Forgiveness

See, forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. It’s not an event―it’s a process. Forgiveness happens while you’re asleep, while you’re dreaming, while you’re inline at the coffee shop, while you’re showering, eating, farting, jerking off. It happens in the back of your mind, and then one day you realize that you don’t hate the person anymore, that your anger has gone away somewhere. And you understand. You’ve forgiven them. You don’t know how or why. It sneaked up on you. It happened in the small spaces between thoughts and in the seconds between ideas and blinks. That’s where forgiveness happens. Because anger and hatred, when left unfed, bleed away like air from a punctured tire, over time and days and years. Forgiveness is stealth. At least, that’s what I hope.

 – Barry Lyga

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Good Taste

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one piece. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

– Ira Glass

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I’ve got nothing to add to Ira’s quote, except that I’m finally getting to the point where I’m making work that reflects my taste. For what it’s worth, that comes with a whole new set of fears.

Quiet Devotion

I have been shooting my Quiet Devotion project for over two years now, and have undergone a number of major life events that have impacted upon the evolution of the series. What began as an angry lash-out at whatever residual issues I might have had with institutinalized religion has finally resolved itself in post-narrative depiction.

The images have become reductions of stories, more like pencil sketches rather than sweeping epic dramatizations. My early illustrative images with large sets and groups of people have been replaced by simpler constructions. Like any feeling, thinking artist I am awed by late Renaissance and Baroque masters, whose paintings illustrate the greatest stories ever told, whether biblical, mythical, or ovidian. These paintings often hinge on their details, which give the key to the work. I came to love and look at them through these details, so I sought to bring that out in my own work, and my original title for the series was The Sacred and the Profane. But photographers have faired poorly when attempting to cover this narrative territory, convoluting their images with details that turn into meaningless props and pointless postures once they are no longer accomplishments of painted labor. As an artist working within the genre of staged photography it is liberating to distill a story to its core emotion captured in a simple gesture or curve of the back, illuminated through the use of chiaroscuro.

As a photographer I arrange the elements in my images rather than simply catching a certain moment, and place distinct emphasis within the overall frame. Creatively, staged photography offers both substantial narrative opportunity, but also a certain risk to clarity. It is tempting to fill an image with symbolic elements, but if the shot composition isn’t perfect then the image can slide into illustrative overload, or a simple aggregation of meaningless beauty. I found myself obsessing over details, and isolating those through a series of ever-tighter crops. However, these cropped details are lost without their context. A set of intertwined hands, a basket of fruits, or the folds in a curtain become meaningless if there is no bigger picture behind it.

I wanted both: to draw attention to certain elements of the image, and to show the context in which they occur.

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Two years ago I discovered a printing process that only one fine art print shop in the world can execute – and the way to produce the images I had envisioned. I only found out about the exclusive nature of the material after I fell in love with it, but I knew this matte acrylic Diasec C-Print process was the medium I needed for the Sacred & Profane series. It is incredibly beautiful, but very difficult to use. There is a richness to the texture, but at the same time it makes the image feel removed, in some ways otherworldly. As part of the cropping process, it was my plan to use different print media, one I had used previously. I crop out certain parts of the image, and print those on a waxed paper using a Ditone archival pigment process.

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Two of these images were hanging on one of my studio walls, though one of them has since been sold. Key to this series is that every piece is unique. There are no editions. When I’ve created pieces that are related to one another, the crops are different. No image will ever be used again, nor will a related image have an identical crop.

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The steel frames are German precision work. We tried to weld some ourselves at the studio for the first prototypes, but were unable to get anywhere near the level of quality that I require. I use 3 millimetre rolled steel throughout the series, it represents a vestigial reminder of baroque ornate gold-leafed framing. The slightly shiny reflective areas where the oiled steel bounces light off the edges gives it a formal setting. It’s at odds with the industrial nature of the rolled oiled steel, as is the physical weight of the material in contrast to its appearance. It’s steel, but it looks fragile and elegant.

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Notice the detail of the shadow reveal that is defined by the 3 millimetre steel running less than 2 millimetres away from the matte acrylic Diasec print. I ask for fully detailed CAD files for every piece before it enters physical production, so that all participants have plans to work from. Click here if you’re interested in seeing a screen shot of this particular piece.

