Recently, I’ve been exploring some themes inspired by Victorian photographic practices, in particular Momento Mori and Mourning portraits. Momento Mori were portraits taken of the recently deceased, as a last image to remember the loved one by. Families would dress the corpse up in their best, make them up, fix their hair and photograph them as if they were asleep. This practice has quite a bit of resonance for me as the first girl I loved in my teens committed suicide and I vividly recall going to the funeral and gazing at her in the open casket, wearing her favorite dress, her beautiful red hair brushed and fanned out on the satin pillow.
I have made several attempts so far of my interpretation of Momento Mori. Again, I have paired images. The first is a clothed and more proper portrait, one to be shared with everyone. The second more intimate…
In Victorian times, it was also customary to photograph a grieving widow on the occasion of the passing of a loved one. The mourner would dress up in all her black finery to commemorate the occasion. Even her jewelry would be black, made expressly for this purpose. I have made several attempts of my interpretation of these kinds of images. lack jewelry is not easy to find so I have designed and made my own for each shoot. As before, I have paired the images. The first is a more formal image as the woman in mourning would appear to friends and family at the funeral. The second image is more intimate, as she would appear when finally alone, contemplating the lost touch of her lover, which she will never again feel. In the first set, I have incorporated Anemone flowers which have long symbolized “lost love that will never…
“In the course of a life, we never “graduate” from working on an identity; we simply rework it with the materials at hand. From the start, online worlds provided new materials . Online, the plain represented themselves as glamorous, the old as young, the young as older. Those of modest means wore elaborate virtual jewelry. In virtual space, the crippled walked without crutches, and the shy improved their chances as seducers……You begin by naming and building an avatar. You work from a menu with a vast array of choices for it’s looks and clothes. If these are not sufficient, you can design a customized avatar from scratch. Now, pleased with your looks, you have the potential……to live a life that will enable you to “love your life”.
Sherry Turkle from “Alone Together: Why we Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other”
My subjects clearly, from my interactions with them, are investigating and exploring their identities. For both young and old, it’s an ongoing process, changing as their lives and circumstances change. I help them create “avatars”, versions of their selves that are them at their best, their most beautiful and alluring. However, unlike an online animation, these avatars actually look like them, are in fact them, in a heightened and more idealized form, but clearly showing them as they truly are. In this way, it is a more powerful depiction of their selves as they wish to be.
This coming weekend, May 18th and 19th, I’ll be participating in the Long Island Arts Festival as my studio is in LIC. I’ll be having an open studio, and in addition to exhibiting some of my work, I’ll be offering all comers the opportunity to be photographed by me for free and receive a free print. I’ll do up to 4 shots, using any of the tons of jewelry, costume, and accessories that I have available in my studio. For those of you in the NYC area, look up the festival online for all the pertinent info or contact me directly if you want to come and be photographed.
“In games where we expect to play an avatar, we end up being ourselves in the most revealing ways; on social networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but our profile ends up as somebody else- often the fantasy of who we want to be. Distinctions blur.”- Sherry Turkle, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”
I am now reading this wonderful book and this quote expresses my feelings about photographing my subjects in these fantasy costumes and vignettes. In playing a role, they are able to reveal themselves. At the same time, though, they can see themselves as an idealized version of themselves.
Back at the turn of the 20th century and up until the late 1930s, huge numbers of postcards were produced all over the world featuring romantic couples. These images are beautiful, sophisticated, passionate and tender and often very modern looking. These particular images are all from my own personal collection, presented for your viewing pleasure but also as inspiration, both for those photographers, professional and amateur, who wish to photograph couples and also to prospective clients who would like to commission me to photograph them. I have photographed many couples and generally those images are private, not to be shared with the general public. In another post, however, I will present a few of my own images of couples that I am free to show.
I’m currently taking part in an international juried exhibition in San Francisco at the Arc gallery. The exhibition is entitled “Masquerade” and you can see the works included at http://www.arc-sf.com/masquerade-on-line-gallery.html. The work was chosen by Jack Fischer, owner of the Jack Fischer Gallery. Here’s his juror’s statement:
JUROR’S STATEMENT BY JACK FISCHER Obfuscation of the truth…clearly the conceit of this exhibition for me is about what’s hiding in plain sight. We all know that moment when we become the mask, when the suit becomes the man. And there is that moment of truth when we reveal to ourselves what everyone else sees through the scrim. That moment is what interests me. That moment when we can all see what we really stand for and there is no way that the mask can serve us again. It is the “tell,” the “reveal” from which there is no coming back.
There was an interesting film review in the NYTimes this morning that I read over lunch. In the review, of a new film called ”Sister”, Manohla Dargis, speaking of the interaction of two of the characters in the film says, “Here the act of one person noticing another-of looking at another human being instead of through him- is a simple kindness and a heart-breaking expression of our dependence on others.”
It seemed to go to the heart of what I do and why so many people respond so strongly to it. And what is that you ask? Well, about 10 years ago I made a sudden switch from being a sculptor and performance artist to a photographer creating ”erotic portraits”. I had seen a book called “Early Erotic Photography” , a book of nude photos taken during the 1800s. I’ve always loved and collected old photographs but these were particularly striking. I loved the elaborate studio sets but I especially loved the models. They were real women, ordinary women, some not particularly pretty or with perfect bodies, but they exuded so much personality, individuality, so much confidence in their allure and sexual appeal. I wanted to show real women in the same way, as beautiful and special, no matter what they looked like. I decided right off the bat to put up a website to get some feedback. People found me rather quickly and soon women were contacting me from all over the world wanting to be photographed.
Originally, I had simply wanted to make a beautiful picture, and I succeeded at that. However, as more women applied to be photographed I started focusing on the interaction between me, my camera and my subjects. I became fascinated by their desire and need to expose themselves, to be seen, as themselves. And one woman after another said it was the way that I saw them that made them come to me. I saw them as they really were but also showed them as being beautiful, special.
At the heart of the process, of the interaction, is the simple act of really looking at someone, seeing them as they are, focusing intently on them for a few hours, It affects people powerfully and is something most people never experience anywhere else. For the most part they feel invisible. I put them up on a stage ad adorn them like royalty.