Articles / Reviews

Women: The Work of Iris Klein

The doll does not seek to have its photograph taken, to be made real by it. And yet, these images are still haunted by a sense of specular affirmation. Klein's faceless dolls have taken on the photographic face which defines our contemporary field of vision in the absence or despite of any conscious intentionality that one might attribute to the photographic subject. The image as the vector by which the gaze is invited to affirm the subject is complicated here by the collapse of the distance between the body and the projected image (pose) which defines it.  The body is an empty vessel, a costume displayed for the camera.

The seemingly familiar figures in Klein's images exist in and through the photograph, which confers upon them an actuality and a coherence which they would otherwise lack.  The pose is not here something deliberate and active; it is, as Kaja Silverman has argued, essentially photographic. Thus, in addition to being imitative of preexisting images of femininity, the familiar figures in Klein's “portraits” are imitative of photography itself. The pose, as Barthes has pointed out, always makes another body for oneself; Klein has taken this insight and literally made a body-double of herself.  She thereby re-marks the attempt to control as far as possible the objectification of one's own self image precisely by resorting to the most extreme form of objectification. This re-marking involves a literal re-tracing and re-positioning of her body as a photographic “doll” in relation to preexisting forms of representation. She thereby not only arrives at some understanding of her subject's specular dependency, but calls into question the authority of the images that conventionally represent the visual ideal.  

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