Stylish noir

Nicola Kuperus takes what looks at first to be a “commercial” approach to photography. A 1998 graduate of the Center for Creative Studies, she looks at objects and people with a kind of equanimity — a one-mood-fits-all attitude pervading each of her shots — in which eroticized models and fetishized commodities are frozen in a world of mutual dependence. “What I decided to hone in on was not product but actually fashion. When I’m making my images, it’s as if I’m selling a handbag or a pair of shoes. But I think it crosses over into fine art.”

Her vividly colored pictures can be read as cynical takes on 21st century capitalism and as part of one long tongue-in-cheek love affair with surfaces. Yet, each shot goes much deeper than a first impression. Kuperus’ view of the postmodern mystery dance seems to be that we’re in a bionic-prosthetic need relationship with the stylish things we buy — as if, like cripples, we couldn’t get around without them. At the same time, the things in her photographs become sinister in their seductive beauty and — as in the two pictures of the blonde girl with the white purse above — overpowering, even lethal.

Kuperus sees an important antecedent for her stark fashion spreads in the work of Helmut Newton, bête noire of international fashion photography and perennial whipping boy for pop culture moralists seeking to “cleanse” the world of libido. But while Newton aims his lens primarily at the upper classes in a strange mixture of fascination and derision, Kuperus opens her perceptual windows onto a more familiar landscape — one that foregrounds retro longings for style in a world gone mad with stuff-lust.

This same retro-now-for-the-future spirit infuses Kuperus’ musical collaborations with Adam Lee Miller: their electronic music project known as Ersatz Audio and their band called Adult. In addition to providing endearingly girlish vocals to the sci-fi-funky Adult. mix, she gives the various audio CD releases a cool, clean look of implied violence, with a series of noirish cover and liner photographs in which the most vivid colors are deathly blue and blood-red.

So, before you drive off in your vintage Olds or Karmann Ghia to see Kuperus’ latest work (as part of detroit contemporary’s group photo show, Out of Focus), remember to check out for more examples of her encounters with image intrigue. They’ll make you remember the words of that sexy old song, “There’s danger in your eyes, cherie.”