Lolita - Keeley Bentley

'Lolita, Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.'

These are the opening words of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, a poetic invocation of the subject of the narrator’s obsession. Here Lolita can be seen to be a construction of the narrator, to be broken down and put back together in ever more erotic combinations. This novel is not told through the eyes of Lolita at any point, instead she is a site of fantasy into which Humbert pours the entirety of his nostalgic memories of his adolescent love affair and his inability to live with a woman who does not come up to his fantasied heights of perfection. Whilst the adolescent girl is the centre of the erotic narrative, her agency within the novel is subsumed within the first person narrative of Humbert Humbert. The title characters of classic novels seem to pop up out of the rabbit hole and peep out from behind a balloon of bubble gum constantly these days. Their ever-presence make it tempting to see each girl out there as containing characteristics of these girls inside her, whether by being unable to resist the pull of her own desires or by being irresistible to others. Girls seem to slide down the slippery slope of stereotyped adolescence; we assume we know them well enough to pinpoint their respective characteristics when they come alive in the works of paintings of Balthus’ or in controversial advertisements.

Tracing Lolita’s through the works of various artists and photographers, from Balthus to Calvin Klein campaigns runs a diverse and sometimes exalted linage of men begetting desirable girls, the same girl over and over again, with an appealing twist here and there to keep things lively and fresh. This works basis was to explore to explicit nature to which we grasp to youth; we all remember it, now we have processed through it. Yet to be that age is to be young, naive and have the world at your feet. It’s been a good decade and a half since I’ve been at that point and now I look back at my youth it frightens me at how majority of my friends acted to what was in the media at the time, the idols we had, the life we had. Lolita treads somewhere on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, a liminal zone that leaves her susceptible to being further pulled this way and that, subject to a blueprint of changing bodies and desires. I wasn’t subject to this as a teen although many of my friends were, this work in more ways than one explores the difficulty I have with my own desires as I recluse myself and always did from falling down the slippery slope of sexual desires. This work sits on the cusp of where a girl is available and when she is not, Lolita lust, treacherously textbook models with their slim bodies, their toy box charm. All I ask is the spectator to distance you from the work, we as women lie down, make ourselves comfortable and we become seductive to the male gaze. We reflect this to children and it becomes obscene. Where does this limit become ok? It becomes apparent that different styles of photography use this in various different ways, as in fashion photography it allows us an invite to celebrate those desires represented in models that have a flat chests, big eyes and a seductive glare. Sex sells but why should the sexualisation of young models be the one that sells the clothes we aim to fit and then allow this to be socially acceptable? I guess my work speaks for itself.

All images copyright of Kelley Bentley


Daniel Ainsworth