Tag Archives: Jimmy DeSana

Jimmy DeSana’s Suburban photobook


Fig.1. Jimmy DeSana Suburban

I first came across Jimmy DeSana’s work at the Performing for the Camera exhibition held at the Tate Modern 2016 (see here) and whilst it quite was a vast exhibition I was immediately attracted to the large-scale images taken from what I later discovered was Jimmy DeSana’s Suburban series.
Jimmy DeSana was an influential artist photographer who made his name in the punk art scene which grew out of the East Village district of New York in the 1970s and 1980s and as such his work was an important part of the aesthetic look of that New Wave period and DeSana worked closely with major bands such Talking Heads and Blondie during this period.

What immediately drew me into DeSana’s images was the use of striking colour combined with artificial lighting creating a sense of moving us to a different place; I felt a familiarity and affinity with this look as having grown up during this period I was very aware and sympathetic to that music scene and the aesthetic image that it portrayed.

Whilst DeSana was central to the music scene in New York his greatest contribution was his surreal-like constructed photographic images many of which took American suburbia as his inspiration.

Originally born in Detroit DeSana was brought up in Atlanta, Georgia and his close friend Laurie Simmons describes the childhood experience of DeSana’s father leaving his mother to move in with one of their female neighbours and describes their shared interest in Suburbia. “Jimmy and his brother Johnny would ride their bikes past their father’s new house but never visited and rarely spoke to their dad. I just assumed Jimmy’s obsession with both the beauty and the dark side of post-World War II suburbia had to do with these memories of the strange disruptions that could occur behind closed doors in pristine houses. We shared an obsession with the contradiction between the images of American suburbia that has been spoon-fed to us in magazines and on early television and what we were coming to understand might be the real, more emotionally lethal story.” (Simmons, 2015 :93)

Jimmy DeSana summed up his own thoughts on the suburbs with, “The suburbs are people in cars driving privately to their houses. There’s not a lot of contact between people in the suburbs.”
To follow up on my interest I purchased a copy of the book to look more closely at the work. The images in Suburban are largely of exposed, semi-naked or restricted body parts and limbs objectified in absurdly constructed poses decorated with everyday domestic objects (lamps, sports bags, coat hangers, chest of drawers) which act as metaphors for what appears to be the important priority for the suburbanites.

This reference to the mass-produced consumer culture is juxtaposed with a dark and disturbing sense of emotional detachment and isolation within the human relationships. The images are not sexual or erotic as DeSana effectively objectifies the body in an absurd and disturbing manner. DeSana is quoted by his close friend (Simmons, 2015:99) ”I don’t really think of this work as erotic. I think of the body almost as an object. I attempted to use the body but without the eroticism that some photographers use frequently. I think I de-eroticised a lot of it. Particularly in that period, but that is the way the suburbs are in a sense.” Jimmy DeSana.

Elizabeth Sussman (2015:87) believes that DeSana was in part inspired by William Eggleston whose contribution as an early pioneer of colour photography and photographer of Suburban America as there are references and links which we can probably see. For instance, as mentioned by Simmons (2015:87), Eggleston’s The Red Ceiling (1973) and a similar image again from Eggleston’s famous Guide this time of a semi-naked man looking lost in a low budget motel room bathed in red light; traces of both works can be seen in DeSana’s Suburban but DeSana’s suburbia is streets away from Eggleston’s suburbs which are all shopping malls, garages and barbeques.

Suburbia is very playful but also complex and deep with meaning. The work is highly original and Sussman (2015:87) is struck by “the lack of clichés” (2015:87).

The depiction of the contradiction and conflict between the image and reality of conventional middle class life is what really drew me deeply to Jimmy DeSana and his work has certainly influenced some of the themes that I have tried to embed in my forthcoming assignment 3.

Most importantly I also felt inspired to push my own boundaries and make more interesting images that offer more in terms of their meaning and visual impact. Whilst it will be a long journey to reach the standards of Suburbia I am genuinely pleased and grateful to have come across Jimmy DeSana.

One final point to make is that DeSana is obviously using film in his camera in the pre-digital era and the images as authentic photographs look artistically fantastic.


