Clampart Gallery 1/4: Ken Graves and Eva Lipman – Restrai

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman

Among the artists being currently presented by the ClampArt Gallery are Ken Graves and Eva Lipman. Ken Graves (1942-2016) was an American street photographer recognized for his black and white pictures of the San Francisco area during the 1960s and the 1970s. He was married to Eva Lipman, another Czech born photographer (1946). They spent the rest of their lives together taking pictures of various subjects. Together they photographed examples of American subcultures from this time, going from competitive ballroom dancing, school proms to amateur prizefighters. He is also known for some of his collage arts he made during his free time. He received a master of fine arts degree from the art institute in 1971. He was hired as a professor of art at Penn State University. Graves’s first published book was “American Snapshots”. He spent two years with a friend driving around knocking on people’s doors to ask them if they’d be willing to show their family photo albums. Graves met Lipman in 1985 during a competitive ballroom event in Ohio. They began to work together and published their first book in “Ballroom” in 1987, which then led to their “the Prom Series”. Among their other well-known series is “the Making of Men,” in which they discern the idea of masculinity through events such as military ceremonies or demolition derbies. When Ken retired in 2008. He and Eva moved to El Cerrito. When returning, they released their show “Sweet Surrender” containing 26 images picked from all of their joint projects raging from 1990 to 2014. It has been described by Jack Fischer as: “intimate, magical moments of unabashed tenderness’s amongst the protagonists in the photos”.
The exhibition Restraint + Desire (which coincides with the artists monograph release) is the high point of the artistic career of Ken Graves and Eva Lipman. In order to take their pictures, they used to shoot the same subject simultaneously and then editing the film from both cameras, never showing who actually took the picture for the final photograph selected. In the course of their careers, they have taken various pictures of American social rituals with the aim of capturing the intense relational complexity between humans which though common in those events and settings, is often overlooked. Those settings include for instance football games, boxing matches, high school dances and military ceremonies.

Restraint and Desire from Ken Graves and Eva Lipmann

Becca Rothfeld, a journalist writing for The New Yorker stated: “‘Restraint and Desire’ is a study of intimacy and its impediments: the tender images it contains portray longing (desire) when it is regulated by ritual (restraint). The [work] depicts perfectly ordinary exchanges in familiar, formalized settings. . . Yet each [space] is both an obstacle to and a condition of love’s consummation.”

All of the different human behaviors photographed by Graves and Lipman are often revealing of a certain sexual tension present among the subjects. Lipman and Graves explained that not only is this tension present in the world around them but that it also was a reflection upon their own relationship. As Lipman puts it, “our work reflected back to us, like a mirror, the intensities and power dynamics of our shared life together.”

Their pictures, expressing an immense visual sensitivity, are a collection of body language expressions that reveals the immense interior complexity of the human mind. Most of the emotions are conveyed through the hands of the characters. They touch, they grab, they feel, the longer you look at them, the more complicated it becomes to really get a grasp of the emotions being conveyed by the subjects. The journalist Tim Adams writing for The Guardian describes it as “the language of the hands” but also as the “lexicon of the touch”. It shows us the way palms and fingers are among the prominent features to describe the emotions expressed inside a relationship.

The complexity of human relationship explored by Ken Graves and Eva Lipmann

The complex aspect of human relation is particularly visible on this picture. We see a couple either dancing or embracing each other when they are suddenly surprised by the hands of two other characters. But is it really the case? Are they being pushed together or are they being separated from one another? Is this the picture of an intimate scene between two lovers or is it just an awkward grip? Does the woman with her back to us feel congratulated, comforted or threatened at the touch of those hands? Are the others here to say hello or are those goodbyes? All of those different interpretation of the same picture is rendered possible thanks to the lack of description but also because we can’t see her facial expression, thus making us harder to interpret her expression. This forces us to project our own stories into the life of these individuals, something perhaps that we already do unconsciously on a daily bases when we crossed the path of a stranger while walking in our streets.


Brian Paul Clamp
247 West 29th Street, Ground Floor
New York, NY 10001
United States of America
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Pierre Etieve, born on january 22nd 2001 in Orléans

Bachelor Europäische Wirtschaftskommunikation

Internship 2022 at studio Thomas Kellner