Swedish artist Eva Stenram describes herself a ‘kind of photographic archaeologist.’ The phrase is apt: Stenram is known for her manipulation of ‘found’ images, whether negatives, slides, photographic prints or pictures from the Internet. Working predominantly with pin-ups and other erotic imagery, Stenram scans, crops, rephotographs and digitally alters the pictures, playing with ideas of voyeurism, objectification and sexuality.
Stenram is perhaps best known for her ongoing series, Drape, based on pin-up photographs from the 1950s and 1960s. In each image, the model is posed indoors, in front of curtains or drapes. Stenram digitally extends the curtains and drapes to partially conceal the women’s bodies. The finished images are teasing and mysterious; if you could draw back the curtain, what would you see?
Similarly, in Parts (2013-Present), Stenram alters 1960s pin-ups. Here, instead of concealing the body of the model with drapes, she completely removes the body save for a single leg. The erotic purpose of the original photographs is disrupted; the altered images are uncanny, the legs appearing as those of a mannequin. The severed limbs lie eerily on sofas and in beds; their poses, so carefully chosen to show off their shapeliness, are no longer alluring.
Stenram’s photographs play on our curiosity; each image provokes a desire to know what lies behind the drape, what body has been removed from the limb. Reducing the women to anonymous body parts highlights the objectifying nature of the original photographs and, correspondingly, the voyeuristic position of the viewer looking upon them. Yet the conspicuous absence created by Stenram’s editing imbues the images with a sense of mystery; the viewer is left wondering what has been concealed. Intersecting themes of eroticism and absence are central to Stenram’s practice, as she explains:
I am interested in seeing and using erotic material in a different ways. The works talk about sexuality and are about experiencing erotic imagery as a viewer – I am investigating the gaze of the viewer. Photography is always this oscillation between presence and absence – what was within the frame of the image and not, what has been and is no longer. This is definitely one of the main interests for me in using photography – how absences can enhance our looking and how all absences reveal something else.
In early 2015, Stenram exhibited Score for a sequence of Poses at the Siobhan Davies Dance Studios. Commissioned by curator Jane Won, the work was intended to inspire the studio’s dancers. Stenram produced a series of images in which pin-up images were cropped to isolate the body in poses reminiscent of dance. Arranged in a series, the images appear as a sequence of movements, showcasing the bodies’ strength, grace and flexibility.
Stenram is currently working on a project called Break-In, a two-channel video work which uses footage from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). She lives and works in London.