Feature article in Bizarre Magazine, Issue #124
By Bob Nesson
June 6, 2004
We attach profound cultural meaning to our bodies, especially to those parts involved in sexual and excretionary functions. Belle Wether’s six-foot close-up drawings of male genitalia transcend those cultural meanings by interpreting the most private parts of a man with gentle curiosity and appreciation for organic truth.
Her pictures convey a thoughtful and sympathetic portrait of male organs in a style that draws from her beautiful earlier work with flowers and plants. She presents penises and testicles as soft, vulnerable parts of male bodies, conveying personality and mood in much the same way a sketch of a man’s face will project his inner thoughts. Her in-your-face approach holds her audience in the grip of an adventure.
The influence of photography, film and advanced technology is clear in her large-scale drawings made by pencil on mylar. Her through-the-magnifying glass detail of the penis and testicles reveals an unabashed familiarity with the subject and a point of view rarely explored. She lights testicles from below with a cross-light that brings out the beautiful patterned hard wrinkles—almost like fingerprints—that a young boy will experience when discovering his own body. Her images suggest micrographs of insects, where views of complex surfaces, eyes, and hair give the subject greater meaning and surprising beauty.
When does such analytical exploration become art? DaVinci pioneered the approach with his own detailed drawings of human anatomy. Charles and Ray Eames’ 1977 film “Powers of Ten” elucidated the scales of the cosmos in a momentous ten minutes of zooming out to the edge of the universe and zooming in to the core of subatomic particles. Edward Steichen, one of Belle Wether’s influences, used long exposures and filtered moonlight to maximize surface texture and mass in his studies of natural forms.
NASA’s TRACE satellite provides details of a million-degree corona on the sun’s surface, in a photograph that holds the viewer breathless with its revelations of new details about the everyday sun. As in Belle Wether’s drawings, extreme close-ups of the surface depict new formations of texture, delicate curves, and hair-like lines of radiant energy. Images from 93 million miles away suggest an intimacy that Belle Wether achieves from within scratching distance of her subject.
Belle Wether does not shy from using vernacular—balls, cocks—in her description of the work. These terms take on a less conventional meaning as I gaze on her images—they appear unthreatening, at rest, almost shy. She treats this subject in much the same way she approaches flowers and plants, where her beautiful close-ups evoke less cultural ambivalence.
Her pictures explore a man’s human side—there’s no allusion to Arnold Schwarzenegger hard body, nor pornographic bravado. As a female artist with candor and integrity, she presents a sympathetic view of a friend’s—perhaps a lover’s—private parts. Her work reveals the humanity and universality of her subject.
Bob Nesson is an independent producer/cameraman who focuses on environmental, human rights and educational projects. Recently, he completed a documentary about an anti-landmine activist in Cambodia; spent six weeks in the arctic filming NASA’s experimental Mars project for the Discovery Channel; and traveled to the Caucasus region to teach a two-week workshop on environmental filmmaking to Russian scientists. His career has included stints as film and video editor, cameraman, and producer. His work covers subjects as diverse as urban development, economic history, immigration and cultural adjustment, artists, political conditions, music, and science. His awards include National and New England Emmys, Black Maria Film Festival, New York Film and Video Festival, and others.