JTF (just the facts): Published in 2016 by RVB Books (here). Softcover, saddle stitched, 72 pages, with 53 black and white reproductions. The photographs have been inserted into reproductions of 68 appropriated spreads from 1960s and 1970s era issues of Siam’s Guy magazine, some of which have original drawings and texts in Thai. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: If Tiane Doan na Champassak’s recent black and white female nudes were housed in a traditional photobook, we would likely see them as a pared down exercise testing the boundary line between formalism and eroticism. Seen one at a time, surrounded by simple white pages, many of the headless nudes would dissolve into studies of line and curve, where thin torsos, hips, and legs float against white sheets or backdrops and bodies become formal abstractions. And with the simple addition of a pair of sexy panties, a watch or bracelet, a pair of rhinestone-studded high heels, a tumble of loose hair, a prominent tattoo, or a more provocative pose, those same elemental nudes would acquire a sense of sensual narrative (in a Jeanloup Sieff or Juergen Teller sense), where the sexuality is more overt and confrontational.
But Tiane Doan na Champassak’s recent black and white female nudes aren’t offered up in this minimalist white cube manner. Instead, the flash lit photographs have been carefully inserted into reproductions of appropriated pages from Siam’s Guy, a gritty Thai men’s magazine from the 1960s and 1970s. Each new image replaces another more explicit picture from the old publication, leaving the surrounding text, drawings, and other graphic design elements in place.
This intervention process is executed with meticulous attention to detail, faithfully recreating the look and feel of the girly magazine, from the matte surface cream colored main pages (almost like cheap newsprint) to the heavier stock laminated centerfold. Each of the modern photographs is printed with a glossy sheen inside the exact edges of the page designs, and when the nudes get a bit too revealing, breasts and genitals are blocked by small cut throughs that reveal tiny fragments of the original imagery. Intermingled as they are, the two distinct printing styles create a lusciously tactile back and forth dialogue between the new and old.
Magazine intervention like this isn’t a new concept – Robert Heinecken famously inserted explicit pornographic images into mainstream magazines like Time in the late 1960s and daringly replaced them on newsstands. But the recontextualization going on here smartly works in reverse. In this case, the nudes being inserted are less explicit than the images they are replacing, and they come from a fine art tradition rather than a titillating pornographic one, opening up intriguing questions about the stereotypical poses, male gaze objectification, and aesthetics of each. Surrounded by the groovy men’s magazine graphic design, the bold fonts, the hand drawn nudes, and the elegant Thai script, the anachronistic modern nudes are forced to fight their surroundings, and that deliberate dissonance is what gives the photobook its energy.
This conceptual inversion is taken further when the scissored censorship is applied. At the simplest level, clever inadvertent humor enters the mix when nipples and pubic areas are covered up by smiling lips, extended tongues, groping fingers, and watchful eyes, as if the underlying images were participating in the arousal going on in the modern nudes. But the ideas get more ironic when we consider that art is being censored by pornography, or that more explicit images are censoring less explicit ones – the whole rationale behind blocking private parts from view and protecting viewers from what they shouldn’t see gets gleefully upended.
While appropriation and archive mining have been widely adopted by artists and photobook makers in recent years, few publications have married new imagery with older materials with such stylish intelligence – this is a true hybrid effort, where both sides contribute equally to the meaning and resonance of the final object. Even if Tiane Doan na Champassak’s seductive nudes aren’t exactly to your taste, it’s hard not to come away impressed by the originality of this expertly crafted photobook. Like a sheep in wolf’s clothing (not the other way around), it employs ingenious reversal to undermine our expectations and get us thinking.
Collector’s POV: Tiane Doan na Champassak is represented by Polka Galerie in Paris (here), Kahmann Gallery in Amsterdam (here), and East Wing in Dubai (here). His work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.