Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My judgment of taste

A photographer friend speaks of the ultimate end of photography as the hunt for the perfect shot. Another way to put it is as the quest for the perfect signature piece. Such a photograph would not be a happy accident. Would it? It begins with the motivation and progresses through the steps which constitute my craft. It may be dangerous to say that what makes a photograph powerful is “inwardly given,” but the selection process normally doesn’t avail itself to a specific reason. Inasmuch as this is the case, that signature shot is a happy accident. To qualify this, though, I think the happy accident becomes more likely via an understanding of one’s craft and the eye to recognize something powerful and timely. I think of something Georges Bataille wrote in “The Solar Anus.” Bataille writes:
A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.
Without knowing it, he suffers from the mental darkness that keeps him from screaming that he himself is the girl who forgets his presence while shuddering in his arms.
Love or infantile rage, or a provincial dowager’s vanity, or clerical pornography, or the diamond of a soprano bewilder individuals forgotten in dusty apartments.
They can very well try to find each other; they will never find anything but parodic images, and they will fall asleep as empty as mirrors.
It is out of this confusion where my photography attempts to create some sense of order, meaning. The greater the confusion, the greater the obsession to find that perfect shot. I wander through ruins, a bleak landscape that permeates my consciousness, and I attempt to create something that resonates within and for an audience. I cannot give voice to all of the confusion I experience, but my photography can offer a fair representation of at least some of it. It acts like a mirror in that it is one location where, left exposed, I am forced to be brutally honest. The tools at my disposal may be depth of field or an extreme focal point. It may be use of negative space. Any tool at my disposal that helps to tell a story is of benefit. How the story I tell rises to “art” ultimately is a judgment of taste. This is a subjective experience for my audience. As for my self, one can look to Sigmund Freud to consider the question of the conflicted individual. In “The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” Freud uses the example of the story writer and poet to articulate his views on the creative process. All artistic expression is served by Freud’s focus, though, as well as the audience and critic. According to Freud, all artistic expression is play, the creation of a world of fantasy or worlds of fantasy by the artist. As such, the aesthetic object is wish-fulfillment and conflict resolution on the part of the creator. It represents the diversity of human experience, the random and chaotic nature of the individual. Though its representations may be often quite similar, it bears the imprint of the individual, ever-changing and never quite the same. The same rationale applies to the effect artistic expression has on its audience. The pleasure the recipient receives comes from an infinite variety of experiences and interpretations, once again often similar but never quite the same.

My audience is quite varied in its reception to my photography. The formal art nudes that rely on depth of field are quick to receive artistic praise, while reception of my photography with extreme focal points is mixed. Consider Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to help me illustrate my point. No representation of the painting is necessary. The Mona Lisa is arguably history’s most famous piece of art. The individual with limited knowledge of the painting may ask why this so. One thing I know is that the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre in Paris. I know as well that the Mona Lisa is “art” and a classic. I know these things because they are part of my formal education. On the other hand, Walter Pater’s appreciation of the Mona Lisa far exceeds that of mine. Pater’s appreciation of the Mona Lisa was so keen, that poet William Butler Yeats considered the prose written by Pater as an independent work of art and included it in free verse form at the beginning of his Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936). What is it about the Mona Lisa that Pater finds so moving? Pater writes: “Hers is the head upon which “all the ends of the world are come,” and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how they would be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed!” What Pater writes is so moving – so much so that I wonder why I did not have a similar reaction. A poster of painting that did move used to hang in my room. Salvador Dali’s The Hallucinogenic Toreador does evoke strong feelings on my part. I see Dali’s vision, the marble busts and images of icons with auras surrounding them. I think of beauty, desire, God, and man-made religion. It represents my take on experience. I am conflicted, feeling the tug of different interests. What others may see in such a painting is beyond me. Yet, because of the emotions the painting evokes, I consider it a work of art of the highest order. I realize this is a judgment of taste on my part. I also realize that there is no standard that can validate my claim.

A mission statement just wouldn’t seem right without discussing aesthetics. Walter Pater writes: “Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness.” The key word is “human.” As long as humans are finite and conflicted creatures, my photography remains open to possibility.

The cruel practice of art

To die alone is such a terrifying prospect. To die without desire being fulfilled is even more terrifying. Am I the sum total of my frustrated desire? I am painfully aware of my mortality. There is the sense that my day will come, sooner than I’d like. There is the awareness that my desire for youthful beauty is more than likely out of reach. At the core of this angst is the desire to leave some sort of record that I was here. My photography is a mad race against time in achieving this. If I explore all the painful facets of my desire, perhaps I can kill it. Georges Bataille writes:

We know that possession of the object we are afire for is out of the question. It is one thing to or another: either desire will consume us entirely, or its object will cease to fire us with longing. We can possess it on one condition only, that gradually the desire it arouses will fade. Better for desire to die than for us to die, though! We can make do with an illusion. If we possess its object we shall seem to achieve our desire without dying. Not only do we renounce death, but we also let our desire, really the desire to die, lay hold of its object and we keep it while we live on. We enrich our life instead of losing it.