I am grateful for German precision coupled with an appreciation for fine art. I’m glad that my team has made it possible to execute work at this level of quality. Because once we get to the internal frames, which define the crops and give the project its conceptual architecture, there is no tolerance for fault at all. The frames run nearly flush against the matte Diasec acrylic, but also encase the Ditone print on the waxed paper. The cropped component is set back a full 25 millimetres (or one inch!) from the front of the image.

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In the first phase I print out the complete image using the matte acrylic Diasec, and then use a computer-driven precision saw with a diamond drill-bit to physically cut out the cropped area. During the second production phase the frames are set into place, around the outer perimeter as well as within the crops. In the final phase the waxed paper crop prints are mounted on aluminum, and then installed into the sawed-out and framed spaces.

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I will write more in the coming days about the series. There is a lot that I want to explain about its evolution and my arrival at the cropping process, as well as the technical production. I am very excited about where this project has taken me, and even though it took several years, I look forward to shooting a lot more images. But obviously I’m also quite proud of where the project has gone physically and technically.

Love is hard

The truth is that the more intimately you know someone, the more clearly you’ll see their flaws. That’s just the way it is. This is why marriages fail, why children are abandoned, why friendships don’t last. You might think you love someone until you see the way they act when they’re out of money or under pressure or hungry, for goodness’ sake. Love is something different. Love is choosing to serve someone and be with someone in spite of their filthy heart. Love is patient and kind, love is deliberate. Love is hard. Love is pain and sacrifice, it’s seeing the darkness in another person and defying the impulse to jump ship.

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A picture I took a long time ago.

Poetry and Mystery

People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image; By asking what does this mean? they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.

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Quote from René Magritte, image from my Sacred & Profane series.

Artist Block

One reason that people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long, constantly. They have a point where they go dormant. And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.

— Marshall Vandruff

Desire to make Art

It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually. Always there seems something ahead, the next poem or story, visible, at least, apprehensible, but unreachable. To perceive it at all is to be haunted by it; some sound, some tone, becomes a torment – the poem embodying that sound seems to exist somewhere already finished. It’s like a lighthouse, except that, as one swims towards it, it backs away.

– Louise Glück, Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry

Own Your Decisions

You don’t need anyone’s affection or approval in order to be good enough. If you live off a man’s compliments, you’ll die from his criticism. When someone rejects or abandons or judges you, it isn’t actually about you. It’s about them and their own insecurities, limitations, and needs, and you don’t have to internalize that. Your worth isn’t contingent upon other people’s acceptance of you — it’s something inherent. You exist, and therefore, you matter. You’re allowed to voice your thoughts and feelings. You’re allowed to assert your needs and take up space. You’re allowed to hold onto the truth that who you are is exactly enough. You didn’t just happen, you are the sum total of the choices you’ve made. And you’re allowed to remove anyone from your life who makes you feel otherwise.

You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life. It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend or new acquaintance – you don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain or make you feel small. It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior and makes an effort to change. But if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and continues to treat you in a harmful way, they have to go. But don’t expect them to keep loving you, don’t keep pining for their affection. Stop demanding their attention. Removing someone cannot be a tool to get someone’s attention.

There is a big difference between giving up and letting go. Giving up means selling yourself short. It means allowing fear and struggle to limit your opportunities and keep you stuck. Letting go means freeing yourself from something that is no longer serving you. It means removing toxic people and belief systems from your life so that you can make room for relationships and ideas that are conducive to your well-being and happiness. Giving up reduces your life. Letting go expands it. Giving up is imprisoning. Letting go is liberation. Giving up is self-defeat. Letting go is self-care. So the next time you make the decision to release something or someone that is stifling your happiness and growth, and a person has the audacity to accuse you of giving up or being weak, remind yourself of the difference. Remind yourself that you don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to live your life in the way that feels right. No one has the authority to tell you who to be or how to live. No one gets to decide what your life should look like or who should be a part of it…

But nor does anyone get to judge you for sticking it out. Because beyond giving up and letting go, there is a third option: taking control. Stand up, know who you are, and face the situation. Don’t give up, and don’t let go. Own it.