Doran, A. (2013) ‘Jimmy DeSana New York’ In Art in America 10.10.13 (online) AT http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/jimmy-desana/ (Accessed 19 August 2016)

Simmons, L. Sussman, E. (2015) Jimmy DeSana Suburban New York: Aperture Foundation.

List of images 

Fig.1. Jimmy DeSana Suburban


Exhibition visit: Performing for the Camera at Tate Modern

Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism 1977 by Hannah Wilke 1940-1993

Marxism and Art: Beware of Fascist Feminism 1977 Hannah Wilke 1940-1993

“Performing for the camera examines the relationship between photography and performance, from the invention of the photographic medium in the nineteenth century, to digital cameras and social media. The exhibition brings together photographs made to document performance by artists who use the camera as a tool to produce their own performative images. It encompasses serious works of art that deal with identity politics, carefully constructed fantasies, and witty improvised snapshots” (Tate Modern, 2016).

I think overall the exhibition became a victim of itself in that it was overwhelming from a conceptual perspective and ultimately I could n’t really fathom out where or why it started or ended. The specific categories sort of fitted together under what is an all-encompassing banner title but I felt that there was n’t really a genuine flow and I left slightly baffled about what the underlying intention had been. That said with tickets priced at up to £20 the intentions are perfectly obvious.

For this I felt that the photographs on exhibition were overall a little disappointing with at least 25% if not 33% of the exhibition dedicated to black and white images of performance art from the 1960s and 1970s. I got a strange sense of a lack of energy and it seemed as if the exhibition was drawn completely from the Tate’s own collection and the curators were simply moving the deck chairs around.

That said there were plenty of interesting pieces of work such as Yves Klein jumping out of the window, 3 (only) images from Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills work, Francesca Woodman – Just not as much as I would have expected.

A big plus was that I discovered some interesting artists such as Amalia Ulman who as part of her work Excellences and Perfections created a fictional social media character, a young woman who moves to New York and ends up having an emotional breakdown.



Amalia Ulman taken from Excellences and Perfections

As part of the project Ulman makes fictitious posts on Instagram and amasses 89,000 followers in the process. “Instagram is a place where you can be yourself, people love believing in things, and people still think the internet is a place of authenticity, but everyone is selecting, or even fabricating what they post.” (Amalia Ulman, 2015).

I found the work interesting as first and foremost the images look good as they co-opt the form now so recognisable and embedded in images appearing across social media platforms. It also addresses the critical question surrounding the culture of of social (and mass) media and it’s impact on social behaviour which is a broad subject of interest to myself and it was particularly interesting to see an example of work which really examines this subject.


Jimmy DeSana taken from Suburban

Jimmy DeSana’s Suburban series was also really interesting in that he offers an interpretation of American suburban life. DeSansa’s staged images are of nude bodies in absurd poses intertwined with everyday objects and the scenes operate as metaphors for a suburban existence.


Jimmy DeSana taken from Suburban 

DeSana said, “I don’t really think of that work as erotic. I think of the body almost as an object. I attempted to use the body but without the eroticism that some photographers use frequently. I think I de-eroticized a lot of it. Particularly in that period, but that is the way the suburbs are in a sense.”

Jimmy Desana also concentrates on subject matter which I find interesting and which I have attempted to comment on in my own previous assignment work although not with anything like the artistic fluency and sophistication of DeSana’s work. I particularly liked the surrealist nature of the compositions and the colour schemes used by DeSana.

Hannah Wilke’s poster print Marxism and Art: Beware of Facist Feminism was also exhibited and I liked the black and white poster style form of the image and I liked how she challenged the norms and values of feminism and stood for individualism.

There were plenty of other positives to take from the visit but I could n’t shake off my gut reaction that it should have been better.

Reference list

Searle, A (2016) Performing for the Camera review – pain, passport photos and genital panic The Guardian 15/02/2016) full article can be read at

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/15/performing-for-the-camera-review-tate-modern-exhibition (accessed 24/05/2016)


(accessed 24/05/2016)

Full interview with Amalia Ulman can be seen at

http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/amalia-ulman/#_ (accessed 25/05/2016)

Jimmy DeSana about Suburban

http://aperture.org/shop/desana-suburban-books (accessed 25/05/2016)

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wilke-marxism-and-art-beware-of-fascist-feminism-p79357 (accessed 26/05/2016)