One of my favorite models used to correspond with me using the signature “expression equals life.” There is that duality chasing me again. Creation of erotic imagery supplements desire. It fuels it as well. It is within this conflict that I create. I don’t create for your masters. I create for myself. Bataille writes in The Cruel Practice Of Art:

Yet it is from this double bind that the very meaning of art emerges – for art, which puts us on the path of complete destruction and suspends us there for a time, offers us ravishment without death. Of course, this ravishment could be the most inescapable trap – if we manage to attain it, although strictly speaking it escapes us the very instant we attain it. Here or there, we enter into death or return to our little worlds. But the endless carnival of artworks is there to show a triumph – in spite of a firm resolve to value nothing but that which endures – is promised to anyone who leaps out of the irresolution of the instant. This is why it is impossible to pay too much interest in excessive drunkenness, which penetrates the opacity of the world with those gratuitously cruel flashes in which seduction is tied to massacre, torture, and horror.

Don’t let it be said that I worship death, though my personal demons have made this possible on occasion. The creative urge, properly fulfilled, gives my life meaning. The visions I capture are not for everyone. I am not trying to be in a magazine, have my work captured in an ad campaign or sell a clothing line. Not that these are not legitimate goals for a photographer. I am creating a world that makes sense to me, and the process getting there may be as important as the end result.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That bitch called "reality"

Reality is the void. Reality is that we live and ultimately die alone. There is nothing harsher than this. Slavoj Zizek says as much in Welcome To The Desert Of The Real: “The authentic twentieth-century passion for penetrating the Real Thing (ultimately the destructive void) through the cobweb of semblances which constitutes our reality thus culminates in the thrill of the Real as the ultimate ‘effect’, sought after from digitalized special effects, through reality TV and amateur pornography, up to snuff movies.” We want to get to the other side of meaning, knowing we can’t simply transcend certain realities. Immerse ourselves enough in the terror, and maybe we’ll become immune to it. I cannot transcend harsh reality by immortalizing your beauty. Maybe I can come to terms with it, though, if I expose its flaws as I expose mine. I am so socialized though. Get too close to those flaws, and I recoil in horror. Zizek writes: “Is not the ultimate figure of the passion for the Real the option we get on hardcore websites to observe the inside of a vagina from the vantage point of a tiny camera at the top of the penetrating dildo? At this extreme point, a shift occurs: when we get too close to the desired object, erotic fascination turns into disgust at the Real of the bare flesh.” Dualities present themselves to me. The desire to confront reality and become immune to its horror is met by socialization and the wish to transcend, to be immersed in some beautiful universal ideal. Call me cynical, but the longer I photograph women, the more I reject this ideal. This is not to say I am not aware of it. It is with me every time I photograph a subject. Recent criticism of my work gives me cause to address it. For instance, a fashion photographer wrote of me: “Whereas the older pictures were more of a presentation of a scene, the newer ones appear to be a peek into your bizarre twisted mind. I would like to see more story telling, better production value, and wider shots so we don't feel like we're looking through a telescope like voyeurs. I know you claim to be a purist and stay away from Photoshop but damn, no model is perfect. Everyone needs a little help here and there to create a clean image.” It is a fair assessment of my work albeit the criticism is off the mark. What I am criticized for is exactly where I want my photography to be. The older photography was a presentation of a scene, a surface chronology of life around me. The newer work does mark me as a voyeur, because I do want you exposed to me. Flaws, imperfections, are a bonus. I want you to be desirable and imperfect. Extreme focal points achieve this for me. That point where I might recoil in horror extends further out than it does for my critic. I’m fine with this. Others are not. For example, another photographer writes: “Your images are incoherent and sloppy and are getting worse over time. You are halfway between crappy T&A glamour and half-assed art. You shoot to shoot and maybe to see titties. You have no focus and no passion. In other words... you are becoming a GWC.” My work of late is about extremities and strange juxtapositions: macro looks at facial features, odd juxtapositions of breasts and curves. No apologies forthcoming. It is a progression, and I know where this progression is taking me. In the language of our profession, a GWC (guy with a camera), is a pervert who gets a woman nude in front of a camera just for the sake of it. The subject’s nudity holds a purpose for me, though. As I am exposing myself here, the model exposing her self to me opens up her reality to me. I need to know. My art and its utility are about me. How you see yourself in the mirror is of vital importance to me. I need to get below the surface. Another photographer critic perhaps explained it best: “This isn't commercial photography. This isn't fashion. This isn't art. This is Boyd Hambleton's personal expression of the fact that the world is a cruel tease and that it is fucking with him on a deep and personal level. You are a sub. The camera is your mistress. And you make a good couple . . .one that's getting better with time, and experience.” I might disagree with the “art” part. What is art if not to provoke? If gallery exhibited works of mine are provocative enough to hang on collector’s walls, should I complain? I do know that I am individual who has been alone for the better part of his adult life. It’s a situation that creates competing thought processes. My relationship with women isn’t exactly adversarial. The majority of my friends are women. They just don’t desire in the manner that would lead to the procreative urge. I put women on a pedestal, while at the same time painting them as the cruel monsters that have rejected me. It is said that how we deal with our loneliness is what defines us after all. 

