Unlike the other sections of this exhibit, the photographs here offer a deviation from Donna Ferrato’s usual themes and imagery. There is little to no context known about the stories surrounding these images, and much of Ferrato’s intended interpretation has to be gleaned from the titles of the works themselves. This lack of emphasis on the individual identities of Ferrato’s subjects is an important point in understanding the messages of these photographs.
Despite the obvious differences in content, these images all capture a sense of freedom and enjoyment found, in part, through anonymity. None of these images seek to make an explicit statement on oppression and violence, but rather provoke thought through their simplicity. Ferrato aims to make people question their understanding of pleasure as something independent from sexual activity, and something to appreciate as a whole. Due to the abstract nature of these images, more focus is drawn towards the tone or mood they possess rather than what is literally being shown in the image. The pieces delving into pleasure span over years and coincide with strides regarding conversations about physical enjoyment and its relation to sexual comfort.
Not much is known about this piece. We don’t know what the image is of, or how it was created. All we know is that it was gifted to a man who now only allows it to be viewed by appointment in an art gallery at Yale. The abstractness of this piece leaves it open to many interpretations. Does the electric styling of the piece go along with the so-called “machine” in the title, or is it meant to represent the electrifying experience that is the female orgasm? It is interesting that the concept of the female orgasm is now being gatekept by a man.
Collective Unconscious Orgasm Machine. 2001
Christy Ferrato Unfettered, Mother, Educator, Artist, Poet, Unbeatable, Rocky. Mts 1993
The overall theme of this photograph is freedom. The woman in this photograph appears to be at peace and free from worry. The photo is set in the Rocky Mountains, which represent freedom and escape for many. The title mentions the name Christy Ferrato but no further information can be found on who she is or if she exists at all. The title also lists a number of roles women could play in society. Ferrato could have been complimenting women in succeeding at these difficult roles but also reminding them that they can still feel freed and at peace in their lives.
In this photograph, Charlie is the only subject who is clothed, and the nudity present isn’t seductive, but more so secretive. The nudity present has a provocative undertone, since there is no genitalia, and sexual activity is only implied. Having the child being the main subject is a clear attempt at defying societal norms surrounding monogamy and heretosexuality. Swinging is sexual activity in which both singles and partners in a committed relationship sexually engage with others, which takes a great deal of trust and communication, something Ferrato didn’t capture in her exhibits about domestic abuse in heterosexual relationships.
Charlie in the Bedroom with Swinger. 1981
This photo is one of many from Ferrato’s 2017 book Holy. It highlights that tattooing is not simply an act of decoration, but of physical and spiritual
transformation. The placement of this tattoo over the spine in particular speaks not only to the fortitude of the subject for enduring the pain of the tattooing process, but also to the crucial role the human spine fills by holding up the body to allow it to stand tall in the face of life’s challenges.