Between the Psychological Legs

October 15th, 2010

When I first laid eyes on “Elder,” one of nearly forty photos in Robert Fischer’s solo show “Mark: Subject/Object/Collaborator” at Autobody Fine Art in Alameda, I murmured, “fuuuuuck….” Perhaps it was not the most eloquent response or scholarly interpretation, but the reaction it evokes is that visceral. “Elder” is simple, direct, unflinching, unapologetic, and arresting. It stares you down. It challenges you. It dares you.


I told the artist that it is one of the most powerful portraits I have ever seen, and he replied that Mark, the subject of the photo, did not recognize himself when he saw it. Perhaps that is the key to the dynamic between this photographer and his model: Mark trusts Fisher completely and gives himself over to his direction, creating entirely new personas. Fischer wrote, “I crawl between the psychological legs of my subjects. They trust me. This provides them the freedom to give up to me who they are, their real selves.”

In fact, not until I spoke with Mark did I understand that this exhibit comprises a decade of portraits of a single model. I still didn’t believe it.

“Is this one you?”

“Yes, they’re all me.”

“And this one?”

“Yes, that one too.”

“Even this one?”

“All of them.”

"P.S. Sunday Morning" and "Magrite Schpin"

For this show Autobody gave free rein to Fischer’s representative, William Torphy Fine Art. Per Torphy, they were the de facto curators, selecting from this series of more than a hundred images. And these images are gorgeous. They are portraits, figurative, and narrative pieces. Kitchy and somber. Black-and-white and in full neon color. Unaltered and heavily manipulated. Printed on aluminum, paper and, in the case of  “Red Baaaaack,” the material used to skin buses for full body advertisements. Large, meticulously printed and installed, nearly every piece is extraordinary.

"Red Baaaaack" and "Velveteen Rabbit"

In December and January Autobody will exhibit work by returning artists Ken Davis and Renee Castro. And then that will likely be the end of Autobody Fine Art,  at least in its current incarnation, as they expect to close their doors in the new year. If that is the case, with last month’s solo exhibition by James Shefik and this one by Robert Fischer, they are going out with a bang.  

“Mark: Subject/Object/Collaborator” runs through December 5. Autobody Fine Art is located at 1517 Park Street, Alameda, CA 94501. Their hours are Wed – Sun, noon – 6PM.  

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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3 responses to “Between the Psychological Legs”

  1. Alana says:

    visceral’s right. I felt that some of them were almost self-indulgently painful (and note, it’s not the subject matter of male nudes that bothers me, but the emotional approach: I am a romantic at heart and these photos seem somewhat demeaning. They were definitely depressing. To me.
    Vulnerability depicted without a sense of compassion.
    I don’t know enough about photography to say whether they were good photos. This probably makes me the artistic equivalent of a coward, but.. but the thing they made me dare to do was get the hell out of the room.

    You do write well about them, Michael!

    (It might have been the music too… went by on a Friday evening, and the band was so loud people couldn’t converse at all without literally screaming. I hate when musicians think they are making a statement by doing permanent ear damage.

    I got my crankypants on.

  2. Alana, thank you for your thoughful comment, which showed anything but cowardice. The nudes were not my favorites either–I prefer pieces like his “Mark Smoking,” reminiscent of Greg Gorman’s über cool Luke Perry–but they are actually tame compared to some images from the series available on the artist’s website but not hanging at Autobody.

    It is interesting that you observed, “Vulnerability depicted without a sense of compassion.” The artist wrote in his statement, “My interest comes from a sense of compassion rather than exploitation,” but your experience of and gut reaction to the work is just as important as the artist’s intent.

    – Michael Singman-Aste

  3. Alana says:

    well… my intentions and others’ reactions to them are often at odds, so that makes sense!

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