Publisher: Edition Reuss
Photography: Carlos Batts
Boulevard of Bizarre Dreams
“I’m always amazed to see how young American women in Hollywood can do so many things at the same time.”
Eroticism, if not outright sex, is the currency with which business is done at the place where women carry their skin to market. “Hollywood” is the name of this carnival (and trade fair) of the vanities. Hollywood is the epitome of the swamp of sin for some and a pathway to the stars and to immortal fame for others. According to Kenneth Anger’s chronicle of scandal “Hollywood Babylon,” there’s scarcely a female star, starlet or waitress in the café next door who didn’t shed her clothes at one time or other in the hope of becoming the sex symbol for the masses and reigning as a goddess atop the Mount Olympus of the silver screen. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe succeeded briefly, while legions of unknown beauties failed. Back in Hollywood’s golden days, eroticism and sex weren’t themes for big business with mass audiences: one waited for the lights to go out and the cameramen to go home before mussing the upholstery on the casting couch.
Carlos Batts, who moved to Los Angeles from Baltimore, Maryland many years ago, has found his own way to celebrate the enterprising spirit and lack of inhibitions of the young American women in Hollywood. With camera in hand, he continues to write his own success story as a photo artist who stages and designs images that are deliberately escapist, pure figments of a fecund imagination. “With these lights I can make you into something very special,” he tells his models – and everything beyond the imaginary reality of the studio simply ceases to exist. Surprising reminiscences on products from the dream factory aren’t excluded: “American Beauty” in a milk bath with rose petals or “Body Double” (loosely based on Brian de Palma) – the murderer with the electric drill, played here by a young lady wearing fishnet stockings on her legs, a look of ruthless determination on her face, and not much else in between. Sometimes one almost has the feeling that one is looking at a longlost and recently rediscovered photo of the glamorous Mae West. Batts’ imagination is infinitely fertile, and the products of his imagination defy assignation to predefined categories.
Inspired at the tender age of 16 by the work of great photographers like Annie Leibowitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Batts taught himself the skills he needed to ply the photographer’s trade. Ever since, he has rigorously pursued the goals of his cosmos of ideas, unburdened by academic rules and aesthetically influenced by the images that surround him in the worlds of fashion, the media and pop music. For more than a decade, Batts been particularly fond of shooting pictures of “crazy people.” He has shown his work at exhibitions and produced photo spreads – not solely for highgloss erotic magazines. His uncompromising gaze has earned him recognition as one of America’s most interesting young photographers.
Artistic independence characterizes the work of Carlos Batts. He refuses to tie himself down in terms of technique, style or theme. And he doesn’t only shoot photos: he also paints and sketches, and sometimes he personally takes brush and sponge in hand to decorate his models’ bodies with body paint. Altered colors, collagelike and experimental elements can be found in his photos, where anything’s possible and everything’s allowed. The play with visual effects is as much a part of Batts’ repertory as are erotic stagings à la Helmut Newton and stylistic mixtures of gaudy 1960s pinups, tasteless bourgeois culture, vulgar embarrassment and coarse innocence – as well as excellent portrait shots whose urgency and insistence recall the black-and-white images created by pioneering photographer John Deakin. Humor and subtle irony, atmospheric environments, the sensitive use of color, mood, structure and texture, and love for details are present in many of his works. Nothing but the artist’s own creative energy determines the spectrum of his themes, which run the gamut from eroticism and sex to fetishism and superficially banal subjects. There’s one thing, however, that you’ll never find in Batts’ pictures: sterilely lifeless pornography.
Carlos Batts’ crazy American girls have long since declared their independence from Hollywood’s outmoded dictates which insisted that a sex symbol had to be blonde, blue-eyed and buxom. Batts’ girls are just the way they are, and only through deliberate artistic intervention do they become character actresses and projection screens for the people who view their images. Batts’ photographic models are Latin, Caucasian, Asian and African American women. They may be blonde, brunette or blackhaired, tall or short, slender or plump, tattooed or shaven, masked or barefaced, in a static pose or in motion. Could it be that the wild action in Carlos Batts’ Hollywood universe is a fantastic social utopian model of the American dream of the unlimited possibilities of the individual, irregardless of her race, creed or color? Carlos Batts ought to know. He’ll answer. A rose is red; freedom is naked and blue.