Two things you wouldn’t think of pairing together: the female body and war. That’s what artist Scott Kraynak has done with his beautiful photography book, Unconquerable Desires. The book is uniquely done, placing plastic toy soldiers enacting scenes from war on the naked female body. The images are all done in black and white and are coupled with quotes about both war and the female form.
What I found so intriguing about this book was the unique combination of the female body and war. The way in which Kraynak was able to so beautifully and tastefully display the female form in contrast to the gruesome and horrifying reality of war is a true work of art. Kraynak speaks of the contrast between love and hate, passion and pain, and the desire for flesh and the desire for power in the intro to his book. That is exactly what these images do: they’re a powerful statement, showing the contrast between ultimate beauty and ultimate destruction.
The quotes were equally as powerful as the images they were attached to. The quote that struck me the most was the quote by C.S. Lewis: “She was beautifully, delicately made, so small, so unafraid, till the bomb came. Bombs are the same, beautifully, delicately made” (Kraynak, 11). The quotes are a powerful addition to the image that really allows the book to speak to its reader.
The title of the book is equally intriguing. Unconquerable Desires is a title that speaks back to the overarching theme of glorifying the female body as opposed to glorifying war. The female body, unlike war, cannot be conquered. The female body is to be valued, loved, and appreciated. Kraynak is driving home the idea that we so easily show passion and desire for war, praising it, when we should be praising the female body.
The toy soldiers are intricately placed on the female body parts. There are soldiers marching to war, shooting their enemies, and protecting their fellow soldiers. Scene after scene, the soldiers are placed in new positions, as is the female body. The pairing of the two create such powerful images of not only the horrors of war and the beauty of the body, but also the way the female body is shamed and hidden in many aspects of our society. Kraynak speaks of how the “atrocities of war are broadcast to us 24/7 via countless news outlets” while “the female body suffers endless censorship” (Kraynak, 2). He ponders on why we are so easily able to intake news of death and destruction, yet we lack the maturity to speak about or be graced with the female body. In Unconquerable Desires, Scott Kraynak is able to present us with the two in one space, forcing the viewer to deal with both beauty and destruction simultaneously. Here, we get the artist’s thoughts.
Cliché: What inspired this book?
Scott Kraynak: Seeing what is happening in the world today in regards to wars being fought, violence against women, the continued lack of equality between men and women, and the overall decaying state of world intelligence and willingness to fight against a system controlled by money and greed inspired this book. But even more so, it seems as if we never learn from our mistakes, that we as a society keep making the same mistakes that we have made for thousands of years. That is where the idea of adding the quotes to the book came in, kind of showing how the most famous writers and most intelligent philosophers throughout time have been saying the same thing, yet nobody seems to listen. The idea of using the toy soldiers battling on female bodies just came to me one day and this fictional landscape seemed to represent all of these travesties and inequalities occurring at once.
What is the significance of having these images in black and white?
There is no significance, really. I’ve just always loved black and white photography and felt that it would portray these war scenes in a more powerful, vivid way, also giving the images a somewhat historical look—kind of like old civil war battle images.
What do you hope viewers take away from this book? Is there a particular feeling you hope to convey?
Besides showing the horrors of war, one of the main purposes of this book was to present the female body in such a way that reflects not only its life-giving beauty, but also reflects the horrors and injustices that continue to befall women today. The following is taken from the epilogue: This photography visualizes what it means for the body to become the landscape and for the land to become the female body. In a simultaneously playful and earnest way, these photographs imagine what it means to wage war over and on the bodies of women. How will our lands be free if her body still is not? How do we understand the female body as an object which men continue to battle for, over, and against? How do we understand the woman as a subject who must endure, who must pitch her own battles against the attacks of sexism, abuse, and assault?
Unconquerable Desires invokes difficult questions about war as a colonial function that dominates not only the bodies of the colonized other, but is rooted in a patriarchal system that continues to colonize and wage war on the bodies of women. But this work also evokes the affective ties between war and love, angst and desire, rage and lust. The images play on the longing for female beauty and the cultures of war that together work to define American masculinity. But this book pokes fun at it; it pokes holes into the seriousness of its façade with plastic toy soldiers and a large ferocious lizard. One cannot help but chuckle at the scene, but also ponder it deeply. How do we understand the fabrication of the scene and the landscape as indicative of the constructedness of war and gender, the ways in which we force bodies to mean something, anything worth fighting for? While at times a bit comical on the surface, these photos ask us to really dig much deeper into the human condition; they help us understand the multiple ways our bodies are always embattled.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a movie poster for a soon to be released horror film; another photography book featuring weird/creepy/macabre images; a new illustrated book with my brother taking on the ridiculous gun culture in the United States, racism, and other issues that I feel are important to be addressed; a drawing for Redwood National Park; and a piece for a Cleveland Art book I’m creating. Actually with that project, there is a lot of behind the scenes work that I need to do: get rights to old paintings, recruit artists of all mediums, find a publisher and gallery, coordinate everything, etc. It’s quite a project, but will be worth the effort in the end! Cleveland rocks!
An excerpt from Unconquerable Desires:
“We are in a moment, a seemingly never-ending moment, in which women’s bodies are under legislative attack, from attempts to bar and remove access to reproductive healthcare to the policing of which types of women (read: “real women”) may use which public restroom. War here is a metaphor, but it is felt on the bodies of women who cannot access these basic human rights. But let’s not forget the ways in which combat literally produces women as casualties, their bodies taken by soldiers—raped, pillaged. As Judith Lewis Herman writes, “the subordinate condition of women is maintained and enforced by the hidden violence of men. There is war between the sexes. Rape victims, battered women, and sexually abused children are its casualties. Hysteria is the combat neurosis of the sex war.” The so-called “war between the sexes” operates on multiple levels: Soldiers literally take the bodies of women (and other Others) in the process of waging war; and the effects of sexual violence (in the context of war or elsewhere) are felt on women’s bodies in the same ways the violence of war is felt on the bodies of those who wage it.”
For more information about Scott Kraynak, visit scottkraynak.com
The book Unconquerable Desires can be purchased on amazon.com and all other major online retailers.
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Scott Kraynak Discusses Photography Book, ‘Unconquerable Desires’: Photographs courtesy of Scott Kraynak