Words by Efrem Zelony-Mindell.
It's difficult to pick a starting point to talk about Jimmy DeSana's book Suburban, out now from Aperture and co-published by Salon 94. Suspicious and sexual, unusual, surreal, and yet somehow surprisingly domestic. Well, not so typically domestic. There's a good amount of exciting and unexpected debunking happening in DeSana's images. The photos aren't against suburban spaces, they alert a different sense of possibility in them. White walls and power cords, high heels and purses worn on feet and hands or placed over heads and genitals. Chairs, beds, and cabinets used like a circus, an array of different everyday objects scattered and used in tandem with the naked body, achieving a much different sense of the everyday. But it's not really erotic, all the parts are kind of true to themselves.
Storage Boxes, 1980 © the Jimmy DeSana Estate/Salon 94
Gelled tungstens, in an array of colors, confuse the space and stage where these bodies perform. These photos are a performance. Captured motion and a slower shutter speed (sometimes) is hugely essential to DeSana's characters. Whether there is a single figure in the frame, or two, there isn't so much a feeling of sexuality between them as much as there is a sense of exploration. A sense of touch is second-most important. The debauched quality of everyday objects as they find new place on the body accentuates that touch. There's also touch between the two figures interactive with the space around them. All the parts become inescapably intimate.
Instant Camera, 1980 © the Jimmy DeSana Estate/Salon 94
The work has an interesting dialogue; it's easy to think of Philippe Halsman. DeSana's work courts a kind of contemporary surrealism. His photos are nearly abstract in moments where they almost completely lose gravity but stay rooted in a semblance of reality, because at the end of the day his props are very commonplace. It's interesting to see the ability of these mundane objects and how they can become more. The photos are not of the mundane, and yet they're straight out of the tedious everyday. There's an argument - a disbelief - you can't take your eyes off these obfuscated photos because they're so seemingly recognizable. They are meant to be read into, and from one suburban-raised kid to another, clearly DeSana had some - as Laurie Simmons puts it - "emotionally lethal stories" behind his relationship to suburbia.
Four Legs with Shoes, ca.1980 © the Jimmy DeSana Estate/Salon 94
Suburban is a delightfully bizarre book and body of work. Period. And the book is a celebration of DeSana's forwardness. It doesn't waste time and it doesn't feel sentimental. The book reflects the feeling of the work. It's interesting to see what a whacky guy and a few friends are capable of with the most basic tools to make photographs. That's not passé, in-fact it was Minor White who said, "It's not about the tools but how you use them." Jimmy DeSana embodies that sentiment in this surrealism.
Get your hands on a copy by clicking here.
Cardboard, 1985 © the Jimmy DeSana Estate/Salon 94
Untitled (Plywood Interior), 1979 © the Jimmy DeSana Estate/Salon 94