Thursday, June 26, 2008

Naked Tacoma

New gallery puts it all on the line

Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 26, 2008

photos by Paul Uhl

Surely you’ve seen the posters by now: Naked Tacoma. 20 participants, 32 breasts, 16 vaginas, four penises, two butt cheeks.

Attention grabbing, isn’t it? It’s the opening show of Paul Uhl’s new delight gallery inside Sanford & Son, and it’s the first of three similarly themed shows planned for the gallery. By the time autumn comes, Tacomans may be sick and tired of naked bodies, or at the very least, they might view naked bodies differently.

The term “Naked” in the show’s title is revealing (pun very much intended). The British media critic John Berger has fascinating things to say about the differences between the terms “naked” and “nude.”

“To be naked is to be oneself” Berger says. “To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise.”

By this definition, Uhl’s photographs are of naked bodies, not nudes. Nudes are coy and titillating, a kind of sexless striptease. Uhl’s photographs are unashamedly naked.
They are also art as opposed to, say, the photos on a Penthouse calendar, which are not art. His photos are all about visual effects, contrasts and harmony of forms, balance of dark and light; whereas the calendar photos are all about the body as object of sexual desire — but without even a hint of intimacy.

In this show, the photographer focuses on extreme close-ups of the normally objectified parts of the body, mostly nipples and vaginas. It is the many nipple close-ups (most from the same model) that best illustrate what the photographer is up to in these works. Starting with images shot in such extreme close-up that they are almost abstract, he then manipulates the images, adjusting contrast, double printing, solarizing the images and so forth so that they become even more abstract. Many of them look like photographs we’ve seen of planets as taken from cameras in space. There is one image that looks like the surface of the moon and others that look like the halo effect of the sun rising over the crest of a moon or planet.

One other thing these photos bring to mind: Gulliver’s Travels. Remember when Gulliver was made a plaything by the giant Brobdingnag women and how repulsed he was by monstrous breasts and vaginas? Yes, there’s a little bit of that in evidence in this show.

Uhl’s life partner and business partner, Deborah Page, was responsible for the unique display of the photographs, which are hung on clotheslines and clothes hangers with panties and bras draped between them. “She is responsible for the look and feel of the gallery,” Uhl says.

The next show in the series, scheduled to open for the July Art Walk, will be called Peep Show Tacoma. It will feature full-body photos mounted inside black boxes visitors have to view through peepholes. The August show will be Flawless. It will contrast seemingly flawless bodies with large photos of the same models showing imperfections that were not so apparent: stretch marks, crooked teeth, birthmarks, and so forth. Yes, everybody has them, but they can be beautiful nevertheless.

Uhl says he will showcase his own work in the gallery for approximately the first six months and then will feature other artists.

[delight gallery, Naked Tacoma, Wednesday by appointment, Thursday-Friday 1 to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m. through mid July, inside Sanford & Son, 743 Broadway, Tacoma,]

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