Raymond Elstad | Best in Show IV | April
Photographer Raymond Elstad, Best In Show for 12 Inches of Sin IV, is prolific and adroit; the smoothly polished opulent photographs often focus on tattooed models or performers, the magnification of skin, pores, tattoos and the texture of hair, and heavy makeup has a rawness that lends a sense of intimacy. This is coupled with images of pure beauty and sex appeal, a kind of glossy stargazing, plotted out with mathematical intention. The Best in Show work entitled Box Grid is a similarly highly produced sepia-like photograph with a feel of a three dimensional object. In a structure that is balanced and thoughtful, a lovely blonde is costumed in various imaginative and fantastic assembles. She poses in various contortionist poses, some amusing, and others just all about an instinctual beauty. In the photograph, the wood box is constraining, and acting as a stage for the sensory pull of her magnetism; she is iconic, watched through a gridded window. To take this allegory further, the wood panels remind one of a peep show, as does the aspect of performance.
The image is lush and detailed and as such offers hours of contemplation. One sees more each time. It would be too easy to categorize this work as simply seamlessly produced vignettes of an alluring woman. Certainly, this sex appeal is part of the work’s power, but also one should mention the element of intertextuality in the work. The presence of texture and detail recalls modernist and historic traditions of assemblages, shadow and curio boxes, the most enigmatic, and famous of course being Joseph Cornell.
This collection and display has other overtones; she is collected, owned, and admired, and despite the clear strength of her self-possession and strong body, she appears to be trapped in the box, much like the pinned butterfly. Perhaps this is not the case; perhaps she is, instead, enjoying the showy display of her beauty and sex appeal. And so, like many successful works, the image leaves us drawn to it, and perhaps also caught up in a web like mystery concerning its meaning.