Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kamisuki


It continues to pleasantly surprise me how each new installment in my self portrait project becomes both a reflection and harbinger of what’s going on in my life at the time.  My last shoot occurred in a context of defiance and renewed immersion in music. This one coincided with a shift to a quieter more inwardly oriented time, in which a natural reaction to too much time spent out in the social world and a bad case of tonsillitis conspired to keep me home and in my own company, the perfect contemplative and yes, admittedly self-absorbed context in which to explore and embrace this month’s theme.


I usually go looking for my next theme soon after the last one is done. I always have a brief moment of panic – what if I’m out of ideas? what next? – followed by my new theme dropping right into my lap and being instantly recognizable as the right one, the only one.  This time, a review of an exhibit of paintings featuring images of women at their toilette prompted me to research further than the usual French paintings depicting scenes before during and after the bath, which led me to some beautiful modern Japanese drawings of women combing their hair, a motif known as kamisuki.

 Kamisuki (Combing her Hair) by Torii Kotondo

I had already made plans to include something in a Japanese style among my themes, and this was perfect. Especially as a course correction following what I felt was a slight detour in my last shoot, which was a bit of a stretch for a project exploring classic images of female nudes re-imagined. The kamisuki aesthetic brought me back to the heart of the matter – the woman self-absorbed  and observed in a moment of vulnerability, both intimately objectified and distantly adored by the artist.  


What drew me to this motif was that unlike other compositions in which women seem more posed and less poised – here the artist seems almost an afterthought.  These women are too involved in a pure act of attending to their own bodies, an almost meditative state, as anyone who has spent time combing their hair can attest, to notice if anyone is eavesdropping, or acknowledge the presence of a guiding hand. It’s self-love and self-oblivion combined in one repeated rhythmic motion. It says, for now at least, I am taking care of myself and myself alone, without shame or guilt, and without you. 


Which is just what I have been doing these past weeks of retreat and recovery. Art imitates life imitates art.

 




Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Becoming a Young Lion

 
No Young Lion 

It all began a month ago right after my last shoot.  Around the day Ian Curtis of Joy Division being 35 years dead prompted me to watch the movie “Control,” re-listen to his music, and remember that my other favorite dead too young rock baritone, Jim Morrison, also needed some listening to. Not that I go for any extended period of time NOT listening to more music in a day than most people experience in a month, but for weeks during yet another installment of my dark night of the soul, I seemed to be immersing myself in the stuff with a vengeance and liking the feeling.

 
Young Lion
 
One day on Facebook I floated the idea of classic rock images for my next shoot. To my horror, I then floated the idea of using one of the most iconic rock visuals of all time, Jim Morrison’s Young Lion photograph, as my source material. It would seem as this project proceeds I am determined to make it evermore difficult for myself. Admittedly, this one went way beyond difficult to downright terrifying.


For anyone possessed of sense and senses, it’s obvious that Morrison is a man, a very beautiful man, possibly one of the most beautiful of all time, and I, well, I’m not.  More than ever, this shoot was going to have to be more of a re-imagining than an imitation of the original. It was in fact, I said to myself in eerie prescience weeks ago, going to be a collaboration.  
 
 


I have always felt a kinship with Jim Morrison. The Doors arrived in my listening life when I was a teenager and Jim had been dead almost a decade already. I was an instant insatiable lover of the man, the music, the myth. I calculated exactly how long he had lived, to the day, and was fairly certain I would die within that span. Maybe even in France. It didn’t hurt that his birthday is one day after mine and we are both crazy poets as likely to be committing outrageous acts as retreating into our hideouts.  The kind of people who get doubtful looks when we claim we are shy.


 


For this shoot I wanted to get as close to Jim as possible. Playing the Best Of The Doors wasn’t enough. So I donned jeans, a big hippie belt, black boots and a handmade replica of his bead necklace and got myself into as Dionysian a mood as possible while remaining sober for the sake of technical ability. 



Then something strange happened. Or really, more than one strange thing happened. My fully charged batteries died. Twice. The firmly screwed into place and focused camera kept slipping slightly and needed re-securing. Images did not appear in the preview mode. At one point the tripod jumped an inch to the side with absolutely no provocation. Finally suspecting I had company I said out loud “C’mon Jim, let me do this! or am I done here?” upon which, the camera shut itself off. I shit you not.

 

It took me an hour to recover from the shoot and approach the task of downloading and editing images. I totally expected all files to be erased. Gradually I came to the understanding that this was not a malicious intervention, the Lizard King obstructing the little girl with the balls to think she could impersonate a god. It was friendly mischief. From one vagabond imp to another.


