First of all, Stacy Kranitz's new book, From the Study on Post-Pubescent Manhood is not the most elegant of books. It's a saddle-stitched affair, more of a fanzine than a book, with 80 pages of indelicate front-on portraits of American youth wasted on drugs, music and skating.
However, the book is a marker for Kranitz, a statement of her intent to create a new methodology of photography, one that is experimental, performative and participatory. And in that sense the book is a fascinating step towards a photography that combines drugs and violence with a whole bunch of theory as well as the complications and contradictions of Kranitz's personal history.
The pictures were shot over a period of 5 years at Skatopia, the anarchist skateboard farm run by Brewce Martin in Appalachia and they're anything but polite. The cover is a nod to Robert Frank as a youth waves an American Flag. It's dawn, the American flag is upside-down and the night is coming to an end. Or just about to pick up again depending on what the man has for breakfast.
Open the covers and the fun begins; a lyrical swim in the river quickly shifts into a pair of knobbly knees with blood dripping down the shins. Two hands hold the guy's shorts up so we get the full raw effect. Another picture shows a grimacing man standing with one arm aloft, his face and body red like a demon either from some kind of spray or from the blood that is liberally splattered throughout the book.
The portraits in the book are mostly head-on, full flash straight ups so we can see the big eyes and the bug eyes. A case in point is the youth in a stars and stripes vest, his hair glued up into spikes as he looks up out of the corner of the picture.
It's not gentle and it's not pretty but it's done for a reason. According to Kranitz, Skatopia is a dystopian society, a place that places violence at the centre of its being, a place that young Americans (the post-pubescent youth of the title) visit to experience the catharsis of violence in all its skatopian forms. The photographs are part of that catharsis, and part of Kranitz's own catharsis in exorcising the demons of her complex personal history. Tied in to that is both photographic and anthropological theory making this more than just another dumbass album of drugged-up-kids-at-a-party photos.
Instead Kranitz is nestling her work in the Skatopia community by becoming part of that community. She is a 'method photographer' who references theorists such as Adorno, Agee and Benjamin as well as anthropologists such as Michael Taussig (he said that anthropologists shouldn't examine other cultures but should examine and critique their own culture by going to the fringes of that culture, to the places where the joins show). Another anthropologist she references is Katherine Stewart who said that over-intellectualising things gets in the way of understanding the incoherent and inexplicable in a society, that one should be non-analytic and experiential in one's approach; all of which Kranitz is.
So Kranitz is the real, if somewhat messy, deal, and her photographs are part of a much rougher and readier photographic machine – which is a good thing. The trick for Kranitz is to play up what she has made over 5 years at Skatopia and tie it in more closely with both her personal life and her theories while keeping the chaos and the energy. If she can do that, then From the Study on Post-Pubescent Manhood will prove to be much more important than the rough and bracing edit it sometimes appears to be.
Colin Pantall is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com