Start living. You may not have ended up where you intended to go. But trust, for once, that you have ended up where you needed to be. Trust that you are in the right place at the right time. Trust that your life is enough. Trust that You are enough. So stop comparing, stop feeling guilty, and definitely stop seeking people’s approval, love, attention. Its unnecessary, and unattractive. Own your life, and take pride.

Getting Free

A long time ago, when you were a wee thing, you learned something, some way to cope, something that, if you did it, would help you survive. Make ’em laugh, be the clever one, disappear behind a wall of personality… It wasn’t the healthiest thing, it wasn’t gonna get you free, but it was gonna keep you alive. You learned it, at nine or ten, and it worked, it did help you survive. You carried it with you all your life, used it whenever you needed it. It got you out—out of your walled-in city, away from a prancing narcissist, out of range of your father’s un-love. Or whatever. It worked for you. You’re still here now partly because of this thing that you learned.

The thing is, though, at some point you stopped needing it. At some point, you got far enough away, surrounded yourself with people who love you. You survived. And because you survived, you now had a shot at more than just staying alive. You had a shot now at getting free. But that thing that you learned when you were nine was not then and is not now designed to help you be free. It is designed only to help you survive. And, in fact, it keeps you from being free. You need to figure out what this thing is and work your ass off to un-learn it. Because the things we learn to survive at all costs are not the things that will help us get FREE. Getting free is a whole different journey altogether.

 – adapted from Mia McKenzie

Lot’s Wife

Do you remember when we met
in Gomorrah? When you were still beardless,
and I would oil my hair in the lamp light before seeing
you, when we were young, and blushed with youth
like bruised fruit. Did we care then
what our neighbors did
in the dark?

When our first daughter was born
on the River Jordan, when our second
cracked her pink head from my body
like a promise, did we worry
what our friends might be
doing with their tongues?

What new crevices they found
to lick love into or strange flesh
to push pleasure from, when we
called them Sodomites then,
all we meant by it
was neighbor.

When the angels told us to run
from the city, I went with you,
but even the angels knew
that women always look back.
Let me describe for you, Lot,
what your city looked like burning
since you never turned around to see it.

Sulfur ran its sticky fingers over the skin
of our countrymen. It smelled like burning hair
and rancid eggs. I watched as our friends pulled
chunks of brimstone from their faces. Is any form
of loving this indecent?

Cover your eyes tight,
husband, until you see stars, convince
yourself you are looking at Heaven.

Because any man weak enough to hide his eyes while his neighbors
are punished for the way they love deserves a vengeful god.

I would say these things to you now, Lot,
but an ocean has dried itself on my tongue.
So instead I will stand here, while my body blows itself
grain by grain back over the Land of Canaan.
I will stand here
and I will watch you
run.

By Karen Finneyfrock

Lot's WifeLot’s Wife, part of a triptychon within the Sacred & Profane series.

Sanctified Object

“Dreams, memories, the sacred–they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles.”

Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow

_MG_9846_web_sRGBHanako does not recognize Yoshio, from my photographic adaption of Yukio Mishima’s HANJO

Hiding a Passion

To hide a passion totally (or even to hide, more simply, its excess) is inconceivable: not because the human subject is too weak, but because passion is in essence made to be seen: the hiding must be seen: I want you to know that I am hiding something from you, that is the active paradox I must resolve: at one and the same time it must be known and not known: I want you to know that I don’t want to show my feelings: that is the message I address to the other.”

— Roland Barthes, Dark Glasses from A Lover’s Discourse

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Angela, a few years ago, in a hotel room.

Life is Art

I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.

— Helena Bonham Carter

The Idiot

Indeed, there is nothing more vexing, for instance, than to be rich, of respectable family, of decent appearance, of rather good education, not stupid, even kind, and at the same time to have no talent, no particularity, no oddity even, not a single idea of one’s own, to be decidedly ‘like everybody else.’

