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Photo Synthesis

Man in Tie (1977)

February 25, 2007|Colin Westerbeck

Jo Ann Callis is among the photographers represented in "Rebels & Revelers" at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego through May 6.

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Titles of early publications on Jo Ann Callis' work often contained similar phrases--"In the Realm of the Senses," "The Puzzles and Pleasures of Voyeurism," "Objects of Reverie"--that are evocative of this photograph. The necktie, "acting like an arrow," as Callis admits, points emphatically at the subject's slightly spread fly, but otherwise, the picture is discreet. "Reverie" is the right word for the vague, strictly implicit sexuality of her photographs.

Other images in the series are also obliquely suggestive. In one, spilled wine on a tablecloth looks like a bloodstain on a sheet; in another, a young woman's freshly washed hair is more provocative than the bareness of her back. At a time when all manner of people, from feminists to pornographers, were moving toward more strident, aggressive, explicit representations of sex, Callis was creating pictures that are refreshingly innocent in a polymorphous perverse way.

When making this photograph, she was, she recalls, "thinking about fetishism and what is female, what is male." She rouged her subject's lips and hooded his upper face in darkness. The disheveled clothes and the shadow on the neck that looks like a love bite add to the ambiguous effect. It's a photograph that makes the aura of sex more powerful than the act itself.

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