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
One of the great frustrations of a good photo project is making final selections… here are some images that didn’t make the initial cut, were not included in the book, and then ultimately have yet to be exhibited at a show…. they’re a lot better as large prints, but I thought you might want to see them as little web files for now.
Part of the official selection can be seen by clicking Projects above and going to Hopper’s Americans.
…and guess what: there’s another 30 images that remain unpublished…
One of the artists I became aware of first in life was Christo (& Jean-Claude, as I was corrected later in life.) His (their) early work helped me understand one of the basic tenets of contemporary art. I was always impressed by the sheer scale, and the desire to do something just because it was possible. His wrapped buildings, surrounded islands, and divided valleys exist solely because they are compelling.
Particularly exciting is that we are only a few weeks away from Christo’s latest large scale project, a lake covered in floating pontoons in northern Italy.
In his early work, around my birth year 1968, Christo created a number of sketches of wrapped women. These were very organic shapes, within very hard-edged landscapes. Obviously this appealed to me, because so much of my work is about the human figure in hardscape, and this abstraction provided a whole new creative opportunity.
I decided to create a photographic homage to this early work. My team and I shot in Berlin, over two days. I rarely do location work, so it was a wonderful change of pace for me. Most of this had to be done relatively guerilla-style. Although we did not need location permits, setting up a wardrobe truck was not an option, so my stylist would simply begin wrapping the models on site. Because it was summer, the tourists that walked around us made for a supportive audience, even if they couldn’t quite figure out the point of our photo shoot. We were wrapping naked women in itchy plastic on extremely hot summer days. Twice Berlin policemen stopped us to tell us that we really shouldn’t shoot here because technically it wasn’t allowed. Each time we asked to simply finish the image, and they were happy to help us, one even asking people in the background to step out of our frame for a couple of minutes. Gotta love Berlin!
After posting these pics to my Facebook Page, I was viciously attacked by a small group of people. Closer inspection showed that they were primarily offended because one location was the memorial of the fallen Soviet soldiers, and their respective Facebook profiles showed Cover Pictures of Che Guevara and other notable Communists, which leads me to believe their other accusations were intended primarily to provoke and insult.
The man wrote (in German)
“Ich habe mich mal drangemacht und mir den rest deiner fotos hier angeschaut und diese bestätigen auch mein urteil: brutal, aggressiv, frauenfeindlich, kitschig, romantisch (im deutschen sinne), anonymisierte gewalt, schlichtweg menschenfeindlich…”
“I’ve gone ahead and checked out the rest of your photos and they confirm my judgement: brutal, aggressive, woman-hating, kitschy, romantic (in the German sense), anonymous violence, simply misanthropic…”
I must admit I was flabbergasted. I can’t really defend myself against charges that are completely off-mark. And as much as I initially took a small pride in having my first group of Haters, I can’t help but notice that my lead opponent’s initial anger was directed at the model, whom he accused of deleting his post. He was wrong, his comments was still there, and it turned out to be a spurned suitor or ex-boyfriend who was stalking her.
Poor girl. As if laying wrapped in plastic on a hot summer day wasn’t enough to deal with…
I’m sure there is a pithy story about success being born of abject failure, but the appropriate quote eludes me right now. Instead I will tell you one of mine…
The Color Room Project started as something very different. My work over the last couple of years has often been inspired by artists that have gone before me. About two years ago I developed a school-boy crush on a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of the Skågen School of painting. He worked around 1880 – 1920, and used a wonderful soft light. The rooms he depicted were almost always his own house.
I had just finished the series I call Hopper’s Americans, but still loved the creative process of building sets and telling stories within them. I decided to create a set that looked a lot like Hammershøi’s house, and to shoot a project that used his soft light, different than I had been in my previous work.
The project failed almost immediately. I had a very good model, but the clothes made it virtually impossible to tell the kind of stories I like. She was smothered in heavy fabrics, and they give little opportunity for physical nuance. Instead the images came out looking like something from the cover of a fancy candy box, something that Sarotti or Quality would put on their biscuit tins. Worse, I had given my stylist very little guidance, and we ended up with looks that were way to exaggerated for the subdued images I wanted to create.
I got so mad at myself that I went to my studio at some point on a Saturday night, got out a very large bucket of grey (or blue?) paint, and blasted Joy Division while repainting the whole set a solid color. I used a big fat bushy brush to slather the entire set, covering the walls, the decorative sconces, the chairs and tables all in a dark tone that reflected my mood. I was embarrassed, because the new project I had hoped for evaporated in front of me. I knew I should have focused on quieter images, more pensive poses.
Now I realize that it is not where I wanted to go creatively. I love the light. But I am so intrigued by the visual language of motion, which is utterly out of place in such a project. I admire Erwin Olaf’s most recent work, but it is not the kind of images I want to create right now. I chose instead to create images that focused on movement and drama in those stylized rooms.