—  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

The Sandwich Man

On the subway there’s a couple that can’t stop kissing. They’re standing by the door and devouring each other. Kiss/ smile/ kiss/ smile– it’s kind of sweet but kind of annoying too because they’re so close that it’s hard not to watch them. Kiss/ smile/ kiss/ loooong look, etc. The train makes three or four stops while they only have eyes and lips for each other. But if you look closely (it’s almost impossible NOT to look), the big love is coming more from the girl than from the guy. Her eyes eat him alive and every few sentences she reaches up to peck him on the lips. Finally as we’re approaching a station she gives him even more kisses. You can tell this is her stop but he is staying on the train. Their goodbye is intense and then she’s gone. As soon as the doors close, the guy sits down nearby and reaching into his briefcase, pulls out an enormous obviously homemade sandwich. Tearing off the paper around it, he chomps into it with a delight and relish that’s twice as passionate as he showed for his girl. Thank God she isn’t there to see it. Her big competition is a sandwich.

Jonathan Carroll

…this made me laugh. I’ve been this guy. But I would argue that’s a good thing. A girl that wants a man who isn’t going to wander is well-served by a guy that’s enthralled by a sandwich. It does NOT take a lot to make me happy… Let me photograph you, wear sensible shoes when not going to a fancy place, read a book, give a shit about art, explore sexuality, and understand that real food can take the place of all of it – when done right.

Love Selectively

Before you fuck up and call her anything less than her name, before you grab her by the arm you need to know the trigger that you are pulling at. You need to know that the safety is never on. You need to know her history before you tell me that this isn’t my business. You need to know that her history is my history. See, she and I, we come from the tribe of raw knuckled little girls who call our father by their first names and wear their mothers like bruise-colored war paint under eye. We grew thick skin before we grew permanent teeth. We learned to piece together our own families in the backyards of rented duplexes where we promised plastic faced babies better things in soothing tones that we mimicked from TV. We do not have daddy issues even though our daddies have issues. We have piercing eyes and promises to keep. We grew up to be nomads surveying domestic war zones with black eyeliner binoculars, always refusing to camouflage. We threw our heads back and laughed at oncoming explosions, never flinched, absorbing shrapnel, never letting them see us cry.

We do not dream of boys who will save us from towers. We dream of boys with courage caked under their fingernails. Boys with hands rough enough to wipe metal tears from our faces but warm enough to mold them into stars. Boys with vertebrae strong enough to lock with ours so they can sleep sitting back to back with us and keep watch. And these are the boys, these are the boys who will find love under our armor. These are the boys who will find that we love selectively but we love fiercely. These are the boys who will learn that we love in ways that leave claw marks down the baseboard before we ever let go.

So do not think she doesn’t know how you fear her absence – you should. Your cage is not stronger than her will or her smile. Do not think you are good enough to tame her. You aren’t. And do not think you are the first to try because I have already closed your eyes and crossed your arms before your body hit the floor. And you think she deserves better than you. You are right. So be better than you.

Be thankful that she knows your name and be careful never to forget hers.

– Rachel Wiley

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Taken a long time ago in my apartment in New York.

Finished Work

We may know that the work we continue to put off doing will be bad. Worse, however, is the work we never do. A work that’s finished is at least finished. It may be poor, but it exists, like the miserable plant in the lone flowerpot of my neighbor who’s crippled. That plant is her happiness, and sometimes it’s even mine. What I write, bad as it is, may provide some hurt or sad soul a few moments of distraction from something worse. That’s enough for me, or it isn’t enough, but it serves some purpose, and so it is with all of life.

—  Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

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An image from my Color Room series, which is now finished.

Trigger an experience

Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences. That solves a lot of problems: we don’t have to argue whether photographs are art, or whether performances are art, or whether Carl Andre’s bricks or Andrew Serranos’s piss or Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ are art, because we say, ‘Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen.’ … What makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you — so the value of the work lies in the degree to which it can help you have the kind of experience that you call art.

– Brian Eno

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True Story

When she was younger she was a model. She had a mediocre career although she slogged on in the business for years. Her one great job ended with a sadly ironic twist. She had a beautiful figure. One day her agency told her a famous suntan cream manufacturer was casting for a model for their new global campaign. This campaign is famous. The image is iconic because it is always the same– a tanned statuesque woman with a spectacular body in a white bathing suit posed with her back to us while she looks out over some sun-holiday dream landscape– Greece, Morocco, Seychelles… That’s all: Goddess- figured woman with her back to us, wonderful sunny setting, and beneath the photo is the name of the product. She auditioned for the job and got it. The company paid her a great deal of money because the advertisement would be everywhere in the world– in magazines, on posters, buses… She was ecstatic. They flew her to Santorini with a famous photographer and a large crew. The resulting pictures were fantastic.

