Sunday, December 31, 2006

Riding the black wave

Time to get to know me a little better. I held my first group shoot a year ago this past July, and there was a reason for it. July 30, 2005 was supposed to be my red-letter day, the day I had planned for two years to end what I considered pretty much a pointless existence. And then I got this idea to have a bunch of photographers and models for a day of shooting at the arts center, and the deadline I set for my happiness came and went without incident. The original concept of the group shoot pretty much saved my life in my eyes. It has grown and developed, introduced me to most of my friends, and it has given me something to look forward for the past year and a half. It has also led me to where I am now, living in Bowling Green with my friends. There’s always a rub, though. The idea of the group shoot had me working on my art 24/7, networking and finally doing something with my life that I love. At the same time, my living in BG has been taking me away from this. It’s hard to explain to friends when you’re miserable how fragile your sense of self-worth is. When you’re riding that black wave, it’s easy to suck your friends down with you. How do you explain that you’re feeling similar thoughts to when you were at your lowest? I’m 41 years old and have never been in love, engaged or married. I won’t even start with how long it’s been since I’ve dated or been intimate with a woman. Anything that I thought I might become when I was younger has since passed me by. I have found one thing I actually love to do and have found myself the past few months being pulled away from it. If working 30-40 hours a week at a restaurant just to survive is the sum of my existence, then it’s not worth much. As much as my friends support me, they can’t help me. A previous version of myself would have shared my unhappiness with them. Such honesty has cost me too many friends in the past. So, the past few weeks have led me to this point where I find myself needing to pursue my art 24/7. Starting off 2007 miserable doesn’t strike me as the best way to start a new year.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Vamp Red

“What drives you on . . . can drive you mad.”
- Garbage, “Stupid Girl”

I feel the need to explain myself. Perhaps it’s something as simple as I’m far too influenced by the imagery culture has shown me for most of my adult life. For the past three years as a photographer, this imagery has influenced how I approach my subject matter. My usual palette is somewhat varied. When I’m not seeing my subjects in black and white, quite often in and out of shadow, the view is high gloss. Or, to be honest, I want the view to be high gloss. Give me true deep reds on lips and nails. Slick it up with some gloss. I want wet red lips . . . and uniforms of shiny black. I’m in love with a variety of accessories. Depending on my whim or the whim of the model, those accessories run the gamut from the mundane to fetish. The list could include but wouldn’t be limited to: black boots, off-black and fishnet stockings, handcuffs, collars, chain, rope, bondage tape, ball gags, blindfolds, cigarettes, whiskey and mirrors. Like I’ve said, quite often I question this vision. Maybe I create exotic creatures out of my subjects. There’s the thought that I put women up on pedestals so they’ll go down on them. Make me blush please! You’re not the girl next door with your Revlon mask and shiny uniform. Good is so very boring and anyway, can’t you see I’m trying to resolve some deep-seated issues here? Certain imagery aids in this resolution, so indulge me my creative license. For instance, the beauty ritual itself fascinates me. The image of a beautiful woman applying lipstick or mascara is always a fond memory. Take it a step further and I’ll eroticize it with the image of one beautiful woman applying lipstick to another beautiful woman’s lips. Throw in some restraint, and you have forced feminization. Ritual goes hand in hand with vanity. A beautiful woman assessing said beauty in the mirror is a prime example. And, of course, there are plenty of ways to eroticize a vision such as this. I am a slave to imagery that showcases our vanity and other sins as it were. I am a voyeur in the sense that I want to see your basest looks when you come home after a hard night of partying. I want to see the cigarette dangling from the drenched red lips. I want to see those lips take a swig from the whiskey bottle. I want to see what you consider as being dressed for sex. I want to see that intense or wanton look in your eyes that says it’s about your pleasure. I want to see what you regard as submission or dominance. No matter. I just don’t want to see the actual act. My eroticizing your behavior doesn’t equal my wanting the pornographic. Leave something to the imagination, the stuff of fervid dreams. Just be bad for me.

We are socialized. We’re animals too. When I went down this path before, thinking about what drives me on and on, an incredible fetish model by the name of Rachel Paine had to remind me of this. After all, what drives me on does on occasion drive me just the little bit mad. Octavio Paz writes in An Erotic Beyond: Sade:

Eroticism is a reflection of the human gaze in the mirror of nature. Thus, what distinguishes eroticism from sexuality is not its complexity but rather its distance. A person is reflected in sexuality, bathes in it, becomes one, and separates. But sexuality never watches the erotic game; it illuminates without seeing; it is a blind light. The couple is alone, in the midst of the nature it imitates. The erotic act is a ceremony that is performed behind the back of society and in front of a nature that never contemplates representation. Eroticism is both a fusion with the animal world and a rupture, a separation from that world, an irremediable solitude. Catacomb, hotel room, chateau, fort, cabin in the mountains or an embrace under the clouds, it is all the same: eroticism is a world closed to society as well as nature. The erotic act erases the world: nothing more real surrounds us except our ghosts.

We finally get down to it. We are all so civilized, socialized. Yet, I still remember one of my English professors in college telling me how even the greatest work of fiction by an author is ultimately an act of sexual conflict resolution. Would one expect photography as a means of expression to be any different? Eroticism is the play at the edges of that conflict. When I announce my art to society in terms of the erotic, I have violated its prohibition. Honesty is prohibited. The fashion advertisement with the beautiful still-life model is utilitarian, serving the marketplace as it were. Therefore, it is accepted by society. It is a lie, though. You cannot separate the work from its creator, so ultimately it is one more form of erotic representation. Everything out there is someone’s masturbation fantasy. As I come to terms with myself as an artist do I dare suggest that my fascination with certain themes is the result of being incredibly horny? Repression equals death to me. Yet, the outflow of much of my work can be said to be the result of repression. The gorgeous woman made up in front of the mirror is quite often not saying to herself “look how beautiful I am.” More likely she could be underweight and still saying “I’m fat” or “I hate my nose” and so on. The submissive bound and gagged is playing a certain game. It can be as simple as “my captor/dominant went to all this trouble, so therefore I am desired.” Desire is the intersection of all of this. Vampy red lips and nails symbolize a departure from the ‘good girl,’ the girl so immersed in her mainstream cowboy fantasy that I have no hope of attaining her. The whiskey and cigarettes are just fetishes that reinforce this departure from being good.

Whether it was when I was writing prolifically or now taking photos, the action taken was always a means of intimate expression, an opportunity to resolve the conflict within me. Freud has been attributed as saying that all art is play, a return to childhood. I now see the connection. Even as children, play is a way to resolve issues. The art nude or fetish photo may not fit the norm as the idea of play though, hence the temptation for the mainstream critic to point an accusing finger and say, “That’s not art!” I’m left to say, “Maybe I’m anti-social or don’t play well with others.” Poet/critic Matthew Arnold wrote that “the personal is the burning ground of poetry.” This point of view will always be one side of the coin of the great debate about what constitutes art. The mainstream and society regard good art in the form of utility. If it sings praises to famous men or women, it is art. If it moves its audience with universal appeal, it’s art. For obvious reasons, though, it can’t be art if it addresses the inner angst of its creator. Only if this angst resonates universally can it be said to be art. We all know this is hogwash, but it is what makes society feel better about itself. Society says that you can go ahead and be depressed, but it would rather hear that you’re medicated than hear your tale of woe. Go ahead and be transgressive, but don’t verbalize or act upon it. Above all else, don’t do anything that will make us feel uncomfortable. We’ll tolerate your difference as long as we don’t have to see it.

This is where society and I part ways. If what I do makes you uncomfortable, perhaps you need to look within yourself.