And I downloaded 100 photos, the best of which you see here. Many of them feel as if they were retrieved from some 1970s photo session with an unknown but very surly and possibly drunk rock star.  One with the balls to think she’s Jim Morrison. 


Nope, Jim, just me. Just us. Thanks for being there. Then, now and forever.





Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On a Pedestal


One of the last places I ever expected to occupy during a photo shoot or any other situation in my life is a pedestal. Maybe if I could recall an instance of choosing or agreeing or demanding to be there things might be different. But fact is, when it comes to perceptions and perspectives, whether coming from within or without, pedestals and I have a very limited acquaintance with each other, one first experienced about two hours ago, lasting one hour and unlikely ever to be resumed.


But the Self Portrait Project is about defying comfort zones, so this month not only did I choose as inspiration the most holy of holies to any photographer daring to give themselves that title, the inimitable Edward Weston, but from his brilliant and humbling body of work selected an image that would require me as model to sit in a highly uncomfortable position balanced on, yes, a pedestal.


Or actually an endtable. With sharp corners that left their mark on my knees as I left and reclaimed my perch a few dozen times until I somehow miraculously approximated the pose in the picture by the original model who I can only imagine was far younger and more agile and patient than I am, or quite possibly, a goddess to pedestal perching born.


This project has challenged me and continues to do so even in its 8th installment, as an artist and a woman, both of which aspects of my identity have never been keen on attention of any sort. It isn’t so much a matter of self esteem or confidence lacking as not wanting the recognition I know I deserve happening in the context of a huge spotlight with a great crowd encircling it. I have always been more of a one on one person in terms of connecting, and collegial in all my relationships. 

 
I don’t reject or defy authority, my own included; I just don’t acknowledge it exists. Hierarchies mean nothing to me. In my world, all playing grounds and battlefields are level. I don’t look down on or up to anyone, and I hope for the same courtesy from them.  So, rendering myself through this project as both worthy of admiration on the one hand, or vulnerable to objectification on the other, has its own peculiar pitfalls of irony and hypocrisy as I showcase and document both it and myself, as creator and subject, on my blog, on Facebook and beyond. That’s a bit hard to swallow from a woman claiming not to value or desire attention.


But sometimes art is art and above reproach. Or beneath it. Or maybe it’s on the level, from which position I now sit writing this post, back in the comfort zone again. Until next time…

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Up the Down Escalator

Temporarily Stairs

My horoscope today provided a quote from the late great Mitch Hedberg that was both wickedly funny and profoundly relevant to my current seemingly arrested state of affairs: "An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. You should never see an 'Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order' sign, just 'Escalator Is Temporarily Stairs.'" It occurred to me that maybe the reason I am going nowhere is that I simply need to climb the stairs my personal escalator has become. Thinking again, I realized that I am not facing an obstacle of inertia I wish some outside power would remove for me. I am actually climbing. Every day. With great effort and my hopeful eyes and heart set on the landing above me, where I can just make out other people whose lives involve strolling around on compliantly flat surfaces in the company of compatible others. But instead of getting closer, it seems I am just getting exhausted and discouraged.

 Against the Tide

I have lived enough years to know when I am pretty much living the same year over again, feeling the same hopes and devastations, writing the same words, making myself the same promises that next time it will be better, next time my next step will get me somewhere other than back where I started. I am climbing up the down escalator stuck in the middle. And it isn’t broken. And it isn’t stairs. It’s life against the grain, against the tide, against all odds and no choice but to keep climbing, because, well, the alternative isn’t remaining in place – the alternative is sinking.

 Keeping from Sinking

Keeping from sinking has become my full time job, my love affair, my property, my claim to fame, my offspring, at a time when I have none of these things that define and comfort most of my contemporaries. I always knew my life choices would banish me to the fringes where my fellow non-conformists dwell, but no one warned me it would be this hard. It seemed a thing for which you make certain initial sacrifices, because you know no other way of being, and then accept and enjoy, not something you earn, defend, and pay for every single day of your life, and certainly not something that gets paradoxically harder to maintain the better at it you get. 