Within a short time her image was on display all over the world. She proudly placed the pictures in the front of her modeling “book.” The one of your best photographs that you carry to all castings to show potential clients your previous work so they can get an idea of how you look in different roles and poses. At one of the first castings after the pictures came out, she handed her book to the client. He turned to the first page and saw her suntan cream pictures. Smirking, he chuckled and shook his head. He showed the pictures to a man sitting next to him who smirked too. She asked what was wrong. The client said she was the third model who’d come in for that job with these same pictures in their book. All three women said they were the model in that campaign. Indignant, she said but I WAS the model– all you need to do is check with the company. He looked at her dismissively. “Do you really think I’m going to call them and make a fool of myself just so I can find out if that’s your *ass* in this picture?” She told me this happened frequently afterwards when she showed her book to casting directors. Few believed her because it seemed like every model with a nice body and her color hair in Europe was taking credit for those pictures. Her greatest modeling triumph didn’t help her dying career at all.

 – Jonathan Carroll

Sep20th_MG_0722_crop R2_sRGB smallerFrom one of my earliest studio projects, shot a long time ago. The story above is NOT about Barbora, obviously…

The Woman in the Mirror

I’m reading Camille Paglia’s “Glittering Images”, a book I recommend to anyone interested in art history and interpretation. It’s a series of short essays, covering about one hundred major pieces of art throughout history. The sub-title says it all: “A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.” Of course her essays all have her strong dissident feminist twist to them.

In describing Titian’s “Venus with a Mirror” she writes: The hushed spectacle of a woman gazing into her mirror has exerted a powerful fascination on male artists. Is she a puppet of vanity, or a sorceress in eery dialogue with her double? Most feminists reject the mirror as Woman’s oppressor, the internalized eye of judgmental society.

Or, as John Berger wrote in “Ways of Seeing”

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear.

One of my all-time favorite images from a session I shot a long time ago, featuring Angela.

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Love and Magic

“Perhaps they were right putting Love into books. Perhaps it could not live anywhere else,” said William Faulkner.

…and perhaps the only Magic left is Art.

It is specious reasoning, but is seems that the ascent of the artist in terms of status within a society correlates to the amount of patriarchy in that society. If It can be reasoned that the rise of modern religion, with its purge of the Feminine and all that is Irrational and Magic, also brought about the rise of the Artist. At its height, during the Renaissance and the Baroque, religion was at its most powerful, and artists moved along side the most powerful and revered citizens. Reason and Enlightenment may have taken the place of religion since then, but they are no less Masculine in nature. And the rise of the Artist (from musicians to painters) continues.

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From the second light test of my “Sacred and Profane” series…

Criticize Religion

What is wrong with inciting intense dislike of a religion if the activities or teachings of that religion are so outrageous, irrational or abusive of human rights that they deserve to be intensely disliked? To criticize a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticize their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticize ideas, any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticize and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed.

Rowan Atkinson

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An image I shot a few years ago in Los Angeles.

Art will remain

Archaeologists have not yet discovered any stage of human existence without art. Even in the half-light before the dawn of humanity we received this gift from Hands we did not manage to discern. Nor have we managed to ask: Why was this gift given to us and what are we to do with it? And all those prophets who are predicting that art is disintegrating, that it has used up all its forms, that it is dying, are mistaken. We are the ones who shall die. And art will remain. The question is whether before we perish we shall understand all its aspects and all its ends.

Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Beauty Will Save the World

Boring sex

“Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood. If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent human being in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity, passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all of the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.”

– Anaïs Nin, The Diary Of Anais Nin, Volume 3; 1939-1944

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An image from my Hopper’s Americans series. For more information please visit my website at www.roth-photo.com, and for sales please contact my gallery Camera Work in Berlin.

That rare moment

“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.”

Robert Motherwell

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“Hanako awakes from her nap” – an image from my Photographic Novel “Hanjo.” For more information please visit my website.

A story to guide you

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.

