Vile Bodies

A 1998 Channel 4 documentary series about photography and the body.

In this documentary many questions and observations were raised about “People watching” points raised included views and interviews with Jenny Saville, John Coplans, Joel Peter Witkin, these people have a reputation for seeking out and creating pictures of people with imperfections.

Jenny Saville – British painter known for paintings of people, she paints people ‘Warts and all’

John Coplans – British photographer, painter, writer.

Joel Peter Witkin – American photographer. His work often deals with images of death, corpses, and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals and physically deformed people.

The program raised issues about what we presume and assume so much more from our bodies, what message do we actually project or want other people to see versus actually and what do other people see. Perfect face, perfect body.  Also the signals.

The program also investigated the place of the photographer and how they capture and project images of the body.

What makes the perfect body, flawless, featureless.  Do imperfections add interest and character.  At what point does imperfections become voyeuristic and considered ‘bad taste’, freak show or even taboo and not to be viewed.  Plays on peoples fear of mortality, old age, death, disfigurement and deformity.

“The principal thing is the question of how our culture views age: that old is ugly. Take a photographer like Mapplethorpe. Every single photograph of his is about classical notions of beauty, of young beautiful black men, young beautiful women, and he selects subjects who are essentially interesting and good-looking and extremely physical. I can’t stand them.” This quote by John Coplans ( describes well the fact that he finds much more interesting to look at old or imperfect bodies than the beautiful young ‘perfect’ bodies while others will find young fit bodies beautiful and the old are ugly.

Jenny Saville “There is a thing about beauty. Beauty is always associated with the male fantasy of what the female body is. I don’t think there is anything wrong with beauty. It’s just what women think is beautiful can be different. And there can be a beauty in individualism. If there is a wart or a scar, this can be beautiful, in a sense, when you paint it.”

Daily Telegraph review of Vile Bodies

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