Rita Lino explores her body in the new photobook “Replica”

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In 1946, American photographer William Mortensen (1897-1965) claimed that a body is “a machine that needs adjustments”. Stripping the figure from its emotion and personality, Mortensen conceived the model as a pure object at the service of the photographer’s intentions; an object of which every detail needs to be studied in its aesthetic functionality in front of the camera. His ideas about the model and the problems of posing led to the creation of a co-authored book with George Dunham, How to Pose a Model (1956).

Replica, the new book by Portuguese visual artist Rita Lino, published by Art Paper Edition, refers to Mortensen’s aseptic and surgical vision of the human body. It suggests a new interpretation of these ideas by deconstructing the mechanism behind the media emphasis on the issues of identity as both a political and representative tool. Furthermore, Rita brings Mortensen’s theories to an advanced level, as she dares much more and puts herself both in the role of the model and the photographer. Reducing her own body to a pure object and image, she investigates what it means today to expose one’s body to the camera by stripping off any construction related to her own emotionality and by literally presenting herself “naked”. Through these actions Rita offers herself to the viewer, and awakens a series of considerations on the legitimacy of the gaze and representation: Who is photographing? Who is looking?

We might think that we are observing her — as she allows us to do — but what if she’s the one who is observing us? With her severe gaze, Rita challenges us to reinterpret the photographic portraiture genre that has always been associated with intimacy—the result of two personalities that meet together: that of the photographed and the photographer. But what if this poetic vision is unmasked and the portrait simply becomes a study of sculptural shapes? Rita analyses her external appearance through detailed measurements and she adopts unusual points of view which highlight those blind spots that we never know enough about. She exposes herself, employing a series of visual strategies that stack together building up an inventory of photographic possibilities.

Accompanied by the words of Brad Feuerhelm, the curator and editor of contemporary photography and art magazine American Suburb X, Rita’s images are radically disturbing and uncomfortable, but I feel that it is here where the strength of this project lies. In the end, the role of the artist should be to show us something that is unseen and controversial, something that may be sometimes hard to digest, and something to open new ways and directions, even through risk and provocation. In my opinion, Rita Lino succeeded in this: she disturbed my stillness, my beliefs, and my certainties, and she put me at the forefront of what could be a far too near future, in which identity will surrender its representation to the unconcerned machine of augmented image production.

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