“What could be more interesting, or in the end, more ecstatic, than in those rare moments when you see another person look at something you’ve made, and realize that they got it exactly, that your heart jumped to their heart with nothing in between.”
“Hanako awakes from her nap” – an image from my Photographic Novel “Hanjo.”
Several photographers have asked me for advice recently. I’m always slightly leery of giving advice, because I don’t believe my images succeed from technique. I’m proud of the work I do, it’s technically fine, but my work lives from the stories I tell. And I think that’s an element that is missing too often. To me it’s painfully obvious when I look at the websites of those asking me for help. There are photographers all over the world that are attempting fine art nude work, or fashion photography, and the answer is simple: the greatest pictures from either genre are filled with narrative and emotion. Yet those same shooters asking for advice obsess endlessly about camera gear, light placement, and posing. It never occurs to them to share a story with their model, or to guide the team by describing a mood or a moment.
Two weeks ago a photographer said “well, I’m not like you, I can’t afford to tell stories.” Bullshit.
I want to post the following pictures to make a point: there is no budget for story. That’s not how it works. Contrary to the process of my public work, I still “work out” creatively by shooting on location with available light (rather than building sets and using multiple strobe heads). For this shoot, I told the model about the story of Hanjo. The geisha Hanako goes insane from loneliness while waiting for her lover Yoshio to return. I told her to envision the morning of his departure, the hour right after he left. The physical desire, the loneliness, the hope.
You don’t need money to tell a great story … but it does require a great model.
“So build yourself as beautiful as you want your world to be. Wrap yourself in light then give yourself away with your heart, your brush, your march, your art, your poetry, your play. And for every day you paint the war, take a week and paint the beauty, the color, the shape of the landscape you’re marching towards. Everyone knows what you’re against; show them what you’re for.”
Andrea Gibson, “Evolution”
Go and tell stories my friends.
For some time now, I have been creating a series of images in my studio called the Forest Project. It is a large set in my studio. I am about to pause the project for an indeterminate amount of time. I need to focus on other work, but I also must retrench, I need to rethink the project. I know where I want it go… but until now I have been unable to articulate it, and so it was difficult to communicate to my team what I want to achieve.
The goal is to show strong women, who would challenge the perceptions and self-confidence of men. Beautiful, but hardly available. Not desirable in the conventional ways of modern fashion photography, yet clearly from that universe. Every project I find myself playing with that language more and more. The Witch – the way we see her in the last 150 years – is a German bourgeois concept, the perception of the liberated woman in nature. Nothing is a greater threat than a woman that does not need to rely on a man. These supposedly feral women created a social discomfort – they are free to make their own decisions. It is a continuation of a theme begun as far back as folk tales about the women of the Blocksberg, the Walpurgisnacht, and their contemporaries from other cultures… the Baba Yega for instance.
“To diminish the worth of women, men had to diminish the worth of the moon. They had to drive a wedge between human beings and the trees and the beasts and the waters, because trees and beasts and waters are as loyal to the moon as to the sun. They had to drive a wedge between thought and feeling…At first they used Apollo as the wedge, and the abstract logic of Apollo made a mighty wedge, indeed, but Apollo the artist maintained a love for women, not the open, unrestrained lust that Pan has, but a controlled longing that undermined the patriarchal ambition. When Christ came along, Christ, who slept with no female…Christ, who played no musical instrument, recited no poetry, and never kicked up his heels by moonlight, this Christ was the perfect wedge. Christianity is merely a system for turning priestesses into handmaidens, queens into concubines, and goddesses into muses.”
– Tom Robbins
For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
Eric Roth from his screen play for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This project I’m shooting goes deeper into me than I thought, and I am grateful for the guidance and friends I have, now that I know how to approach it. There are decisions that come from a part of the soul that is both unknowable and scary. It’s like an Area 51 that is completely off limits to me, yet some of my most important choices are made there. I see how others approach the style or the subject matter, and I know they are failing.
Both my Hopper project and the Hanjo stories are reflections of how I felt at the time. One was a melancholy reflection of what might come next and what has been, and the other was a meditation on love lost in light of doing the right thing. I am more confident in my images than ever, the new series is strong and committed. It is no longer a look back, it is time to make a mark, and to comment on the world that I see. Fear is not an option; my sons need to know that I did more than simply create pretty pictures. There is more to art than technical execution and decorative color schemes, and I’m seeing work in galleries these days that lack depth and courage. I will shoot for more; I promise.