Photography / Documentary

Exploring our innate fascination with erotica through photography

Since the inception of art erotica has been an innate human curiosity, with artists from every era of time projecting their vision of erotic into the world. And it's this unwavering intrigue that is the subject of Curiosa, a brand new sector at this year's Paris Photo fair. Curated by Martha Kirszenbaum, the section will look at the history of erotica and its place and perception in an ever changing world.

Martha, the Curiosa sector is new for Paris Photo, why did you choose to focus the first theme on erotica?

Curiosa is a new sector at Paris Photo that will be inaugurated this year.  The idea behind it is that it will be a sector dedicated to exploring a particular theme within photography each year.  This year, Paris Photo’s directors Christoph Wiesner and Florence Bourgeois chose to focus on eroticism within photography and invited me to curate the section as they were familiar with my curatorial practice related to photography and contemporary art.

I perceive an interest in eroticism in photography as there has been an increased focus on the body following the #MeToo and #NotSurprised movements, specifically in the female body which has been undergoing a revolution of perception.  Given these shifting perceptions and conversations around the body, it felt like the right moment to interrogate perceptions of the erotic within photography from Moriyama and Mapplethorpe through contemporary photographers like Paul Mpagi Sepuya.

How did you decide which photographers to feature, what were the main considerations?

Curiosa is structured around three key themes which determined the photographers included.  The first seeks to interrogate eroticism in photography by exploring traditional power and domination relations in the works by photographers such as Araki, Moriyama or Mapplethorpe.  The second will bring to light avant-garde feminist practices by artists such as Natalia LL and Renate Bertlmann and the third explores representation of the post-gender, post-racial body through the works of photographers like Genesis Breyer P-Orridge or Paul Mpagi Sepuya, a young, queer black photographer based in LA.

You show erotica through different eras, how do you feel the conversation around erotica has changed through the decades, and is it still a taboo subject?

I think that the mainstream conversation has become more open and diverse recently with more and more artists challenging the stereotype of eroticism being the blurred image of a lithe, white nude female body. There have always been photographers at the margins of society who have interrogated this stereotype, photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin but I think that many of these conversations are receiving more mainstream attention today.  I see a lot of photographers who are becoming important and who work in the vein of Nan Goldin – that is to say they offer multiple, differing perspectives on eroticism.

What kind of conversations do you hope that Curiosa starts?

I hope that visitors take away an understanding that there is no one interpretation of the erotic, but rather multiple and diverse conceptions of the erotic that are closely tied to body politics.

Curiosa opens at Paris Photo today. For more information visit the website.

8 November 2018