Book Review: The Untamed Eye by Stephanie Pfriender Stylander
By Erik Nielsen
If Henri Cartier-Bresson found the decisive moment then Stephanie Pfriender Stylander, in her new book The Untamed Eye a collection of her photographs from the last 25 years, discovered those rare moments in between. Showcasing a photographer who could see through the thin veneer of immortality promised by celebrity and instead, showed us character.
Over the course of her career, Stylander worked with the likes of Keith Richards, Mickey Rourke, Heath Ledger, Nicole Kidman, Lenny Kravitz and most importantly Kate Moss (who is featured on the cover). She builds a sense of trust with her subjects which invites an air of intimacy to an array of beautiful photographs that jump from color to black and white.
Stylander’s influences are not necessarily photographers but belong to larger cinematic movements like Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave with a dash of Cinema Vérité. Her style will quickly impress upon you a thinker who does not belong to any specific time. She takes the cool, hip aesthetic of celebrity (think Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless) and will juxtapose it with a much grittier reality, removing the sense of glamour. Her subjects will find themselves in dark, quiet rooms with nothing but a chair or in the middle of a forgotten and dirtied street looking outward. Her choice of mis-en-scene allows us to gaze at the beautiful and situates them to breathe vulnerability in unfamiliar terrain, pulling us into a strange and poetic atmosphere.
This stylistic dichotomy matches with her choice of contrast in the black and white pictures. Her shadows are made of silk and her highlights are burnt out like an old fluorescent bulb. The photos contain a heavy amount of grain as well, adding texture to already multi-faceted images. The combination of her cinematic vision and dedication to preserving old grainy film creates a sense of yearning. Like looking back at a time that never was, nostalgic for something we’ve never felt.
The book ends with a poem, filled with lines that increase your sense of intrigue about the person behind the lens, each beginning with ‘Did I Tell You’. “Did I tell you the audacity of need destroys any rules” one line reads. She too feels a pull between worlds, worlds often built by facades.
With shades of Rossellini, Godard, and Bresson, Stylander’s work is a mosaic of photographic truth, turning its eye on celebrity. The Untamed Eye dares us to look deeper and engage past the moments we are asked to perform but at the moments in between where we want to escape.