Got Game is a book about women. It’s a book of nearly 70 photographs by David Muskin, a photographer who moonlights as the owner of Davidson’s Distillery, a honky tonkin’ biker bar in downtown Reno. The photos are all black and white images shot on film, with no crops, Photoshops or other digital alterations. The photos span 1974 to 2009. And every photograph features a woman.
Some of the women are mothers or daughters, little girls or old ladies, lovers or friends. Some look like women out of ancient mythology; some look like women out on a mythic night of debauchery. Some look lustful, or loathsome, or loved. Some look haggard. Some look beautiful. Many are both at the same time. Some of the photographs are elaborately and artfully staged, others are casual, naturalistic snapshots.
Muskin speaks slowly and thoughtfully. He has a frizzy gray ponytail and the eyes of a man who would be difficult to shock. A strength of his art is its unabashed male gaze. The term “male gaze” is sometimes used, with mostly negative connotations, to describe the assumption that art objects are intended to be viewed by heterosexual males. Because Muskin’s work is rooted in his life and the world he sees as he sees it, it takes the male gaze as a given and an asset. Got Game is a book about women as seen by a man.
“There was an expectation on me to do a book about bikers,” says Muskin. “I hate doing what’s expected. So instead of bikers, I did a book about women. … Women have always interested me. I’ve been attracted to them all my life, but I know very little about them.”
Muskin acknowledges that the women are depicted as seen from his personal perspective. He describes his photography as a sort of “visual diary,” but says he always discovers something new in the process of printing, compiling or sequencing the photographs.
“I wanted the book to have hooks and a rhythm like a great song,” he says.
Each picture leads to the next—sometimes suggesting a narrative, sometimes deliberately thwarting attempts to project a narrative. Some of the photographs are overtly sexual—a topless woman lies on a bar, arching her back, her nipples thrust forward Some are nearly asexual or only mildly suggestive. “Egg Trick,” for example, is primarily a geometric composition: lines on a sidewalk and a brick wall lead the eye toward an off-center vanishing point, and there lies an egg, and above the egg, a woman’s calf, ankle and a high heel delicately poised to crush.
“That’s about the tension of objects,” says Muskin of “Egg Trick.”
Many of Muskin’s photographs explore the shadowy places in life—sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
“I’ve always been drawn to the macabre,” says Muskin. “It’s been that way since I was an infant. It’s an asset and a liability.”
The cover of Got Game is nearly all black, with a small rectangle cut out near the bottom of the page, revealing a motorcycle license plate, “MCT 666.” Opening the cover reveals the entire frontispiece, a woman above the motorbike, the cheeks of her jeans cut out to reveal a bare posterior adorned with Davidson’s Distillery stickers.
“It’s a hook,” says Muskin. “To either sex, it evokes a reaction. And that’s the first step for creating communication.”