Art & Photography

Restraint and Desire

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman’s lifelong creative partnership highlighted in a publication from TBW Books

The first thing to notice in Restraint and Desire, Ken Graves and Eva Lipman’s collaborative publication, is its duality. Not only for the representation of kinship – a partnership between husband and wife – but it also induces a visual mirroring. With black and white imagery often presented on the right hand sided of the book, you’ll see pairings of subjects gestating, touching or moving in the dynamic and heavily contrasted stye of the photography. It would be strange to see a character on their own.

To witness two spouses collaborating together is not an uncommon occurrence in the art world; think Marina Abramović and Ulay, who produced work together for 12 years in total; Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre; Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivero to name just a small handful of examples. But in this specific union, there’s something so effortlessly harmonic in the way they have composed their imagery. In fact, it’s hard to determine who did what; the work appears like a single entity, which is a stark contrast to the distinctive narratives found in synergies like this.

Over the decades and until Ken’s passing, the pair have worked in alliance with one another, defining this merging of two minds – a melting pot of shared goals and ideals. The result of which is a survey of the rituals found in typical American culture, things like the awkward celebration of school dances, the cheer of football games and boxing matches; the archetype of American society. By shining their lens on these topics, the couple were able to douse it with their own sensibility, in turn highlighting the complexities of human nature and how these rites of passage can often go overlooked in the every day. Ken and Eva, however, were never oblivious to the subtle intricacies of humankind and, instead, sought a career in documenting these moments. 

But it wasn’t just the world around them that went on to inspire their work. It was also their relationship, which tended to reveal itself in their work together – the sexual tensions, dynamics and complexities that comes with sharing a life with someone. The resulting work illustrates feelings of tenderness, intimacy, lust, generosity, connection and communication; the elements that define what it is to really love someone. And equally, they also represent the more negative associations of love where boredom, fear and tiredness might rise to the surface.

“These pictures were made in collaboration with my partner in life and work, Ken Graves,” writes Eva in the book. ”I will forever be grateful to him for his love and generosity, his unfailing optimism, and for sharing with me his strange and unique worldview. I miss him everyday.

Restraint and Desire, then, is like an archival memory box of their relationship together. So even though Eva is no longer able to physically touch her husband, nor are they featured in the work themselves, these posing bodies are somewhat of an apt reminder – a visual cue that she can refer back to whenever she needs. As Eva says, “our work reflected back to us, like a mirror, the intensities and power dynamics of our shared life together”. Love, and this partnership in particular, will never fade, and this book is fine example of its enduring presence.

Restraint and Desire is published by TBW Books and available here.