#10 ‘Tiny Village’ by Tom Morton

Tiny Village (2008), original composite image created by ‘Real Live Dead’, subsequently adapted by ‘Undersquid’.

 

I first encountered this photograph through a Google image search, while I was prepping a slide lecture on the subject of scale. Although the keywords I’d entered were Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (Nathan H. Juran’s 1958 film was to feature in my lecture, alongside Jeff Wall’s 1994 shot The Giant, and Charles Ray’s 1992 sculpture Fall ’91), Google’s algorithms seemed minded, on that day, to introduce me to the macrophilia subculture, which is to say people whose sexual fantasies revolve around the figure of the giant or giantess. Given the impossibility of ever encountering, let alone getting amorous with a genuine colossus, this fetish is presumably a pretty tough and lonely gig. It follows that the contemporary macrophile must feel especially grateful for the twin technologies of the Internet and Adobe Photoshop. With these he (and it nearly is always a he, macrophilia being overwhelmingly the province of the heterosexual male) may communicate with others who share his interests, and exchange images of obscure objects of desire that have no counterparts in the real, disappointingly-scaled world.

Most images uploaded to macrophilia sites follow a simple formula: take an existing photograph of an attractive young woman from a lingerie or swimwear campaign, then comp her into a landscape shot so that she appears, say, to be grasping the top of the Empire State Building with one hand, while she adjusts the seam of her stocking with the other, or else to be washing her hair in the roaring waters of the Niagra Falls, as though they were no more powerful than the spray from a shower head. Unsurprisingly, there are also numerous macrophiliac photoshopped images that borrow material from pornographic shoots (these make much predictable use of the size differential between fetishist and fetishised), and a popular subgenre involving gigantic business women bestriding the smoking remains of Wall Street or Canary Wharf, like Godzilla in stilettos and a Donna Karan trouser suit. Tiny Village is different. It’s not an image of sexual submission, or of violent retribution against capital, but of something more elusive. Originally posted on the macrophilia web forum giantesscity.com by a male contributor going by the screen name ‘Real Live Dead’, the work might be understood as an attempt at a kind of macrophiliac pastoral.

Real Live Dead lays his scene in a quiet village, where a smattering of rather Nordic-looking houses sit between steep rocky peaks and a silvery lake. It is spring, or perhaps early summer, at any rate late enough in the year that the last of the winter’s snows have vanished from the mountaintops. From out of a valley emerges a youthful giantess wearing a white skirt, her shapely legs silhouetted against the diaphanous fabric. Five times as tall as the village’s tallest structure, she carries a wicker basket filled with grapes, each one larger than an adult human head. She is East Asian in appearance, and in Real Live Dead’s original she gazes out at the viewer, although in the version of the image I first encountered (which is reproduced here) she glances down at the ground far below, where we see a male figure waving up at her, unperturbed, even pleased, that this gargantuan woman has strode into view. He is the addition of another Giantesscity contributor, ‘Undersquid’, who describes him as ‘the little guy who I imagine owns [the towering woman’s] heart, and who has the terrific job of peeling those grapes’. ‘Undersquid’ is female, and does not self-identify as a macrophile, but rather as a ‘shrunken-man freak’. For her, it seems, Tiny Village might be understood from a human, rather than a giant’s point of view.

A reductive reading presents itself: the powerful male macrophiliac fantasises about experiencing powerlessness, while the powerless female ‘shrunken-man freak’ fantasises about experiencing power. If this is what’s truly at stake for Real Live Dead and Undersquid, then Tiny Village might be said to serve each artist’s purpose simultaneously, but I suspect there’s something a little more complex going on here than just the scratching of an erotic itch. This is an image that foregrounds plenitude – gathered from some hyper-fecund vineyard behind the verdant peaks, those grapes could happily feed the larger female, the smaller male, and a whole host of villagers, ‘shrunken’ or not. It is also an image of a social contract, on the lines of the ‘scientific socialism’ laid out in Karl Marx’s 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program: ‘From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need’. We do not see the man exhaustedly rolling individual fruits across the valley floor in order to serve them up to the idling woman, and neither do we see the villagers presuming on her superior strength to, say, help them transform their modest settlement into a sparkling crescent of lakeside palaces, surely the work of few afternoons when your hands are big enough to peel off the roof of a house in order to take a peek inside. The woman, I suppose, must make her home behind the mountains. There, we might imagine her laying herself down in a bed not much smaller than her neighbours’ whole village, dreaming of her comparatively tiny paramour, or else entertaining him long into the spring night. (It is a measure of this image’s success that such thoughts come more readily to mind than wondering from where, precisely, Real Live Dead snatched the shots of the female figure and the landscape. I think of many things when I look at this image, but ads for Korean greengrocers or Swedish eco tourism are not one of them).

