Tower by Stephane Graff; 27” x 23” framed; hand printed on silver gelatin paper, edition 2/15, 1991
Stephane Graff is an artist working principally photography, painting, sculpture and video. He does not draw a line between these different mediums, but rather skillfully employs each in order to express his most current concepts. Graff is an expert photographic printer, producing the highest quality silver gelatin prints by hand in his darkroom.
A comprehensive body of work, Graff’s Constriction series began in 1991. Many of the pictures were shot intensively over a two year period (1991-1992), after which the series was revisted in 2013.
In Constrictions, we discover nudes bound with ropes. Their bodies, partially concealed, are meticulously wrapped in manners reminiscent of ancient Egyptian mummies. Captured in raking light, their bodies are seemingly fragmented, appearing at times as if they are heavy stone sculptures about to be hoisted by steel cranes.
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. Graff’s subject stems from his fascination of the ritual of binding body parts within various indigenous cultures to 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, which often incorporates a painted canvas backdrop to give 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.