What happens when narcissism and incompetence get together and make a photo album? You get Sasha Grey's "Neü Sex."
I was browsing the photography section at my local bookstore when I found a copy of "Neü Sex." My understanding of the book is that it's meant to be porn star Marina Ann Hantzis' (or Sasha Grey's) foray into the world of photojournalism, chronicling the day-to-day life of a porn star. I was expecting a behind the scenes journey: photos of lighting crews, and camera men setting up shots, and actors preparing for their roles, that sort of thing. But be assured, this book is not a look into "the wild world [Ms. Hantzis] inhabits."
My immediate impression of the book was from the cover: a black and white portrait of Ms. Hantzis pointing a camera at a photographer. The image conjures up memories of every single self-portrait found on an angsty teenager's myspace or facebook account. Photos like these have been done to death by thirteen-year-olds and have become a cliché. You can imagine my horror when I opened the book and realized that every single photo was just like it. Every last photo in this book is a self portrait of Marina Ann Hantzis.
This book is not an example of photojournalism, it is a book of self-indulgent myspace photos. I cannot stress this point enough. Every time I turned a page in this book I felt like I was on the internet looking through some idiot's myspace profile. At one point I came across a photo of Ms. Hantzis in the shower with fake blood dripping from fake wounds and I nearly laughed aloud to myself. There is nothing "neü" about the "staged suicide photo in the bathtub/shower," which can be found on the profile of any angsty preteen trying their hardest to come across as a brooding and melancholy individual. Ms. Hantzis' desperate attempt to shock us comes across as trite and unintentionally hilarious.
While the cover may lead you to believe that Ms. Hantzis is the only photographer in this book, the fact is that some of the photos were taken by her fiancée Ian P. Cinnamon. Ms. Hantzis states that Mr. Cinnamon "understood [her] aesthetic," but to be honest it is very easy to distinguish which photos were taken by who, and it is apparent that only 5-10% of the photos within the book were taken by Ms. Hantzis herself. Take a look at the four sample photos provided by amazon.com. Two of these photos, which I'm assuming were taken by Mr. Cinnamon, show an elementary understanding of photo composition. They are the photo with Ms. Hantzis is eating a sandwich, and the photo where she wears a blue earring. These two photos demonstrate an understanding of the rule of thirds, Ms. Hantzis is balanced against the negative space, the photo with the out-of-focus background demonstrates utilization of depth of field, they also show a rudimentary understanding of framing. These portraits are good enough for a relative of Ms. Hantzis to display on their mantle, but by no means are these photos avant-garde or worthy of adorning your coffee table.
The photos taken by Ms. Hantzis, on the other hand, do not demonstrate such elementary knowledge. Ms. Hantzis' ham-fisted "aesthetic" is to point the camera at herself and shoot. There is no evidence of any sort of composition whatsoever. The photo where she has a lightning bolt on her head is partially overexposed because she used the flash. A Photography I student would have turned the flash off and increased the aperture size or slowed the shutter speed or here's an idea: used a Goddamn tripod! The photo with her makeup running stupidly disobeys the rule of thirds by centering herself in the image, an amateur mistake, evidence of dynamic lighting is nowhere to be found, the contrast is dull, and this photo is so utterly bland and so clearly not composed there isn't any reason to discuss it further. I can say with confidence that if it were not for the invention of auto-focus Ms. Hantzis wouldn't have been able to take a single photo of herself.
The book contains an occasional blurb every several pages where Ms. Hantzis uses college-grade words to express middle-school ideas. Example: she presents the fact that American society is sexually repressed as if it's her own discovery, and then she fails to offer any insightful knowledge to this well known fact. Tell us something we don't know. In addition to talking about sexuality, Ms. Hantzis also touches on her personal identity, inspirations, and little else. She constantly reminds us that we live in the age of information, name drops Sartre, Cindy Sherman, and Nan Goldin, and tells us what other people have said of their work but offers no personal opinions about them. These blurbs are carefully written to sound intelligent but are comprised mostly of air and have little substance to them (such as her assertion that superegos prevent everyone from admitting they're bisexual, and her brilliant deduction that not exploring one's sexual desires is bad). These ramblings are a tiny fraction of the book's content, but I was requested to comment on them.
Let's end this review. Don't buy "Neü Sex." Don't even bother to flip through it like I did. Marina Ann Hantzis is no photojournalist, nor is she a photographer. This book is nothing but self-portraits, and they are incompetent self-portraits at that. This book is an exercise in unoriginality, which demonstrates that Ms. Hantzis has all the creativity and artistic talent of your average myspace-using preteen. Anyone with even a minimal understanding of photography would know better than to purchase this book.