Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On and Off

One Door Closes Another Opens


The irony of using one social media platform that became so unmanageable and unprofitable I jumped ship to announce that I am now jumping the ship I subsequently jumped onto is not lost on me.  Nor that one of my last acts on the new ship will be to announce this return to the old ship. Facebook was a hard sell back in the day, and now I realize I was right all along to hold off as long as I did. I’ve been at it only two and a half years, and as often happens with instincts I override, I was right in the first place. It turned out not to be a cool way to connect with people but one more popularity contest for me to lose and then have to devalue for my pride’s sake. 
 
Fortunately I have already been through the whole “is anyone really reading my posts?” dilemma right here on Blogger, not to mention a lifetime of being generally overlooked and eventually not caring anymore. It seems, even moreso than in the ego brutalizing real world, one has to go to great lengths to stand out and be heard online, and thanks to a glut of content by a glut of users, it is pretty much always the loudest and most persistent voices that get the most attention, leaving the rest of us to be content with a small but appreciative audience, the benefits of which don’t always make up for the annoyance of watching the popular posters attract attention like those kids you hated in high school who didn’t have to worry about their following, because they just kind of always had one and always would. 

As if that weren’t bad enough, Facebook decided to rub it in, by not even leaving me alone to watch the likes and comments accumulate on other people’s posts while mine languished unrecognized, but beginning to reward popularity with increased visibility, and unpopularity with increased unavailability.  The less attention you get, the less attention Facebook deems you worthy of, the harder it makes it for anyone actually interested to find you. To be seen, you have to prove you’re see-worthy, and then on top of that, you get a spotlight thrown on you that casts everyone else in shadow. 

Instead of stepping up my pouty selfies and clever memes production, I decided to learn as much as I could about where when and how Facebook was making these decisions about what to show when to whom and see if I could work the system.  That worked about as well as my attempt to “work the Etsy,” yet another overgrown popularity contest not worth the effort it takes to win. I started with my business page, which was how this uneasy alliance with Facebook began. Early on I realized that business pages did not work the same way as personal pages, in terms of access and flexibility within the FB world, and that I actually needed to create a personal profile just to use my business page most effectively.  I didn’t have a lot of likes on my page, but  I presumed that if someone found my page and “liked” it, all posts I made would be delivered to them automatically. 

That changed a while back when FB decided that only followers who had either specifically signed up for notifications or demonstrated “engagement” with my posts would be shown all subsequent activity on my page. Not only that, but the more engagement by the more followers, the more deliveries to the whole group.  Of course, this also means the opposite – once your engagement slacks off, you are caught in a downward spiral of diminished delivery. That’s when the desperate strategizing starts. I have actually begun liking, commenting upon and sharing my own business posts in order to trick FB into delivering them to more people. Yes, absurd and icky as it sounds, this actually works. It’s sort of like inventing an imaginary boyfriend to get someone to ask you out. Or throwing a loud party by yourself to get passersby to come hang out with you.

As I did back in high school, I am once again finding that working this hard to be noticed isn’t worth it. I would rather have a few connections than work that hard for more, and if I have to work that hard for those few, or force them to do so for me, I’d rather be alone.  I write poems and take photographs hardly anyone ever sees. I think thoughts and feel feelings that do not leave the premises of journals I discard at the end of the year.  Mostly I do this to work through things I need to learn more about, for my own sake. In order not to become too isolated and self-absorbed, I want and need to share some of what I’m going through wth others, for their sake, or what’s the point? 

Blogger failed me in this regard, and now Facebook has failed me too. Not only have I been lost in a sea of newsfeed content in which some flotsam and jetsam rises to the top while mine remains buried, but I recently discovered that my own personal page, which I was holding out hope would be under my control, there for anyone who cared to come by and catch up on everything I was posting, was also being subjected to the same process of random sorting, with FB deciding what would be available for view and how. So, not only am I languishing in the corner of the classroom while everyone gathers around the prom queen, but if someone decides to come looking for me, Facebook makes them work that much harder to get there by standing in their way and telling them “oh, no need to go any further, here’s what we’ve heard she’s been up to.”  And the sad thing is, most FB users don’t even know they aren’t getting the full story.

