Friday, August 14, 2015

Becoming a Whore

The hardest thing about this shoot was how easy it was to become a whore. 

As I recovered from my last shoot and began contemplating ideas for the next one, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to attempt something more overtly sensual after so many sessions that were more about using composition or pose to evoke emotion and meaning, reducing the body to landscape, motif, idealized image or merely a woman upon whom the viewer is discreetly eavesdropping in a private vulnerable moment.

 Odalisque by Ingres

The odalisque portrait, which runs (or reclines) rampant through art history, is unabashed in its representation of the female body as sexually available object. It’s about as close to pornography as you can get and still be believed that you are actually creating art. There is in fact a whole genre of erotic photographs that feature women in this attitude of exposed repose, with a few props to establish a bordello or harem setting and a somewhat disdainful “come hither” look to make it clear what’s on offer. As a photograph, it’s a purely sexual calling card. As a painting, thoughtful presentation makes it art.

 Odalisque by Delacroix

How to keep such an image on the proper side of the often fuzzy erotica line wasn’t my concern. There are technical ways to soften realism. How to find sufficient luxurious textiles and draperies and accessories to convincingly portray a lady of idle pleasure on her couch of indulgences or her attitude of unapologetic indolence wasn’t that difficult either. 

My biggest worry was that I, a modern woman accustomed to a more liberal and less libertine view and experience of sex, would be incapable of staring down the camera with that convincing look of mixed pride and vulnerability, hauteur and hunger, amusement and boredom, control and submission those odalisque ladies did so well.

Then I remembered every man who has ever made me feel like a temptation visited, enjoyed, and abandoned. An availability made use of and once used up, devalued. The ones whose beds and tales of sorrow I shared while their hearts belonged to someone else. I remembered that love is something I have too often felt for men who couldn’t or wouldn’t love me as they did other women, the ones in other kinds of paintings, princesses and goddesses, remote figures on distant cliffs, weeping into rivers, looking away, looking beautiful while breaking hearts, the ones they couldn’t have or had and lost, those unforgettables, those timeless, elusive, immortalized in song women, those women so very much not me.

This shoot stirred all that up for me. Years of anger and grief. Years of pride and scorn. And the love. All that love wasted on men for whom sex was all that was required, for whom I was a little bit more than a pornographic snapshot, but way less than a work of art.  Years of guilt that I had been a willing participant in, even a seeker of, this less than ideal arrangement, because a beggar at the table of love must either make do or starve. And ultimately, years of recognizing that not one of these men diminished me in any way by their comings and goings, that no matter how many lovers made use of me only briefly and incompletely, this said more about their limitations than mine, and where are they now? Gone.  But I remain, complete, and timeless, and yes, a work of art.

And I wrote a poem too. Here it is.   


Take me I’m yours
said the eyes of the whore
from her languid repose
in the comfortable chaos
of lace and cut velvet
covering her loosely
lightly briefly
like lovers that come and go
come and go
come and go
followed by eyes
so weary of saying
I know you I love you
I’m waiting and watching
your longed for approach
while solitude hangs
like dark silk keeping
the sunlight from hurting
my eyes as they see
in the way you arrive
that hot path
cleared by hunger 
the cold road 
by which you’ll depart
you who are all the one I needed
you who are all the same
when retreating
so take me I’m yours
do your best
do your worst
but take me already
my body my heart
unbreakably naked
receiving impressions
that leave me unchanged
or leave me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


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…