Move for me

Move for me. This is my first commandment. How beauty acts upon the stage is as important to me as the beauty itself. I recall a photographer whose work I admire and what he wrote in regards to his uneasiness regarding nude photography. John Dietrich writes: “I have always been intoxicated by female beauty in all its guises, I have never felt mature enough to tackle the nude. Metaphorically, I always preferred to stay in the wardrobe watching aunt squeeze into her girdle. To me, the nude is as uninteresting and inaccessible as the woman sealed from head to toe in rubber. My pleasure in photographing the female form is to enhance rather than expose; more unreal than real, implicit rather than explicit, a preference for the Rubenesque over the emaciated or silicon-desecrated.” Were it so easy for me. My aesthetic view was similar to this when I first began photographing models full-time in 2004. A woman in beautiful attire would have sufficed. The rituals of fashion and cosmetics made for interesting subject matter. The flow of an outfit created a snapshot worthy of posterity. The classic contours of a made-up face created an equally memorable image. Ultimately, though, such imagery represents the still-life I spoke of. It doesn’t speak to me. It sells a product. John Dietrich’s usage of the word “inaccessible” is the key. The gorgeous woman dressed to the nines is inaccessible. The spiritual figure nude is inaccessible. I need my subject to be accessible. This is accomplished first through movement and then by the subject bringing her personality to the session. Am I asking for too much from the model? Am I an exploiter? To argue that I’m a bit of a voyeur wouldn’t be much of a stretch. I would argue that for me to achieve my vision, I need to expose either the subject’s insecurities in front of my lens. I have been playing a bit of a game in an on line professional forum for photographers and models of late. I’ve been exposing my insecurities and offering up my work for criticism in hopes to create a mission statement for my photography. Photography, as much as many other art mediums, can be quite varied in its interpretations. A mission statement done properly exposes my motivation and insecurities for all to see. This is terrifying. It provides a glimpse of what’s real, and reality is a tough taskmaster.

et la femme sera mon sujet

A still-life is as dynamic as its subject. A photographer may seize upon something that enhances this representation, but the representation remains passive. This in part is why I decided to give my photographic efforts a name. I titled it Visions Of Excess Studio. I gave the studio its title remembering one of my favorite texts by French author/philosopher Georges Bataille. The idea of “excess” appealed to me in the context of going beyond that which is prescribed. And, of course, “vision” is intimately related to the artist and the representation they wish to achieve. My personal vision is a dance with structures one might consider all too real: love, death, violence and the urge for procreation. I put my subjects on pedestals and hope that they might transgress. As for my subject, I’m particular. “. . . et la femme sera mon sujet (and woman will be my subject).” I don’t approach photography from an egalitarian stance. I am entranced with the rituals that are utilized in creating the modern conception of beauty as we know it. I find it difficult to apologize for how I conceive or misconceive feminine beauty. It is an obsession of mine. My photography is my lover. It hierarchizes certain representations of women. The girl next door, the average representation of woman, holds no interest to me. I am not enamored with the glamour model, the beauty that hovers and mugs for the camera. The fashion model holds even less allure for me. She is selling a product, an unattainable social ideal. My representations are beautiful monsters in a sense. They excite and terrify me at the same time. These are the sort of thoughts that drive my craft on. Psychology, aesthetics, eroticism – these are the motivations that prefigure a photographic session.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sum total of frustrated desire . . .

. . . that's me. I have obligations through December, so I'll honor them. I'll be taking a break from photographing models in 2008. My fascination with beauty is destroying me. I am perpetually alone, even in a crowd. My abject failure in affairs of the heart is making me resent my friends and their happiness. I'm tired of not wanting to wake up. I need to do something different. My photography only reminds me of my failure.

I'll continue to do the group shoots as a host only.