Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cruising by Chad States



My review of Chad State's new book Cruising is now online at photo-eye. You can get the book here.
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Move past the clearing, over the hill and enter along a faint path. Keep moving forward into woods and make a right when you see the cluster of bushes - meet me there...
Chad State's Cruising explores the secret, and not so secret, sites where gay men meet for anonymous sexual encounters. Mostly hidden in plain view, the parks and rest areas frequented by these men are on the outskirts of the everyday world, cloaked by branches and coded signals. Never sensationalistic or merely erotic, States work intimately draws the viewer into this secret world through furtive glances and secluded paths - coaxing us (willingly or unwillingly) into the act of cruising.

All images © Chad States and powerHouse

Photography has always been a voyeuristic art. The camera gives license to stare, linger and steal the world around us. This is the reason photography is so closely linked with the erotic. While there is a lot of work that deals with voyeurism and sex, Kohei Yoshiyuki's The Park is the best precedent for States' work. Shot at night using infrared film in public parks in Japan, Yoshiyuki captures couples (both gay and straight) in sexual embrace, as well as the spectators who congregate around them, and often try and join in. Whereas Yoshiyuki's work has a sense of frenzied participation, States' work feels more restrained - the images of a voyeur rather than a participant. Photographed during the daytime, branches and foliage obscure male figures - both clothed and unclothed - hopefully waiting or locked in excited embrace.

All images © Chad States and powerHouse
All images © Chad States and powerHouse

The book begins outside the woods, but we are quickly drawn into the trees. The pictures take us along secret paths where we pass couples in embrace; single figures waiting and faint paths that diverge in the forest. Interwoven with the images are pages with subtle white text. Easy to miss at first, the texts, which are taken from online information boards about these sites, are crucial to the book. Like a whisper, the lines lure us into the woods - inviting us to move closer, stare and participate. Remarkably, Cruising is much more than a document about these sites, the people who visit them or activities that take place there. Through careful editing, thoughtful design and inventive use of text, we are drawn into this world and forced to look, stare and linger in the bushes. 

 All images © Chad States and powerHouse
 All images © Chad States and powerHouse

Accompanying the images is a nice interview with States conducted by Alec Soth (who published an excerpt from this work in Lonely Boy Magazine #2) about the project and an essay by Gordon Brent Ingram that investigates the sociological history of these sites and the culture that surrounds them. The overall design of the book is very good - from the excellent, and erotically suggestive, cover to the careful sequencing of images. In some ways, it might be easy for some to dismiss this book based on it sexual content, but that would be a mistake. Cruising is a smart book that will challenge and engage a large audience.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photo-eye on October 13th, 2011. You can get the book here.

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