 There Have Been Beautiful Moments

I’m a freak, a geek and a nerd. I’m a punk, a misfit and an outcast not even content among fellow outcasts. I crave belonging but membership makes my skin crawl. I die of loneliness on a regular basis, but I am often only truly alive in my own company. I don’t look or live like my alleged peers, I don’t have their obligations, concerns and drives; more often than not I feel slightly uncomfortable in their presence, as if I were from another planet and the energy required to mimic their behavior constitutes such a drain on my inner resources every encounter requires days of solitary restoration and replenishment of my reserves. I can find common ground with nearly every person I meet, but not one overlaps with me entirely or even more than halfway. Some of my best friends could not even be in the same sentence together. And while there have been beautiful moments of alignment and connection with some amazing people over the years, there is always that point where their escalator rises and carries them away to a safe happy normal landing and mine keeps me exactly where I am, struggling to go nowhere. 

 Room to Dream 

That said, the struggle makes me stronger than I ever imagined I could become. It gives me time to think and room to dream, between those moments of deep despair and acute longing. If I focus only on what’s immediately ahead of me, or even better, the vastness within me, I don’t even care about anyone else’s progress. Progress seems like a pastime for fools, weaklings and cowards. At times they cast a glance at what must appear to be my futile unproductive existence and I see myself reflected in their eyes, measured by their standards and falling short. At times I wonder how long those others would last living my life. At times I understand how limited their lives actually are.

 Arrived
 
They have arrived and I have not. I am fighting every day for every inch I gain and lose in an endless battle to remain true to myself.  And when it comes down to it, so to speak, there is nothing stopping me from jumping off this escalator and borrowing another easier way of getting somewhere in life than being in a position of always starting over. I am never at the end and always at the beginning. But why the hell would I want it otherwise?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phoenix in the Mirror

 
Unmasking a Mystery 

Last night in anticipation of my latest installment in the Self Portrait Project I wrote on Facebook that part of the fun for me doing these shoots is setting up the shot. I compared it to cracking a code or unmasking a mystery. I lied. Almost all of the fun comes from studying an existing artwork to figure out the angles lighting and mood - even the mistakes and accidents - that combined to create the final effect so I can re-create those conditions and then re-envision the work with just enough of the original to be recognizable but not be merely an imitation. 

 Test

Not only is it a great way to distract my squirrel brain from running in circles over trivial matters and focus instead on a real puzzle to be solved, it gives me the sort of satisfaction in the end result I don’t often get in any other way. It also keeps my ego in check by making me laugh at myself when it goes wrong. For instance, I discovered after a quick test shot that I am about 5 inches in hair length away from being able to do the shot posted below, or if I did, might create very much not the effect desired.

 Phoenix by Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham is one hell of a photographer to choose to imitate. When I selected her as this month’s inspiration I had in mind her unique ability to make bodies look like landscape, often shot within landscape. Unfortunately the endless winter and whatever sense of modesty I still possess kept me from stripping down in the great outdoors to pose picturesquely au naturel in Nature. Being limited to the not so great indoors, I kept looking through her catalogue and found four photos of a model known as Phoenix and was immediately smitten.

 Becoming a Phoenix

Captured standing, in the mirror, on her side and recumbent, Phoenix proved the perfect inspiration after the somewhat ironic pinup shoot last month. I wanted to get back to basics and create images that were about a celebration of the human form as a purely aesthetic phenomenon, not as prurient or philosophically provocative subject matter. 

 Purely Aesthetic

Call it a union of kindred artistic spirits, or maybe it’s just the hair, but something made this one of the most blissfully easy shoots I have yet done, considering I was impersonating a gorgeous blonde – which I am not – and borrowing the moves of one of the greatest magicians of the medium – which I am not,  and performing an activity which requires the poise and skill of being utterly confident and comfortable posing nude and posting the resulting images, which I am so very much not. But what’s the point of a comfort zone unless you step out of it?

 Out of the Comfort Zone

That said, that last shot did not appear on Facebook and I am hoping won’t raise any red flags here. On principle I defend its artistic content but bold as I am when it comes to standing up (or lying down) for art, I wouldn’t be a photographer if I enjoyed being the center of attention. Another reason this project constantly breaks and remakes me. Quite possibly I will emerge from it as both a different sort of creature entirely, as artist and as woman, as subject and object, beautiful in my moments of triumph and surrender.

 Moments of Triumph and Surrender

Phoenix indeed. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me in my undertaking and continuing this project. Your kind comments, useful suggestions and the example of your own courage whether in creative projects or just being unapologetically who you are mean the world to me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Becoming a Pinup

 
I'm Back... 

It hasn’t been a joyous interlude since my last posting, which means here I am back on Blogger back in the same dilemma that made me take a break from Blogger, only to seek and reach my breaking point with Facebook, two breaks from which I am now taking a break. 

