Misplaced demarcations:
James Mountford and the (im)materiality of the body

Photographs by James Mountford
Texts by Mat Collishaw and Elizabeth Breiner

We are stalked by the moment; it is shoved in our faces and forced down our throats. Newsfeeds fatten our smartphones while we switch off to sleep. The instant an image is captured it is devoured by the perpetually famished junkies who roam the fluorescent halls of social networking and new media. There was a time when photographs took preparation, and when they were fixed they would linger in our wake, as the world moved on. They lagged behind and gathered dust, becoming sepia with age, and portrayed a life that lurked in the shadows of forgotten memories. James Mountford’s Females occupy a similar territory. They avoid the bright flash of the modern camera and elude the high contrast, colour saturated cacophony of digital sewage. Unlike most contemporary representations of the female body, they twist and cavort to an unknown rhythm, evoking the knuckled stumps of savagely pruned trees. Their contours appear and disappear as if we had intruded on their presence in an unlit room. Uneasily, they provoke voyeuristic speculation that is never sated as they continually elude our senses and comprehension. The brilliance of these coarse and bristled bodies remains etched on our retina long after the new days’ digital downpour.

—Mat Collishaw

“Their contours appear and disappear as if we had intruded on their presence in an unlit room. Uneasily, they provoke voyeuristic speculation that is never sated as they continually elude our senses and comprehension.”

Discussions with the subject about form, action, movement precede the picture-taking. But it is by virtue of chance and error, not control and direction, that from the murky darkness the most interesting results take shape. Gender delineations are contorted. An enigmatic eroticism trembles within the frame. Real bodies assume the waxy strangeness of sculpted objects, while sculpted figures are mistaken for the real thing.

As the process of creation unfolds, he and his subject perform an unrehearsed dance, the acts of performance and documentation belonging at once to both and neither. Sight—and with it exposure, composition, narrative—becomes secondary to movement. By the end, he has largely negated himself as photographer.

In Misplaced Demarcations, Mountford embraces the limitations on his artistic agency that his shooting conditions impose. Out of total darkness, his subject, often still in motion, is revealed only as the flash momentarily illuminates the space; what the final product will look like is anyone’s guess.

By constructing a special pinhole camera that he is unable to see through, Mountford not only restricts the influence of his own eye on the final product but physically unmoors himself, eliminating the need for stillness and careful focusing, and adding a further layer of chance to the proceedings.

At last, the notion of corporeal certainty eludes us once and for all, as the organic materiality of the human body disintegrates, blending indistinguishably with the inorganic—gold, silver, plaster, carbon. Perhaps in our prostration at the alter of artifice and acquisition, we have become, Midas-like, beautiful otherworldly objects resembling the human form of old. In some cases, the body itself—if we still can call it that—has dissolved into a mere constellation of starry atoms afloat in a liquid blackness that denies us wholeheartedly the comfort of context and knowability. It is the subject here, rather than photographer, being gradually negated. Left with a series of forms at once identifiable and alien, material and immaterial, we must question how we fit these new molds and what of ourselves is reflected in them.

Born in England, James Mountford lives and works in Los Angeles. Mountford has enjoyed a successful 16-year career as an internationally known and respected fashion photographer. He regularly contributed to Elle, Vogue, The Sunday Telegraph, i-D, Dazed & Confused, Art Review, Harpers Bazaar and 032C, and collaborated with celebrities, luxury brands Dior and Chanel, and shot campaigns for international fashion giants: Theory, Helmut Lang, Swarovski and Wooyoungmi.

Wishing to re-engage with his earlier fine art objectives, Mountford left the fashion world behind. His first solo exhibition ‘Female’ in London was launched in conjunction with a limited edition book (foreword by Mat Collishaw). This body of work, an exploration of the mutable human form, inaugurated a signature practice which uses blind multiple exposures and self-made cameras. The results are onanistic, raw, un-retouched where all premeditated compositions are discarded. Mountford has extended this recording habit into 3 dimensional form-making and life-casting, using hydrocal, stone and bronze.

nineteensixtyeight presents an exclusive selection of images from the series Female, And Other Destinations, and Misplaced Demarcations available to buy in our shop.

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