So, as of 2016, I’m done. I still have to keep my business page up and running because of the 500 newly printed business cards that say I am on Facebook. But once I am no longer re-posting my business posts on my personal page, that space too will become the social media equivalent of talking to myself. If anyone wants to know how I’m doing, there is always email, not to mention using that handheld camera, GPS, video streaming, and internet surfing device for its now seemingly obsolete function of making phone calls. My few real friends already do that. Maybe I will only lose an audience I never had, lose touch with friends who weren’t really friends, and miss out on information I didn’t really need anyway. I’m willing to take that chance. Perhaps, as the photograph at the head of this post suggests, one door closing will lead to another one opening. Let’s see what happens.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Becoming Greater than the Sum of my Parts

Me by Me

Let me acknowledge first that this final installment in my self-portrait project is over a month late in happening and explain why, because the reasons turned out to be a huge part of the process that finally brought these images into being.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

For a long time I have been struggling with attrition. The older I get, the more losses I collect. It’s a constant challenge to eye happiness with anything but suspicion when the preponderance of evidence persists that any sought, believed or embraced source of happiness will swiftly become a source of betrayal of trust, followed by acceptance of loss. Being an optimist, I keep falling for it, and keep getting slammed. This may be why I can count so many losses. Maybe I’d have had fewer losses if I had done less seeking, believing and embracing. And certainly, there have been those gained shining moments of joy I did indeed experience which are not to be entirely erased by the shadow that overtook and eclipsed them.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

Still, my life has become increasingly reduced it seems. I am a poet who doesn’t publish, an athlete who doesn’t train or compete, an artist whose work isn’t displayed, a businesswoman whose business sees no profit, a citizen without a job, assets or quantifiable contribution to society, a woman without child, mother or mate. It would be easy for me to retreat deeply into myself and become a figment of my own imagination. My daily existence is so isolated and independent of outside confirmation, definition, recognition and measure, there are times I doubt my own corporeality. 

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

And yet, there are times I am nothing but my body, the way the very fit and the very ill, during their long hours of solitary interiority, become acutely aware of and attuned to the immediacy and vagaries of their own systems and symptoms in their evolving strengths and frailties. How else to know I am alive and real some days than the advancing and retreating aches of my joints, the alternating eagerness and lassitude of my muscles, the inflation of my lungs making my chest rise and fall?

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

My routines and pursuits, and the places and social structures surrounding them, have been dismantled and reassembled so many times, I am not even sure what wholeness means anymore. The internal pieces have been there always, abilities, values, aversions, attractions, to be combined anew like the fragile shards of glass in a kaleidoscope. There is always consistency and order, and always impermanence to anything I become with a twist of the self-contained cylinder.  It can only be the sum of its parts, just as I am, parts that have been shaken too often, and now are far from whole themselves, but, in the end, all I’ve got to work with, all I ever will, so best keep trying to make something beautiful while there’s still time, until there is nothing left to shake but a tube full of dust.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

I went into this shoot psychologically cornered by the accumulated losses, absences, fears, doubts and sorrows of my life to date, and a not entirely hopeful vision of the next shake of this old kaleidoscope of an identity and its place in the outside world in which I do, after all, have to live. But I came out swinging. I accepted that I am the sum of my parts and that it doesn’t matter whether this sum amounts to more than those parts, or anything at all. It’s something. It’s a start. It is not, as I feared in my hesitation to complete this project, an end. Silly girl, this project was never about 12 themes to be explored and filed away as a finished work, any more than I am. The process continues whether or not it is demonstrated by a monthly set of images, or validated by any worldly definition of worthiness through accomplishment. The project is me.

Lisa Lyon by Robert Mapplethorpe and Me by Me

Mapplethorpe met Lisa Lyon, the first World Women's Bodybuilding Champion, in 1980. Over the next several years they collaborated on a series of portraits and figure studies, a film, and the book, “Lady, Lisa Lyon.”  Throughout the 80s, Mapplethorpe produced many images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres. In 1986, he was diagnosed with AIDS. Despite his illness, he accelerated his creative efforts, broadened the scope of his photographic inquiry, and accepted increasingly challenging commissions. The Whitney Museum of American Art mounted his first major American museum retrospective in 1988, one year before his death in 1989.

This shoot is dedicated to Robert Mapplethorpe, an inspiration for all artists, then, now and forever, to keep fighting the good fight.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Becoming a Whore



The hardest thing about this shoot was how easy it was to become a whore. 

As I recovered from my last shoot and began contemplating ideas for the next one, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to attempt something more overtly sensual after so many sessions that were more about using composition or pose to evoke emotion and meaning, reducing the body to landscape, motif, idealized image or merely a woman upon whom the viewer is discreetly eavesdropping in a private vulnerable moment.

 Odalisque by Ingres

The odalisque portrait, which runs (or reclines) rampant through art history, is unabashed in its representation of the female body as sexually available object. It’s about as close to pornography as you can get and still be believed that you are actually creating art. There is in fact a whole genre of erotic photographs that feature women in this attitude of exposed repose, with a few props to establish a bordello or harem setting and a somewhat disdainful “come hither” look to make it clear what’s on offer. As a photograph, it’s a purely sexual calling card. As a painting, thoughtful presentation makes it art.

