Friday, November 07, 2008

Review: Raw Youth by Jay Diers

Raw Youth
Jay Diers

Published by: Bruno Gmunder

Reviewed by: Steven J Watson


Raw Youth is predominantly a book of male nudes. Some naked, some clothed, the models lie on beds or sofas, or stand with the casual arrogance of youth. Some meet the camera’s gaze while others seem oblivious to its intrusion; one masturbates, his hand a furious blur, while another reclines, smiling, fresh semen pooled on his stomach. These are candid, intimate images, buzzing with the sexuality and promise of youth.

The question, though, is one of intention. These pictures are erotic, certainly, but Diers clearly sees them as belonging on the coffee table rather than in the bottom drawer. On looking at them one cannot help but first think of the raw, confessional portraits of Nan Goldin, or even Larry Clark, whose work Dier obviously admires. But where those photographers’ seemingly casual, almost snapshot, style in fact documented a whole subculture of drag queens and drug-takers, Diers work rarely delves deeper than the surface, than what is directly in front of him. On only a couple of the images do we get a glimpse of who these boys are, of the lives they lead. In one shot two boys embrace passionately, yet it is the glimpse of the outside world, the river and freeway seen through the window above the bed, that gives them context. In another blurred, black and white shot the model smokes, scratching his head absent mindedly, looking as if he has genuinely forgotten that Diers’ lens is there. Tellingly, it is often these least overtly explicit images that work best.
Still, this book has much to recommend it, falling as it does somewhere in the blur between art and erotica. Technically the photographs are fine, if only occasionally remarkable, and Diers has proved himself capable of creating a memorable image. He talks of photography as a journey, though, and unless his intention is for his work to remain in the grey area where pornography and erotica meet art he needs to open up his subject matter beyond that which he finds personally fascinating. It would be interesting to see him tackle subjects other than these handsome, skinny youths, and to tell stories with his images. If we are to find his subjects as interesting as he does, Diers needs to show us who these people are, what makes them tick, something which, mostly, Raw Youth fails to do.


Steven J Watson lives and works in London. He is currently working on his first novel as well as numerous short stories, and writes regular columns for several magazines. He can be contacted at stevenjwatson@gmail.com

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