Tiny Village could not have existed in this form without the Internet. This is not only because it functions as a repository for ‘found’ imagery of the type appropriated and modified by Real Live Dead and Undersquid, but also because it operates as a place where such individuals might come together. Macrophiles and ‘shrunken-man freaks’ may very well have existed in the pre-digital era (the latter would certainly have been well-catered for by Jonathan Swift’s 1726-35 novel Gulliver’s Travels, in which the titular hero is used as a sex toy by the land of Brobdingnag’s supersized ladyfolk), but the anonymity and global reach of the web have allowed them to create a community of sorts, and with it a subculture. Tiny Village, it seems to me, is both a reflection of, and a reflection on, this situation. It is an image about how images are negotiated; a photograph about how photography – and crucially its dissemination – might bring people together, however small or large they may feel, or wish to be.

 

Tom Morton is a writer, curator and contributing editor for frieze magazine, based in London. 

#8 ‘Monochrome and Malfunction’ by David Batchelor

Found Monochrome No. 19, Islington, London, 10.04.99,‘ by David Batchelor.

 

There is something about Found Monochrome No. 19, Islington, London, 10.04.99 that I have always liked, but I have never been exactly sure why that is. There are a number of things about it. I didn’t have to travel far: it was literally on the street directly outside the studio I worked in at the time, a vaguely run-down residential street in north London. The car was an old Vauxhall Chevette and I assume the rectangle of paper taped to the inside of the rear window was a handwritten ‘for sale’ notice that had faded in the sunlight. Everything about the image is both commonplace and provisional: the car parked just where it was at the time, the homemade sign, the wrinkled and uneven Sellotape, the non-lightfast ink, the here-today-gone-tomorrow everydayness of an improvised urban event gone slightly wrong.

In November 1997 I began talking photographs of blank white rectangular panels that I found in the streets around where I lived. At the time of writing, August 2012, I have shot just over five hundred such images. The majority were found in London, because that is where I spend most of my time, but I have come across others in town and cities – almost always towns and cities – elsewhere in England, Scotland, Continental Europe, North and South America, and Asia.

A number of things have changed in the sixteen years between the first and the most recent photograph: for example analogue photography has almost entirely given way to digital media, although I continue to use film for this work. There are a few reasons for this: pure habit and my love of carousel slide shows being the main ones. The main change within the project however is that my reasons for starting out bear almost no resemblance to my reasons for continuing. I only ever intended to take four or five images of these things I called ‘found monochromes’, and I took them initially in order to disprove or at least question something Jeff Wall had claimed in a lecture on On Kawara and the monochrome. This argument I conducted mainly with myself ceased to have any part in my thinking after I took the first few images.

These monochromes of the street are occasional, often inadvertent and always temporary. They are little heroic moments of blankness in an otherwise saturated visual landscape. It is an ambiguous blankness because rectangular planes of nothingness could also be seen as voids at the centre of the field of vision. As such they are like errors: a space where there shouldn’t be a space, an absence where there should be a presence. And, soon enough, these errors are corrected: removed, painted over, filled-in or tagged. So a monochrome usually has a short life-span; over a few days it comes into being and it passes away, usually unnoticed. I never know where or when a monochrome will occur, except that they usually crop up in more transitional neighbourhoods and generally don’t feature in the more carefully tended areas of a town or city. Looking back through the original transparencies I realise I remember nearly every occasion that I photographed – and each feels like an incident that was recorded as much as an object that existed.

I have never thought of these works as photographically significant: if the monochrome is landscape, the photograph is landscape; if the monochrome is portrait, so is the photo. I simply frame the event, centre the monochrome, make sure it is parallel to the picture plane and leave enough space on each side. Each image is a document; the series as a whole is a narrative of visibly imperfect repetitions, and a map that indicates the locations of incidental things that are no longer there.

For all its informality and contingency, No 19 is formally quite succinct. The white rectangle is framed and isolated by the largely dark interior of the car; there is a bit of depth in the space behind the glass; the chipped metallic green of the car body frames the event in an abstract kind of way. It is a simple picture of three surfaces, all of which require and sustain each other, and there is nothing else. The metal supports the glass that supports the paper. The paper behind the glass calls attention to the metal that it advertises, or fails to advertise: the intended relationship – the purposeful but entirely un-aesthetic placement of materials in relationship to one another – has come undone, has slowly dissolved, along with the ink that is no longer there. In doing so, it has become something else. A malfunction has become a monochrome.

David Batchelor is an artist and writer based in London.