Though it'd be easy to lump Natacha Merritt with the rest of the webcam/internet exhibitionists, it took only one examination of this book to make me see otherwise in Merritt's digital photography.
With a maverick's audacity and technical disregard (one interviewer made the humorous remark that Merritt "can't tell an f-stop from a bus stop"), Merritt has somehow managed to discover a visual style all her own that fuses strange angles, simple lighting, unusual placement of her subjects, and introspection into one. The more explicit photos oftimes threaten to de-humanize Merritt herself and her subjects, but those are counterbalanced by some very tasteful, evocative shots that convey the subjects' internal drama.
Merritt makes a better subject than any other person in this book for her own camera. It doesn't hurt that she's gorgeous, but she has two things to her advantage: Expressive eyes, and the unique dynamic of photographer-as-subject. Is she simultaneously empowered and scrutinized by the camera? How often does she know what exactly the image looks like? And which photos are staged? Which ones are taken as a fly-on-the-wall snapshot? Merritt is always interesting as her own subject, and it is telling that the best set of pictures in this book, the "self search" series, focus much less on sexual acts than on self-discovery, examination, and Merritt's relationship to the camera and to her own body. Most of these are close-ups from wildly imaginative angles, shadowy, and intriguing -- the crowning picture is Merritt looking at her own hand in a mirror, contemplating. These pictures tell many stories about the young woman both in front of and behind the camera, and they're beautiful and revealing in a way far beyond the sexually explicit pictures. Most of those do manage to achieve a degree of honesty and spontaneity as well, making them erotically charged.
Accusations of narcissism can't be avoided and Merritt can probably be said to be guilty of it sometimes. But what she produces from her unique work methods is so intriguing, and her revelation of herself as photographer (a rarity in photography) so far-reaching, that this book remains a great fascination. It'd be a shame if it were to be lumped with the usual erotic photography and exhibitionistic endeavours. Digital Diaries has much more to offer.