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Natsuki 3

Natsuki 1

“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 what it’s worth…

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

Superstitions

Really… every time I want to gather my thoughts on religion, I find the words of Christopher Hitchens. He perfectly summarizes everything I feel, so it makes more sense to quote him directly rather than to paraphrase… or better yet, simply plagiarize.

I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.

We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid. Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.

Here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith…  We do not hold our convictions dogmatically. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true – that religion has caused innumerate people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.

Impossible Realism

Although it may sound like oxymoron, the term “Impossible Realism” makes a great deal of sense when we permit ourselves to look beyond the quotidian and once again open up fully to wonder, like we used to as children. This is why cheesy horror films and great works of the imagination ‘outside the box’ have one important thing in common—when they succeed, both leave audiences wide- eyed, hand slapped over the mouth, and awestruck. They make us whimper, laugh or cheer like we never do on normal Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays in the middle of our lives. But because at their best they fully engage our imagination, we willingly give up our normal ho-hum to live in worlds where orcs exist, Freddy Kruger sticks his claws through the wall, or Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and sees a bug’s body rather than his own. Living in these extraordinary realities we are fully alive and engaged, thinking with our hearts instead of our heads, willing to go anywhere the stories go because we are in their thrall.

For many adults however, wonder is a guilty pleasure like reading comic books, karaoke, or eating Hostess Snowballs. It’s something for kids—childish, and beyond a certain age vaguely embarrassing. Not something you admit doing if you want to keep your good standing in the Adult Community.

On the other hand, mention names like Murakami (giant talking frogs), Gogol (detached noses found in loaves of bread), Ionesco and his rhinoceroses, Jonathan Lethem (animal private investigators), the wilder short stories of Hawthorne, Julio Cortazar and his human axolotl, Goethe and Christopher Marlowe (Dr. Faustus, I presume?) and the literati quickly bow their heads in deference.
What is more realistic than a bed? Where do we let our guards down more than when we slide beneath the sheets at night and say okay, I’m done. Then we switch off the light, expecting both us and this hour to fade to black.

Or do we? What about that little engine called the unconscious that never stops working and never stops surprising us with its remix tape of our day? How many times do we wake up in the morning and the first thing out of our mouth is where did THAT dream come from?

I recently read a short tale about a bed that tells the secret dreams of its inhabitants. The author got the idea from staring too long at a beautiful black and white photograph by Walker Evans. The picture is of an unmade bed. It looks like someone just got up from either a night full of dreams or messy passion. You’ve seen that bed a hundred times because it is your bed. But what if you were to wake up one morning and something about that bed was different? What if this thing so normally normal has transformed overnight into something… Impossible?

Somewhere someone is thinking of You

Somewhere someone is thinking of you. Someone is calling you an angel. This person is using celestial colors to paint your image. Someone is making you into a vision so beautiful that it can only live in the mind. Someone is thinking of the way your breath escapes your lips when you are touched. How your eyes close and your jaw tightens with concentration as you give pleasure a home. These thoughts are saving a life somewhere right now. In some airless apartment on a dark, urine stained, whore lined street, someone is calling out to you silently and you are answering without even being there. So crystalline. So pure. Such life saving power when you smile. You will never know how you have cauterized my wounds. So sad that we will never touch again. How it hurts me to know that I will never be able to give you everything I have.

 – Henry Rollins

Longer Words

“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.”

I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.”

Jeffrey Eugenides

In the Grove of Passion

“Would you complain because a beautiful sunset doesn’t have a future or a shooting star a payoff? And why should romance ‘lead anywhere’? Passion isn’t a path through the woods. Passion is the woods. It’s the deepest wildest part of the forest; the grove where the fairies still dance and obscene old vipers snooze in the boughs. Everybody but the most dried up and dysfunctional is drawn to the grove and enchanted by its mysteries… but then they just can’t wait to call in the chain saws and bulldozers and replace it with a family-style restaurant or a new bank. That’s the payoff, I guess. Safety. Security. Certainty. Yes, indeed. Well, remember this, pussy latte: we’re not involved in a ‘relationship’, you and I, we’re involved in a collision. Collisions don’t much lend themselves to secure futures, but the act of colliding is hard to beat for interest. ”

Tom Robbins