Mark McKnight: Heaven is a Prison
Heaven is a Prison
Hardcover, 132 pages, 250 x 305 mm
Mark McKnight (b. 1984, the USA) recently won the Light Work Photobook Award with his provocative monograph ‘Heaven is a Prison’, in which he explores queer intimacy in the rough terrain of Southern California’s high desert.
Coming across as both utopic and purgatorial, McKnight introduces a queer otherworld, an interplay between pain and desire demonstrated by a gay couple in the desolate landscape. They practice what could be summarized as BDSM, a variety of erotic roleplaying practices involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, but could also include sadomasochism and other related interpersonal dynamics.
There is an important presence of metaphors and contrasts in McKnight’s black-and-white images of entangled bodies, horizonless landscapes and dramatic cloudy skies. He uses light and shadow to often expose some details while leaving the others obscured. One is confronted with the juxtapositions of submission and dominance, life and death and ultimately – heaven and prison.
The sexually explicit images seem to show it all, yet there is still a sense of mystery and concealed elements. “To whom does heaven belong? And what constitutes a ‘heaven’ or ‘prison’?”, McKnight questions. By which he also intertwines BDSM practices with Christian moral values. The book itself is sealed in one of the cloud images, requiring the viewer to tear it – already triggering desire and discomfort at the same time.
McKnight’s subjects are portrayed faceless, thus remain anonymous – which increases the overall ambiguity felt from the images. ‘Heaven is a Prison’ comes across as loaded with affect, and the photographs deeply pierce thoughts and emotions. Particularly, it confronts the (pre-conceived) ideas about morality, sex, and queerness. However, by obscuring the perception of what is human or inhuman, the meaning is always in flux, denying the images to be understood in a defining, singular way.
‘Heaven is a Prison’ is co-published by Loose Joints, an artist-run photography publisher and Light Work, a non-profit photography organisation supporting emerging artists. The title includes an essay written by Garth Greenwell, an author and poet highly acclaimed for his writings about sex.