Paris photographer Frédéric Fontenoy has been called a ‘Priapic Diarist’, known for his exploration of the human body, and erotic work with BDSM themes. But – maybe because the internet has normalized fetish images – the project here, nearly three-decades old, is the Fontenoy work that continues to fascinate and inspire.
Métamorphose is a series of self-portraits shot in 1988 that rivet the viewer with an ambiguous sense of unease, fascination, and curiosity. Fontenoy has described the arc of his work proceeding from intimate, to conceptual, to representative of the collective unconscious, so if there’s a primal quality to these pictures, it’s no accident: the goal of the artist was to “achieve a pre-human form.”
For the curious, the distortion effect was made using a 19th-century technique later popularized by surrealists like André Kertész — slit-scan photography. Slit-scan was first used to produce panoramic images from long pieces of film, then later to create the photo-finish images at horse races. This last application, like chronophotography, didn’t capture a moment in time, but a full section of time.
So what we see in Fontenoy’s series is, well, the artist time slipping. And if that sounds like science fiction, no wonder: Stanley Kubrick used slit-scan photography for the acid-trippy stargate sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as did the ILM folks who produced the stretchy warp effect on the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. (And yes, then came digital FX, and the party ended).
If you’d like to learn more about the history of slit-scan photography in the movies (and see the stargate sequence restaged using Legos), go here.
If you’d like to learn how to do slit-scan still photography using a basic DSLR, go here.