 Triumphant Moments

Truth is, I wonder whether life was ever a sunlit parade of triumphant moments worth documenting. Perhaps ignorance is bliss and news and evidence of other parades going on in other lives just makes standing alone under a raincloud feel that much more miserable, a misery I was perfectly content to occupy, with brief periods of rest and mild amusement, and the occasional nod from a sympathetic soul with their own lifelong companion cloud, until social media put the peer pressure on me to have something spectacular to report.

Apparently Meant to Be 

Because even though my aversion to – um, lying – leaves me no choice but to use my social media space for hard truth confessions and naked lamentation, most people use it as a way to confirm, enhance or downright fabricate the kind of life they want or hope to be living. Relationships that are established by status posts and dual selfies before anyone in the people’s lives has actually met this new person who was apparently meant to be. But hey, they’re snuggling in bed on Facebook so it must be true love. I too have occasionally indulged in lesser shameless desperate proofs of happy times. Recently I was so devastated by yet another idiotic romantic misfortune, I didn’t leave the house and only slept and ate one day’s worth in 6 days. But along the way I posted a photo in which my cat and I were grinning for the camera, so for all intents and purposes, I was fine. And I am not quite sure whether I did it for me or for my friends, to inspire myself to be that happy person, or if not, at least convince everyone else I was, which should not be, but felt at the time to be, equally, if not more important. 

  
Keeping Up Appearances 

Thoughts about keeping up appearances, and creating a purposeful and carefully presented reality that uses up more energy in its upkeep than gets spent on being who you actually are were much on my mind as I prepared to do this month’s installment of the self portrait project, inspired by classic pinups. In this project I have been examining images of women created by men for men, purportedly as celebrations of their beauty but ultimately a kind of eavesdropping, appropriation and manipulation of their forms and emotions for their own purposes. Pinups are about as stylized and carefully presented a form as it gets. Women dressed as sexy cowboys, mermaids, or in nothing but high heels and a hair bow are not creatures of reality, and have very little to do with unique female spirit and essence. 

  Pure and Simple

It’s cheesecake pure and simple, and it's meant to make you feel good and smile, because it is literally flat and fake and has nothing to do with reality. It’s a fantasy, it’s an ideal, but one look and you know it isn’t really desirable, available or attainable. These women aren’t going to go out and have a beer with you. They are supposed to wink over their shoulders at you from a poster and make whatever grim misery you occupy feel a little brighter and make you think – wow, so beautiful, so happy, one day maybe I will be/have that. Please note that I will not even dignify as a related art form the omnipresent mirror selfies that girls take in which they appear in near pinup poses and think this is a good way to present themselves online. It doesn’t say here I am don’t you just love me and want me? It says I spend a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. Waiting for a guy to agree to fill up the other half of the frame. 

  Who I Am

At this juncture, I have only my cat to join me in the happy dual selfies I post on Facebook. And honestly, I am a firm believer that the true sign of a good relationship is no sign of it on Facebook. Remember the days when the first flush of romantic enthusiasm felt just a little bit scary and fragile and magical and the last thing you would want to do is go public because you were too busy going at it in private?  Fortunately for every shallow fool that declares relationships on Facebook the way most people announce they are dyeing their hair pink this week, there are those who keep it on the down low where it belongs. Who don’t force their partners into their profile pictures as if to say – here is a representation of who I am, a person who must be fabulous because I have a partner. Unfortunately it always seems to be the guys who have recently rejected me who end up in those bed selfies and shared profile pictures. This may give you a clue as to why I just finished a weeklong weepy hunger strike and self house arrest, and why there is a certain defiant, okay, maybe even bitter, tone to this writing.

New Kind of Pinup Girl 

Me, even if one day - let’s make it soon Universe okay? - I have the most amazing man in my life loving me up one side and down the other, I still think my profile picture has room for just one person, because I can fill it with my own fabulousness to the brim and overflowing, thank you very much. Because I am a new kind of pinup girl who can take her own photographs of her own highly objectified and carefully presented body wearing nothing but a bow and heels and a soupcon of irony. And I can then go and get it tattooed on me, because no one can wear me as an accessory better than I can. And if no one ever sees this tattoo, on Facebook or Blogger or anywhere else but a private moment shared off camera, that doesn’t mean it never happened, that doesn’t mean I never happened, and it will definitely be in the picture a lot longer than my ex lover's new girlfriend.