Leigh Ledare's Oedipal Complex Is Not Our Gain

I don't like pretty art — flowers (unless they're obvious vagina metaphors), boats, staid portraiture, still lifes... none of that is really my scene. I prefer art that disturbs me and makes me think; pictures that are, actually, worth a thousand words. And while I don't know that Leigh Ledare's work about his mother is enough to wring 1,000 words out of me this late on a Wednesday afternoon, I definitely have something to say about it. Mostly, what I have to say starts when I IM'd my editor to say "I'm cropping his mom's nipple out of one really good photo [NSFW] AND I CANNOT BELIEVE I JUST WROTE THAT."

Because, look, I get as much as anyone that social norms in the U.S. about nudity are a little more Puritanical than average. I haven't seen one of my parents naked since I was old enough to remember, because, when I was old enough to remember, my mom made a point of covering up like Eve in the Garden. To a degree, I wish my mother was a little less ashamed of her body — the way Tracie's mom is — because I feel like I would probably be less ashamed of mine if she was. And so my house is filled with female nudes, and I have tried with varying degrees of success to overcome my own body-consciousness with boyfriends and lovers and that's how I live out my mother's body issues and my own.

On the other hand, Leigh isn't chronicling his mother's unselfconscious nudity in the way that women in other countries are simply nakedly themselves. Leigh chronicle's his mother's sexual nudity, her romps in bed with much younger men, her stripping, them "staging" non-maternal kisses for the camera. It's a peek into his slightly-filthy subconscious, and it's as disturbing and grainy as the photographs he produces of it. And so I like it, and I shudder at it, and I keep looking for more meaning in it. His self-portraiture is far more self-conscious and stilted than the photographs of his sexual mother and — while I don't buy a word of it when he tells his interviewer that "the camera provides needed distance between him and his mother and, conversely, serves as a catalyst 'to sort of push the relationship'" — you have to admit that for all that they are disturbing, that perturbation doesn't emanate from the artist himself.

But, if I never have to contemplate again, as the BlackBook interviewer did, whether Ledare's mother has ever suggested sex with him, I'm also really cool with that.

A Model Mom [BlackBook]
Photograph courtesy of Rivington Arms