of the mothers of the children in question, and I continue that series right on through the birth of children to the child that resulted from that first pregnancy. I have series that are 25 years long. I just yesterday returned from a trip where I photographed a woman with two children whom I photographed first when she was the age of the older of the two children."
"I have this naive and quixotic hope that in seeing the physical progress from start to no finish, from the beginning on, and looking at the body in all its different changes, looking at the fat-bellied babies turning into thinner children--they get straight, they get long, they become sticks, they begin to develop, their hips go, the whole process matures--that people understand that the person occupying that body is more than just a physical object. The pictures don't objectify: they're about the evolution of personality and self as much as they are about the evolution of the body, more than they're about the evolution of the body, because what stays the same is not the body. What stays the same is character, personality. It evolves and matures too, but there are certain ways of standing, there are certain sets to the eyes, there are certain behavioral consistencies, which from the very youngest photographs you can see. It's just always there. It's fascinating to see what stays the same and what changes."
"I've always been drawn to and fascinated by physical and psychological change.
If I'm able to make pictures of children that are so real, as you follow the children over the years in any given book, and in subsequent books they get older and older and grow up, perhaps there might be something cautionary in that visual example.
Every child is going to grow up. You can see it happen in the books: They get older and older and belong to themselves to a greater and greater extent."
"Some of the people that I photographed as sticks became much more voluptuous, much rounder, in some cases dramatically so, and I think they're even more beautiful. Some of them are in their 30s now, and their bodies are beginning to obey gravity's halcyon call, and I think they're still more beautiful because now they're the origins of other people, of children themselves. That beauty is flowing back into their own children. To me that illuminates them and it illuminates the children as well. It's just all part of the same circle."
"I can't begin to know the psychological ramifications of what I do in the long run. I don't live long enough. It may be that the most important ramifications of what I do will come on my models in their 60s and 70s, when they look very different than they do in the pictures now, and when they will have the photographs as a reminder. It may be that reminder is painful. I hope not. I hope that they can continue to accept themselves and their bodies as they change and grow, as continuously beautiful. I can't answer that question with any kind of certainty; I just don't get to know."