 Odalisque by Delacroix

How to keep such an image on the proper side of the often fuzzy erotica line wasn’t my concern. There are technical ways to soften realism. How to find sufficient luxurious textiles and draperies and accessories to convincingly portray a lady of idle pleasure on her couch of indulgences or her attitude of unapologetic indolence wasn’t that difficult either. 


My biggest worry was that I, a modern woman accustomed to a more liberal and less libertine view and experience of sex, would be incapable of staring down the camera with that convincing look of mixed pride and vulnerability, hauteur and hunger, amusement and boredom, control and submission those odalisque ladies did so well.


Then I remembered every man who has ever made me feel like a temptation visited, enjoyed, and abandoned. An availability made use of and once used up, devalued. The ones whose beds and tales of sorrow I shared while their hearts belonged to someone else. I remembered that love is something I have too often felt for men who couldn’t or wouldn’t love me as they did other women, the ones in other kinds of paintings, princesses and goddesses, remote figures on distant cliffs, weeping into rivers, looking away, looking beautiful while breaking hearts, the ones they couldn’t have or had and lost, those unforgettables, those timeless, elusive, immortalized in song women, those women so very much not me.


This shoot stirred all that up for me. Years of anger and grief. Years of pride and scorn. And the love. All that love wasted on men for whom sex was all that was required, for whom I was a little bit more than a pornographic snapshot, but way less than a work of art.  Years of guilt that I had been a willing participant in, even a seeker of, this less than ideal arrangement, because a beggar at the table of love must either make do or starve. And ultimately, years of recognizing that not one of these men diminished me in any way by their comings and goings, that no matter how many lovers made use of me only briefly and incompletely, this said more about their limitations than mine, and where are they now? Gone.  But I remain, complete, and timeless, and yes, a work of art.



And I wrote a poem too. Here it is.   

Odalisque

Take me I’m yours
said the eyes of the whore
from her languid repose
in the comfortable chaos
of lace and cut velvet
covering her loosely
lightly briefly
like lovers that come and go
come and go
come and go
followed by eyes
so weary of saying
I know you I love you
I’m waiting and watching
your longed for approach
while solitude hangs
like dark silk keeping
the sunlight from hurting
my eyes as they see
in the way you arrive
that hot path
cleared by hunger 
the cold road 
by which you’ll depart
you who are all the one I needed
you who are all the same
when retreating
so take me I’m yours
do your best
do your worst
but take me already
my body my heart
unbreakably naked
receiving impressions
that leave me unchanged
or leave me.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kamisuki


It continues to pleasantly surprise me how each new installment in my self portrait project becomes both a reflection and harbinger of what’s going on in my life at the time.  My last shoot occurred in a context of defiance and renewed immersion in music. This one coincided with a shift to a quieter more inwardly oriented time, in which a natural reaction to too much time spent out in the social world and a bad case of tonsillitis conspired to keep me home and in my own company, the perfect contemplative and yes, admittedly self-absorbed context in which to explore and embrace this month’s theme.


I usually go looking for my next theme soon after the last one is done. I always have a brief moment of panic – what if I’m out of ideas? what next? – followed by my new theme dropping right into my lap and being instantly recognizable as the right one, the only one.  This time, a review of an exhibit of paintings featuring images of women at their toilette prompted me to research further than the usual French paintings depicting scenes before during and after the bath, which led me to some beautiful modern Japanese drawings of women combing their hair, a motif known as kamisuki.

 Kamisuki (Combing her Hair) by Torii Kotondo

I had already made plans to include something in a Japanese style among my themes, and this was perfect. Especially as a course correction following what I felt was a slight detour in my last shoot, which was a bit of a stretch for a project exploring classic images of female nudes re-imagined. The kamisuki aesthetic brought me back to the heart of the matter – the woman self-absorbed  and observed in a moment of vulnerability, both intimately objectified and distantly adored by the artist.  


What drew me to this motif was that unlike other compositions in which women seem more posed and less poised – here the artist seems almost an afterthought.  These women are too involved in a pure act of attending to their own bodies, an almost meditative state, as anyone who has spent time combing their hair can attest, to notice if anyone is eavesdropping, or acknowledge the presence of a guiding hand. It’s self-love and self-oblivion combined in one repeated rhythmic motion. It says, for now at least, I am taking care of myself and myself alone, without shame or guilt, and without you. 


Which is just what I have been doing these past weeks of retreat and recovery. Art imitates life imitates art.