This is to be the first UK exhibition dedicated to the artist Robert Heinecken (1931–2006), widely regarded as one of America’s most influential post-war photographers and a pioneer of 20th century photographic experimentation. Describing himself as a “para-photographer” whose work stood beyond traditional photography, Heinecken rarely used a camera preferring to cut up and rework images found in newsstand and pornographic magazines to create a satire of American consumerism, the use of sex in sales, and the relationship between media and art.
Curated by Devrim Bayer, Robert Heinecken: Lessons in Posing Subjects examines a pivotal point in Heinecken’s career between 1977 and 1982 when he did pick up a Polaroid SX-70 camera. This moment came to characterize much of Heinecken’s signature work and coincided with a change of circumstances in the artist’s personal life, as a fire destroyed his studio and most of his life’s work. Produced across these years, and exhibited here alongside sketchbooks and magazine cuttings are over 250 Polaroid photographs. There are his first tests using a Polaroid SX-70 camera from the series He/She, which combine snapshots with handwritten fictionalised dialogues between a man and a woman. These highly personal shots are usually of Heinecken and his partner, and reveal the artist’s own gender power games with a sarcastic and at times hostile tone.
His later series Lessons in Posing Subjects is also shown in the exhibition; here Heinecken demonstrates his laborious working process: cutting, gluing and re-photographing fragments found in magazines. Like He/She, the seing witness to the commitment of this controversial artist who described himself “ as a bizarre guerrilla, investing in a kind of humorous warfare… without consistent rationale” (1974).
Pornographic magazines also provided Heinecken with a major source material, as can be seen at Open Eye Gallery in The Hite/Hustler Fashion Beaver Hunt (1981), which takes its name from the pornographic magazine ‘Hustler;’ its offshoot, ‘Beaver Hunt’, which printed reader submitted porn photos; and ‘Hite’ which referred to the renowned sexologist Shere Hite, whose studies of female sexuality were published in the 1970s. With this series Heinecken overlays cut-outs of sexual organs taken from erotic magazines onto photographs of lingerie models, this demystifies the advertised image by displaying what the pose openly suggests and reveals clearly how far ‘sex sells’.
Furthermore, Heinecken then adds layers of text taken from letters sent to porn magazines by their readers – looking upon desire, obsession and commercialisation. Throughout his career, Heinecken’s oeuvre shows a discerning eye that captured the vagaries of American popular culture and gender in a unique and compelling way.
Robert Heinecken: Lessons In Posing Subjects, until 11 January, Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool L3 1BP. For more information visit www.openeye.org.uk.
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1. Robert Heinecken, Lessons in Posing Subjects : Standard Pose #1 (Hands/Neck/Head), 1982. Edition 9/10. The Robert Heinecken Trust.