Professional photographer and author of Erotic Masters, Rowan Metzner. © 2018 Rowan Metzner
Rowan Metzner, a native of New Orleans, is an award-winning photographer. Her photographs have been exhibited in the USA and Europe and are in the permanent collections of the Aaron Siskind Center at the RISD Museum and the American History Museum at the Smithsonian. She is currently based in Los Angeles.
Her new book Erotic Masters: A photographic exploration of the provocative works by Rodin, Schiele and Picasso presents a series of photographs of models in poses taken from the art of these artists. I spoke to her about this project and her thoughts about the crossover between erotica and pornography and the status of nude photography.
Alexander Adams: Are there particular challenges a photographer of nudes faces?
Rowan Metzner: It depends on the type of nude imagery, but potential lawsuits are a risk. For this project, before every shoot, I sent example images of every scene to each person coming to set so there were no surprises and to make sure everyone was comfortable. As a nude photographer documentation is key. Every nude photographer must have a record of identification of the models. STD testing is not required but if a model picks something up they can sue you. Not fun.
AA: How do you draw a distinction between erotic art and pornography? Is the distinction especially difficult in the field of photography?
RM: That is the question and purpose behind my book. Is there a difference and if so what is it? I asked a lot of people this question as I was working on the project and the overwhelming answer was intention, intention of the artist and the viewer. What was the artist thinking when they created the work, what do they want the audience to feel, what do they feel? I don’t answer these questions in the book as I want to leave it up to the viewer to decide.
As far as is the distinction particularly difficult in photography, perhaps. People have a tendency to view works done by hand differently than photography. It often does not register that a living model posed for the drawing/painting/etc. and quite possible for a very long time. There is no room for denial in a photograph. The model is right there. In Erotic Masters I give the audience an opportunity to experience the same imagery as they might have seen in museums but without that separation. This amplifies the question is it erotic art or pornography?
AA: Do you think there is degree of snobbery regarding critical evaluations of erotic art between painted/drawn art and photography?
RM: Absolutely. Largely I think because of the reasons I just mentioned. Photography in general often gets overlooked. With the event of the smartphone there is the attitude that photography is easy and anyone can do it. Photography has become a dirty word. Erotic photography might as well be a synonym for pornography.
AA: Why did you choose Picasso, Schiele and Rodin for your book Erotic Masters?
RM: I started with a long list of artists and the more I researched instead of shrinking it only got larger. I wanted to show that erotic images are not unique to one time period or style. There was no way I could include everyone I wanted; I had to make hard choices.
Rodin was on my short list from the beginning. Years ago, while studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, I visited the Rodin Museum in Paris. Impressions of the exhibit of Rodin’s erotic works have stayed with me. Schiele’s work is so different from Rodin. Where Rodin has a fluidity and playful nature, Schiele’s is controlled. Picasso is something else entirely. Each one pushed me to work in different ways, which was fantastic.
AA: Will you do more work in this series focusing on different artists?
RM: I go back on forth on this one. I would love to but I am not sure if the point has been made. I might need some distance to get the perspective need to decide.
AA: One of your models – Stoya – is a well-known pornographic actress. Why did you choose to work with her and was it your intention for viewers to recognise her?
RM: About half of my models are in the pornography industry and half not. I thought about it for a long time and made a very conscience, deliberate decision. I did not want anyone to be able to say either “these are not porn actors so it is not porn” or “these are all porn performers so it is porn.” This way there is no easy way out. I chose Stoya because she was the perfect fit for Schiele. I tried to cast as close to the drawing as possible. She is well known and I knew that there would be people that would recognize her but just as many that wouldn’t. I think it works just as well either way.
AA: Were there poses that you photographed but found were too explicit or strange?
RM: Strange yes, explicit no. I didn’t want to put any limits on that. There are also several I did not get to that I would love to have been able to photograph. It was difficult to find the right models for each scene. I was limited on space in the book so there are several images I love that didn’t make it. As far as too strange, that would be Picasso. I did attempt some of his more abstract work but that became about something else. It no longer asked the question of erotic vs porn so it got the axe.
AA: What lessons have you learned for your future photography?
RM: Patience! That is a big one for me. Every step of the way with this project I had to exercise patience. I was also working with a team, models, hair and makeup, I had to learn what was important to fight for in executing my vision and what I could let go. It was a great experience and I am better photographer for it.
AA: Do you have any forthcoming projects or events you would like to mention?
RM: I am working on more gallery showings of Erotic Masters as well as opening my own studio in Los Angeles. Currently I am working on photographing athletes, particularly aerialists, highlighting their bodies and movement.
AA: Thank you for your time, Rowan.
Rowan’s art can be viewed on her website: www.rowanmetzner.com
© September 2018 Rowan Metzner & Alexander Adams