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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Breaking Point

 
Could be Worse 

Yesterday I broke up with Facebook. It wasn’t the first time I have had a parting of ways with a social media platform. Anyone who has been following me for a few years and is somehow reading this will remember my breaking up with Blogger a while back for similar reasons. The posts may be shorter, but the troubling trend of content towards sad self pep talks was unmistakable. Basically if I had to witness myself writing the words “at least” or “it could be worse” one more time, searching for and focusing on the bright side with the desperate fervor of a deranged treasure hunter in a wasteland, I was going to have to break up with myself. So instead I simply deactivated my profile.


 Eavesdropping

And I didn’t die. The way I didn’t die the last few times I extricated myself from a toxic relationship and transitioned from speaking my truth to someone not really listening to acknowledging myself as my own first last and best audience for nearly everything I feel compelled to express. It helps that I have been talking to myself for decades and gotten quite good at it. Occasionally when it comes out in the written form of a poem or essay, or the visual form of a photograph, a select few will overhear and enjoy, even benefit, from what is essentially eavesdropping on my private dialogue with me. For which I am grateful. Being useful to others is just as important to me as being true to myself.

 Public Service

And speaking of public benefit. Blogger recently announced that certain content in this space may be, in a few weeks, subject to removal, or rendered essentially inaccessible, which will bring my sense that I am really only posting for myself from paranoid speculation to harsh reality so fast it will make my psyche spin. I guess I picked the wrong time to move my self portrait project from Facebook where it was risking censorship to Blogger where it will now be subject to a similarily mysterious and unpredictable standard of acceptability. Blogger says that artistic content deemed of “public benefit” will be spared. It remains to be seen whether my tush passes that test. Just the same, I thought it might be a good time to push the large image of my tush from the Marilyn shoot down one screen and not have it be the very first thing the Blogger Patrol sees when considering my viability as a creative public benefactor. Oh what the heck. I think my tush qualifies as a public service.

 Falling Unheard

Because so much Facebook activity is essentially people talking to and looking at themselves you would think I would be at home in its comfort zone of self-absorbed self-examination and self-documentation. Every post is a kind of silent appeal. I’m here. Look at me. Love me. As if without a certain number of “likes” and affirming comments, one’s identity might begin to weaken and fade, the way old gods in fantasy novels vanish over time for lack of worship, the way truth and beauty deteriorate if no one values them. Facebook is nothing more than a huge forest of trees falling in hope that someone will be there to hear them – or it will turn out they never made a sound, never existed at all. I’ve been an unheard falling tree for more of my life than I care to contemplate. The times I have had to pick myself up and say “Right then! Nothing for it but to get back up, bury my roots back into the ground, leave the broken branches behind and get back to growing” far outnumber the times someone happened to be passing to witness, acknowledge, ease or undo my fall. Maybe that’s why my Facebook posts have been so stunningly honest and detailed regarding my inner life. It’s easy to be bravely self-revealing when you are unconvinced there is anyone paying attention.  Judging my offering of myself in thorough detail to be proof I’m an exhibitionist or extrovert misses the point. I don’t close my blinds, and it’s not so the passing cars on Main Street can get an eyeful. I sing and talk to myself at home, and when I am out walking the neighborhood, and I am covered in tattoos I don’t bother to conceal in warm weather. And I do all of it not to be noticed, but because I am pretty sure I won’t be. But it can get both wearisome and worrisome when you are more often than not proven absolutely right in your belief in your own invisibility.

 Hide in Plain Sight

I once wrote a short story called “Hide in Plain Sight.” It was about a woman living alone in a small apartment with books and cats and art on the walls and a single bed and a single existence occasionally interrupted by the seeking of company. She was by no means a recluse, or socially awkward or avoidant, and not altogether sad. But she was more real to herself in her inner life than in her involvement in the world outside, her fearlessness there based on a fundamental disbelief that anything mattered or lasted outside of her sense of self.  That woman was myself fifteen years ago. I have arrived, after a long hard journey on a rough winding road, in a different apartment in a different city, and my tears fall on the furry shoulders of a different feline roommate, but I find myself in much the same circumstances these days, both comforting and alarming in their familiarity. I re-read my own story the other day and it struck me how timeless it was. It was written by me and for me but still emerged as as a kind of appeal. Look at this woman. Love this woman. Prove her wrong.

 Nothing Changes

Still waiting.  Long before Facebook and Blogger, I wrote and took photographs by and for myself. It never even occurred to me, until someone made me feel bad about not doing it, that something needed to be done with my work to make it real, make it worthwhile as a pursuit. For me it has never been what I do, but what I am. It can’t not be done, as long as I still am. And I myself am plenty real, definitely worthwhile and not done yet. Not even a day after deactivating my Facebook profile, leaving many to wonder whether I am dead in a ditch somewhere, I find myself back here, giving Blogger a second chance, and will probably return, mixed feelings and all, to Facebook too when the time is right. Meantime, this reclaimed space will not be about pep talks, airings of grievances, countings of blessings, grimly defiant celebrations of the simple joys, or declarations of faith and hope that things are going to get better. True, nothing changes.  Not my fervor, both for continuing my possibly misguided and futile search for the bright side, not my desperate need, likely mostly unwitnessed and unappreciated and certainly rarely rewarded, to continue uprooting myself and falling and making as big a noise doing it as I can. But anything is possible, too, so stay tuned.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Self Portrait Project


A few months ago I embarked on a little exercise in self esteem reconstruction that turned into a creative project that continues to challenge and redefine both my sense of myself as a photographer and as a woman. Never one to do things by halves, I decided to reanimate my recently uninspired photography pursuits by not only attempting human portraiture, traditionally my least favorite subject, but using myself as a model, yet another decidedly non-preferred activity, and then render my ejection from my comfort zone complete by doing nude self portraits in which I occupied the place of some of the most iconic female subjects in art. I don’t mess around, people. My last inspiration was the notorious 1949 Marilyn Monroe “red velvet” series.

after Toulouse Lautrec

As if that weren’t enough, I have been posting the results on Facebook for all my friends to see. Because projects like this tend to create their own momentum, constantly establishing limits only to push past them, each new installment in this photographic documentary of one woman’s self exploration through art finds me questioning the elusive borderline between a sexual and an erotic image, self-revelation and self-indulgence, courage and vanity.  

after Hopper

With every shoot, I have been compelled to confront my motives, my aesthetics and my ability to be objective about my unclothed body as subject matter. It’s been a fascinating experience to play the role of both model and artist, jumping between camera and frame and capturing an image that is both natural and intentional. An unexpected discovery has been that when artist and model are the same person, there is far more control in how the nude is presented, an interesting shift considering that the artists behind my source material have so far all been male. 

after Hopper  

I am finding that a female take on a female nude is somewhat different, especially a female take on her own nude self, and the resulting work with essentially the same composition as the original, is not simply an impersonation or tribute but its own creation due to all sorts of subtle choices. I like to think of these images as what those original works would have looked like if the model were given the chisel, brush or camera. 


after Picasso

I expect my choice of source material to inspire future shoots will be even more challenging and quite possibly more revealing. For this reason, I am setting up a PAGE here on my blog to collect the final images from each shoot, but also, from now on, to create a special post documenting the experience and including any good images that did not make the final cut and may not be appropriate for social media. Because face it, not everyone wants to see my tush in their timeline.