Nonce Taxonomies, Bodies and Acts beyond Name

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Truman Capote, 1982Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde Helmut Newton (Australian, b. Germany, 1920-2004), Rue Aubriot, Paris, 1975Carl Van Vechten, Gertrude Stein on the Terrace André Kertesz, Colette, Paris, 1930Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971), Agnes Martin, 1966 newton-warhol

Consider the power of the photographic portrait in the social field within which the camera is still used as an instrument to regulate the body. The photographic I.D. card governs our access and actions. Its conventions of imaging and naming assign the subject represented to a category of person and an image-type according to governing social taxonomies. Photographic portraits participate in producing the very bodies and subjects they might seem to passively expose for the camera. Oscar Wilde’s cabinet card, for example, calcified the image-type of the homosexual as the dandy aesthete and connoisseur—a stereotype that lives on in associations of “that’s so gay” with flamboyance.

At the same time, even words of injury and stigmatizing images can be appropriated and reworked. The phrase “nonce taxonomies,” introduced by queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, both describes and performs this double act of occupying names and images that limit and harm while also deploying the strategic image-making power of classification. While the term nonce refers to something said or done for a particular purpose or on a certain occasion, it is also an old slang term for a sexual deviant. In recirculating an image-name with the power to wound, the phrase names the everyday ways in which we invent with what marks us to make room for ways of being and doing that exceed binary classification. This redeployment also exercises the power of classification to alter the charge of its loaded terms.

The diverse photographic portraits assembled here negotiate the binary terms that consign us while also opening up photographic identification to push beyond the bounds of the limiting taxonomies of homo and hetero, man and woman that hail us.


Nonce Taxonomies, installation shot © 2015 Natalie Kirk

Nonce Taxonomies, installation shot © 2015 Natalie Kirk