Examining the Strange Sensuality of John Kayser's Erotica

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Photography by John Kayser, courtesy of FARAGO

The elusive image-maker took hundreds of seductive photographs over the 1960s, 70s and 80s – many of which are displayed in a new exhibition, Women

John Kayser, the photographic and filmmaking talent behind a new exhibition of sensual film clips and photographs opening at LA gallery Farago today, is something of an enigmatic character. “His story is one of secretive creation and subsequent discovery,” Myles Haslehorst of Ampersand Gallery and Fine Books, which owns and represents the Kayser estate, reflects. “The details of his life prior to his death in 2007 are limited to a fragmentary collection of notes, papers and documents.”

Although he was born in North Dakota in 1922, Kayser was Californian in spirit, and spent most of his life living on the West Coast – a fact which goes some way to explaining the sunshine-tinged colour palette and soft focus of the Kodachrome transparency and 8mm films he made over the course of more than 20 years. In spite of his considerable visual legacy, however – his archive is rich with erotic, often almost pornographic images of women, interspersed with carefully choreographed still lifes – all that is known about the man himself is an informed estimation.

“At a glance one might say he was an artist with an obsessive eye for the perverse, but for every picture that verges on the pornographic, there are countless others that are evidence of his repeated efforts to stage, direct and record an isolated moment of beauty,” Haslehorst continues. “What makes Kayser’s work so singular is a set of peculiar props and ritualistic scenarios that are repeated over and over in the photographs. This repetition extends to the women themselves, many of whom appear over the course of several years, engaging with the same props, set against the same backdrops and often at times wearing the same clothing or pair of shoes.”

In Women, this phenomena of recurring themes manifests itself through voyeuristic shots of women bending over as they go about their day, or perched deliberately upon a chair or bouquet of flowers. Elsewhere, we see an unidentified male character – perhaps the photographer himself – positioned beneath a woman's foot or a car tyre, establishing themes of subordination and fetishism. We may not know much about Kayser, to both our own curiosity and that of those publishing his images, but this only adds to the allure of his oeuvre.

John Kayser, Women runs until March 5, 2016 at LA-based gallery, Farago.