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Rules of Engagement: with photographic truthfulness no longer taken on faith, some photographers are working out a new set of protocols for making pictures that are seriously real

Fein's counterfeits are not intended to reprise tired debates about originality and authorship. Unlike Sherrie Levine, who rephotographed Walker Evans's Depression-era images, or Thomas Ruff, whose enlargements of Internet images preserve and accentuate the flaws of screen grabs, Fein seized upon despicable amateur images, which unexpectedly had acquired public notoriety and probative value, and re-presented them in enhanced, painterly terms. His invocation of old-master painting, far from summoning up Christian martyrdom as do the Abu Ghraib canvases of Fernando Botero, delivers us to the dark threshold of inhumanity conjured by Goya.

[I]n the end, and once again in contrast with Botero's canvases, Fein's photographs are about the torturers--the photographers among them--and not about the victims.

Marcia E. Vetrocq, Art in America Magazine, 2008


Clinton Fein's latest exhibition, Torture, which opened at Toomey Tourell Gallery in San Francisco in January 2007 is a shocking and defiant exploration of America's approach to torture under the Bush administration.

A series of staged and digitally manipulated photographic images recreate the infamous torture scenes from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, transforming the diffuse, muted and low-resolution images into large-scale, vivid, powerful and frightening reproductions.

Fein focuses on the choreography and sexualization of torture, which includes images of prisoners stripped naked, wearing hoods or sandbags as they're forced to stand in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions, simulate sexually degrading acts, are plastered with feces and subject to egregious humiliation. In spite of the horror, the images, stylized with fashion-photography lighting, radiate a profound beauty and eroticism that is all at once seductive, disturbing and unsettling.

Fein's deliberate rejection of blurring, obscuring or even shading the blatant nudity in his images is a response to the blurring of genitals that characterized the images released to the public, and is consistent with Fein's history of challenging the notions of decency, which included a Supreme Court victory over United Sates Attorney General, Janet Reno. "If one was to question which was obscene - the display of someone's ass cheeks or graphic displays of torture, I don't think there ought to be any confusion," said Fein. "Obfuscation is at the heart of what is happening with the torture debate."

Born in Johannesburg in 1964, Fein's work has achieved international recognition and his previous exhibitions in both San Francisco and New York have been fraught with controversy. The Torture exhibition runs from January 4, 2007 through January 30, 2007 at Toomey Tourell gallery. Additional information can be found at