When is a graveyard not a graveyard? Answer: when it's a porno set! The title of the above photo, by Laura Carton, is www.ebonyplayas.com--no, I'm not kidding. Other images by her are here, all pretty innocuous and bearing titles of x-rated websites. These are some of the best (wittiest, most patiently executed) examples I've come across of the "erased porn" genre, a kind of deliberate, art world cousin of those altered news photos the papers keep palming off on us. Each originally had, let's just say, a human figure or figures in it, but they've been removed in a photo program so you're left with a kind of empty stage for smutty-minded projection. To do them requires getting inside the image and matching colors and textures and light--basically making a photorealist painting, a skill similar to that of an "inpainter" who restores missing chunks of old masters. By removing all the hot action, the pictures become quirky vernacular photography, as much a catalog of the archetypes and tropes of "place" as Cindy Sherman's were of "feminine roles." The porn charges up the innocent or banal location, and Carton taps the residual energy.
I referred to what she does as a genre; here are a few more examples. The first is proto-porn: Kathy Grove's erasure of Thomas Hart Benton's pin-up nude from his painting Susanna and the Elders, leaving only the old codger staring at her blanket on the grassy riverbank. Istvan Szilasi, a Hungarian artist working in New York, and Arizona artist Jon Haddock (scroll down pictures at left), however, are doing work somewhat similar to Carton's. Szilasi doesn't attempt to hide the fact that he's removing figures, he's almost expressionistically sloppy in his use of Photoshop tools. I find his approach pretty amusing. Judging by the Kent State/Vietnam photos in the Whitney's "BitStreams" show, Haddock attempts to hide the erasure, but poorly--the telltale marks of the rubber stamp or "clone tool" are obvious, and not in a good way. Carton's images aren't infallible (almost nothing in Photoshop is), but they pass the "close enough" test when printed and laminated on Plex. On a content level, Haddock's porn photos are just a record of tacky motel interiors--there's none of the sense you get with Carton's work that porn is a strange mirror for the "normal" side of life: the everyday world of recreation, communications, plumbing, TV repair, dentistry, and, um, cemetery caretaking.
Szilasi's images carry the ghostly presence of those who have been erased.
It reminds me of the pictures the Kremlinologists used to study to figure out who was "in" and who was "out" based on who had been erased from the picture. The Communists didn't have Photoshop though so the erasures were much more ham-handed.