RENNIE-ELLIS: DECADENT-REVIEW

28.07.14

Looking through Ellis’ lens 1980’s Australia seemed like a pretty good place to be. A complacent carefree utopia where one esky per person on The Hill at the SCG wasn’t quite enough, a Benson & Hedges and Crown Lager were cure alls and fire hazard polyester and gold lamé ruled the night.

Following on from Decade, Ellis’ changing of the guard account of Australia in the 1970s, its accompaniment Decadent has arrived, in all its excessive exuberance. When scanning through Decadent a single colour palette emerges from the blurry flicker of pages, it is pink, bronzed, glowing, fleshy. Gleaming bodies caught beading and glistening from bulb-flash or sunlight. Decade saw Ellis photographing a nation struggling to pen its own narrative, a renegade spirit navigating brave new territory. With Decadent, it’s as if it’s all spilling over the sides oozing self-assurance, confidence and a party abandon. Its gaze is altogether different from Decade, faces all seem lost in the moment, hypnotised by some grand peacock performance.

“I came face to face with the see-and-be-seen syndrome”

In Decadent there are no shrinking violets, proud bodies thrust in complete confidence before Ellis’ welcoming eyes. Perhaps this is down to Ellis’ disarming nature as a photographer, but maybe points to an attitude of the times, of display and excess. Whether figuratively or literally Ellis’ subjects are on stage, they are mid performance, screaming to be seen, in all their fleshy luminance.

“There is an element of eroticism (the tits and bums syndrome) in all of my books which is also indicative of my interests and priorities… my photography legitimises my voyeuristic tendencies”

For Ellis bare bums are intoxicating; erotic or everyday, semi or sans cloth, that corpulent pallor appears time and time again. The pure physicality of the images is arresting, we are caught gawking before some wild Dionysian feast.

Ellis is astute in recognising the power and currency of the nude. The bare body is freedom, pure and simple. Almost boastfully, time and again bodies fall before Ellis’ lens in a carefree symbol of self-assurance and vitality. Even in the strip clubs and boys clubs of Decadence, Ellis manages to dismiss the tired narrative of strippers as disenfranchised; the power lies firmly in the grasp of the performer. He champions scenes where goddesses perform before mesmerised onlookers, their sheer physical beauty subduing the rowdy natives. Ellis’ tale is bereft of the usual moralising that plasters overt displays of sexuality and sensuality, blurring lines between performer and audience. It is after all, a celebration.

Hot on the heels of its soul-searching predecessor Decade, Ellis’ sun drenched leisure cruise Decadent is an apt companion piece. The two works do not suffer from their rapid-fire succession, in fact they bolster each other, they hint to a man whose archives have a lot to say and we can only hope that we are let back in again for a butchers some time soon.

Decadent is available now through Hardie Grant publishing.