Open Eye Gallery: Lessons in Posing Subjects – Robert Heinecken

unnamedWords by Leanne Cunningham

Lessons in Posing Subjects, curated by Devrim Bayar, presents over 250 Polaroid photographs by Robert Heinecken, including sketchbooks and magazine cuttings. It examines a pivotal point in Heinecken’s career between 1972 and 1982, a time when he was using an SX70 Polaroid camera, (‘the bedroom camera’ as Heinecken describes) a tool which enabled artists and photographers to instantly see their photographs after capturing their own private lives without having to worry about the third person; this allowed the experimentation of something new, as it was the first camera to produce instant colour prints. Heinecken was seduced by this tool and so subverted it.

Attending the preview night offered me the opportunity to speak to Curator Devrim Bayar herself in order to explain the concept of the presented works in a more refined approach, providing me with a little background information about the artist himself.

“Heineken is considered a major figure in post-war American Photography. Although his work is not known entirely, and Lessons In Posing Subjects does not present his entire career, it holds an important aspect within his career. He was interested in photography, however, never actually using a camera up until the SX70, called himself a ‘Para – photographer’, [an artist using images for their practice] but not using a camera and simply exploring the nature of photography and the ideas through a variety of techniques including sculpture, video, printmaking, and collage, exploring both pop and conceptual art. The images presented are really close to us – are we who we are or who we want to portray?”

Gallery 1 & 2 present a selection of photographs accompanied by typed text. Full of humour, the text removes any hint of a provocative nature from the images; ‘In this enlightened era, fewer and fewer subjects are posed utilizing the bra and / or underpants’[1].

Gallery 2 also presents the series The Hite / Hustler Fashion Beaver Hunt (presenting here the winners of the ‘First Annual Blind Beaver Hunt’ for all those amateur, erotic photographers expressing dreams along with images of each female individual). The series de-contextualises images from catalogues and pornographic magazine ‘Hustler’, exploring themes of sexuality, consumerism and stereotypical imagery; women as ‘subject’, in my opinion subjected to female exploitation. Here, females are conveyed as objects for viewing gratification; however, Heinecken removes the women-at-view as sex symbols to a certain extent due to the destruction of the original image.


Expressing the relationship between media and art, the use of sex to sell ‘everything to everyone’[2], is presented through humor and tease, in a way which he may feel is feminist. I felt strongly about female provocativeness for gratification before reading the text, when I discovered that the images derive in a variety of ways from mass media of things that exist in nature – the mass media being nature.

Gallery 3 presents the artist book He / She (1980), and a personal favorite of mine which includes Heinecken’s first tests using the Polaroid SX70 combined with handwritten dialogues between man and woman which plays with fiction and reality with an interest in how gender is represented, along with the secret aspects of a Polaroid between Heinecken and his partner which creates a gender powered conversation consisting of a sarcastic yet close conversation, a conversation where the private becomes public;


She – My name in Mary

He – Hi

She – Is someone taking care of you whilst you’re here?

He – What do you mean

She – I enjoyed your lecture – can you leave now?

He – I suppose so, as soon as I have my slides

She – I have them


He / She Series 1980 (conversations about art and artists)


However the texts presented do not explain the images; we are encouraged to determine our own interpretation of the actual text, as what is hidden becomes truer than what is visible…


He – Did you enjoy the exhibition

She – It’s strange; every time you walk into a room magic happens. They all put you on a pedestal…. How does it feel to make art?

He – I think of it being similar to an orgasm


 [1] Lessons for Posing Subjects, Lingerie (Erogenous Zones)

[2] Lessons in Posing Subjects, Open Eye Gallery Press Release 2014