Ropehead by Stephane Graff, 1991; 27” x 23” framed; hand printed on silver gelatin paper, edition 3/15, 1991
Stephane Graff is an artist working principally in photography and painting, as well as sculpture and video. He does not draw a line between these different mediums, employing each of them skillfully in order to express his most current ideas and concepts. He is also an expert photographic printer, producing the highest quality silver gelatin prints by hand in his darkroom.
The Constriction series began in 1991 and is a comprehensive body of photographic work. Many of the pictures were shot intensively over a two year period (1991-1992) and Graff began revisiting the series in 2013.
In Constrictions, we discover nudes bound with ropes. Their bodies partially concealed, rather like the meticulously wrapped ancient Egyptian mummies. Most of the photographs depict beautiful nudes captured in raking light, bound with thick ropes, their bodies sometimes seemingly fragmented, as if they are heavy stone sculptures about to be hoisted by steel cranes. Torse de Belvédère is a good example of this, where Graff recreates the pose of the famous ancient Roman sculpture.
The eroticism or violation of a rope-tied nudes has appealed to many artists in the past. Man Ray unified the themes of the armless female torso with binding by cord his Venus Restaurée of 1936, a precursor to Graff’s geometrically precise modernism. But it would perhaps be too easy to interpret Graff’s nudes as sexual fantasies. Nor do his images subscribe to the ancient Japanese practice of Shibari, or rope bondage. Graff is fascinated how binding body parts has been used to fashion various indigenous cultures and distinguish their members or tribal groups. One example is head binding in Africa, used to extend the shape of the skull. Another is the coiling of metal rings around the neck, as seen in the Padaung tribe in Asia, as well as the practice of foot binding in China. Graff’s photographs entitled Ropehead and Foot Constriction both clearly elude to such tribal practices.
Another source of inspiration for Graff is the escapologist and stunt performer Harry “Handcuff” Houdini, who would frequently volunteer to be tied and chained up on stage, before performing his miraculous escape. Graff similarly photographed a contemporary Mongolian contortionist who would pull her body into infinite positions. The theatrical element is hinted at in Graff’s studio set, often incorporating a painted canvas backdrop, giving the impression of a victorian stage or side show. Indeed, in the series Constrictions, Graff expands the nude to a dramatic theatre in which many discourses can be read.