How can Photographic Practice Assist our Quest for Intimacy with an Ideal Other?

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Drew, Marian

Petelin, George

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Younger, Jay

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This research undertaken through photographic studio practice and theory is the culmination of a four-year study into the nature of intimacy that answers the question: How can photographic practice assist our quest for intimacy with an ideal Other? Working closely with a number of adult volunteer participants living in South-East Queensland, the work commenced by mapping the intimate relationships between people, objects and space in bedrooms. Some of the initial works dealt with notions of sexual intimacy, because this is the most common understanding of intimacy in our society today, but the bedroom is also the place for other kinds of intimacy, such as contemplation or reading, and whether we are young or old, bedrooms are also used as a repository for intimate keepsakes and mementos. Intimacy is difficult to define, and furthermore, the meaning of the term has changed over the centuries. Intimacy is not a place, or a thing, or a person. One of the better definitions, by Thomas Moore, states, ‘The word intimacy means ‘profoundly interior.’ It comes from the superlative form of the Latin word inter, meaning ‘within.’ It could be translated ‘within-est,’ or ‘most within.’ In our intimate relationships, the ‘most within’ dimensions of ourselves and the other are engaged’. Therefore, it is a feeling that we might recognise in a moment with a partner, or a particular landscape, or the thoughts evoked by an object like a photograph, and most often these feelings concern ourselves and other people. While accepting that most photography (and human experience for that matter) is not intimate, snapshot and documentary portraiture often record moments of intimacy, revealing for example, the expression of another person’s face and subverting the barriers that usually mask our inner selves. But the photography in this project refused the relatively easy option of portraiture. Instead, in its final form, it sought to develop responses from the viewer to unusual conjunctions of skin and cloth – that evoke looking, touch and shape – and by implication suggest more historic ideas of intimacy than those commonly based on sexual intimacy today. The work shows that intimacy has aspects to it that are uncanny (in the Freudian sense), that intimacy does not always have to be invested in interpersonal human relationships, and that keeping aspects of oneself from others and knowing oneself can offer a richer experience of intimacy than giving oneself in the all-or-nothing tradition of Romanticism. The research also demonstrates that scholarly and common notions of intimacy – based respectively on interpersonal relationships and sex – are often reductive and partial within a desire for an authentic experience of intimacy, because they are usually based on the binary oppositions that underpin Western thought. To counter these tendencies, the theory and practice in this research evidences a ‘middle way’ – centred on androgyny within male psychosexual development, expressed through the psychological theories of the desire between the Self and Other – that can collapse the binary oppositions of masculine/feminine and thereby offer new insights into gender, self and interpersonal relationships. These ideas are suggested by the studio practice that constitutes the final body of artworks – the Intimacy Series – plus the analytical and theoretical research that supports my conclusions, and my observations of the responses to the works by audiences at exhibitions. In my experience, the mix of pleasure, intrigue and uncertainty that audiences exhibit suggests that they are often ‘caught’ by the Lacanian gaze of the artworks, which suggests a more complex range of characteristics within intimacy than is usually recognized today.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Photographic Practice



an ideal Other

South-East Queensland


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