Toronto
2 min

Me, myself & eye

An ecstatic union of voyeur & exhibitionist

'I LOVE TO WATCH.' Photographer Guntar Kravis captures people watching themselves reach climax. Credit: Xtra files

“I love to watch people. I love to watch sex,” says Guntar Kravis. But he’s not your regular garden-variety voyeur. The Toronto-based photographer dismantles the boundaries between model and artist in his provocative exhibition Echo, opening next week at Gallery 44.



Kravis works with his models in a remarkable way – he straddles each person while they lay on the floor. He then asks them to act out, using only their face and shoulders, their ideal version of a great orgasm, while videotaping the response. Each model then sits in front of a television monitor to watch, the video images are mirrored on their eyes and then photo-graphed. This creates a kind of ghost-like image of the model’s face reflecting his or her throws of cumming. The surface of the eye itself becomes a portrait.



Echo includes more than 30 colour photographs of iris, retina and model, as well as a gorgeous video demonstrating his unusual process. Although Kravis maintains that the photos in Echo are supposed to be sexy, he admits, “They are also creepy.”



These works continue themes he has worked on before, in the series Les Petits Morts, where he used gay porn stills showing the very moment of orgasm, or as the French like to call it, “the little death.”



With the Echo series, Kravis’ relationship to the models encompassed the friendly to the erotic. Though he admits some models literally worked themselves into a frenzy with their “acting,” Kravis remains coy. Maybe his propriety stems from dating Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras fame at the time.



Kravis says he hopes, “to invoke and portray strong emotions ranging from ecstasy to escape to torture to happiness.” He’s also interested in “exploring that grey region between what is public and private.”



The photos are an examination of power relationships. Does having your eyes open during orgasm create uneven power or too much intimacy? In nature, too close eye contact may mean someone ends up as dinner, in the most unromantic sense. We humans have subconsciously retained this natural instinct: eat, fight, flight or make out.



Kravis argues that the only time we are really close to each other’s eyes is usually during sex, but reaching climax, we frequently shut our eyes, experiencing pleasure internally and ignoring our partner’s gaze. So he has preserved the moment in a way that is specific to photography; it’s the only media that can cap-ture something so fleeting.



The other exceptional quality of Kravis’ work is the ghost-like figures portrayed on the irises. While sex and death are no strangers to the history of art and pop culture, from film to countless TV ads (check out the eyeballs on the poster of the new Ashton Kutcher film The Butterfly Effect), Kravis looks at these topics in very sensitive and personal ways. When describing these stunningly stark photographs, Kravis mentioned “ship portals” and the common notion that eyes are portals to the soul.



Echo questions our roles as voyeur and exhibitionist. Where do we fit into the spectrum of showing and looking? Kravis’ show perhaps asks more questions than the work itself can ever answer – this is not a failure, but a sign of excellent art. Perhaps Kravis is asking: Do we give a little of our soul with each photograph or even possibly with each great orgasm?



* The opening for Echo is from 6pm to 8pm on Thu, Feb 12. Also look for an Echo peephole video in the Solo Exhibition window gallery at 787 Queen Street West from Fri, Feb to Mar 5.



ECHO.

Thu, Feb 12-Mar 6.

Gallery 44.

401 Richmond St W, # 120.

(416) 979-3941.