Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Breaking Point

Could be Worse 

Yesterday I broke up with Facebook. It wasn’t the first time I have had a parting of ways with a social media platform. Anyone who has been following me for a few years and is somehow reading this will remember my breaking up with Blogger a while back for similar reasons. The posts may be shorter, but the troubling trend of content towards sad self pep talks was unmistakable. Basically if I had to witness myself writing the words “at least” or “it could be worse” one more time, searching for and focusing on the bright side with the desperate fervor of a deranged treasure hunter in a wasteland, I was going to have to break up with myself. So instead I simply deactivated my profile.


And I didn’t die. The way I didn’t die the last few times I extricated myself from a toxic relationship and transitioned from speaking my truth to someone not really listening to acknowledging myself as my own first last and best audience for nearly everything I feel compelled to express. It helps that I have been talking to myself for decades and gotten quite good at it. Occasionally when it comes out in the written form of a poem or essay, or the visual form of a photograph, a select few will overhear and enjoy, even benefit, from what is essentially eavesdropping on my private dialogue with me. For which I am grateful. Being useful to others is just as important to me as being true to myself.

 Public Service

And speaking of public benefit. Blogger recently announced that certain content in this space may be, in a few weeks, subject to removal, or rendered essentially inaccessible, which will bring my sense that I am really only posting for myself from paranoid speculation to harsh reality so fast it will make my psyche spin. I guess I picked the wrong time to move my self portrait project from Facebook where it was risking censorship to Blogger where it will now be subject to a similarily mysterious and unpredictable standard of acceptability. Blogger says that artistic content deemed of “public benefit” will be spared. It remains to be seen whether my tush passes that test. Just the same, I thought it might be a good time to push the large image of my tush from the Marilyn shoot down one screen and not have it be the very first thing the Blogger Patrol sees when considering my viability as a creative public benefactor. Oh what the heck. I think my tush qualifies as a public service.

 Falling Unheard

Because so much Facebook activity is essentially people talking to and looking at themselves you would think I would be at home in its comfort zone of self-absorbed self-examination and self-documentation. Every post is a kind of silent appeal. I’m here. Look at me. Love me. As if without a certain number of “likes” and affirming comments, one’s identity might begin to weaken and fade, the way old gods in fantasy novels vanish over time for lack of worship, the way truth and beauty deteriorate if no one values them. Facebook is nothing more than a huge forest of trees falling in hope that someone will be there to hear them – or it will turn out they never made a sound, never existed at all. I’ve been an unheard falling tree for more of my life than I care to contemplate. The times I have had to pick myself up and say “Right then! Nothing for it but to get back up, bury my roots back into the ground, leave the broken branches behind and get back to growing” far outnumber the times someone happened to be passing to witness, acknowledge, ease or undo my fall. Maybe that’s why my Facebook posts have been so stunningly honest and detailed regarding my inner life. It’s easy to be bravely self-revealing when you are unconvinced there is anyone paying attention.  Judging my offering of myself in thorough detail to be proof I’m an exhibitionist or extrovert misses the point. I don’t close my blinds, and it’s not so the passing cars on Main Street can get an eyeful. I sing and talk to myself at home, and when I am out walking the neighborhood, and I am covered in tattoos I don’t bother to conceal in warm weather. And I do all of it not to be noticed, but because I am pretty sure I won’t be. But it can get both wearisome and worrisome when you are more often than not proven absolutely right in your belief in your own invisibility.

 Hide in Plain Sight

I once wrote a short story called “Hide in Plain Sight.” It was about a woman living alone in a small apartment with books and cats and art on the walls and a single bed and a single existence occasionally interrupted by the seeking of company. She was by no means a recluse, or socially awkward or avoidant, and not altogether sad. But she was more real to herself in her inner life than in her involvement in the world outside, her fearlessness there based on a fundamental disbelief that anything mattered or lasted outside of her sense of self.  That woman was myself fifteen years ago. I have arrived, after a long hard journey on a rough winding road, in a different apartment in a different city, and my tears fall on the furry shoulders of a different feline roommate, but I find myself in much the same circumstances these days, both comforting and alarming in their familiarity. I re-read my own story the other day and it struck me how timeless it was. It was written by me and for me but still emerged as as a kind of appeal. Look at this woman. Love this woman. Prove her wrong.

 Nothing Changes

Still waiting.  Long before Facebook and Blogger, I wrote and took photographs by and for myself. It never even occurred to me, until someone made me feel bad about not doing it, that something needed to be done with my work to make it real, make it worthwhile as a pursuit. For me it has never been what I do, but what I am. It can’t not be done, as long as I still am. And I myself am plenty real, definitely worthwhile and not done yet. Not even a day after deactivating my Facebook profile, leaving many to wonder whether I am dead in a ditch somewhere, I find myself back here, giving Blogger a second chance, and will probably return, mixed feelings and all, to Facebook too when the time is right. Meantime, this reclaimed space will not be about pep talks, airings of grievances, countings of blessings, grimly defiant celebrations of the simple joys, or declarations of faith and hope that things are going to get better. True, nothing changes.  Not my fervor, both for continuing my possibly misguided and futile search for the bright side, not my desperate need, likely mostly unwitnessed and unappreciated and certainly rarely rewarded, to continue uprooting myself and falling and making as big a noise doing it as I can. But anything is possible, too, so stay tuned.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Self Portrait Project

A few months ago I embarked on a little exercise in self esteem reconstruction that turned into a creative project that continues to challenge and redefine both my sense of myself as a photographer and as a woman. Never one to do things by halves, I decided to reanimate my recently uninspired photography pursuits by not only attempting human portraiture, traditionally my least favorite subject, but using myself as a model, yet another decidedly non-preferred activity, and then render my ejection from my comfort zone complete by doing nude self portraits in which I occupied the place of some of the most iconic female subjects in art. I don’t mess around, people. My last inspiration was the notorious 1949 Marilyn Monroe “red velvet” series.

after Toulouse Lautrec

As if that weren’t enough, I have been posting the results on Facebook for all my friends to see. Because projects like this tend to create their own momentum, constantly establishing limits only to push past them, each new installment in this photographic documentary of one woman’s self exploration through art finds me questioning the elusive borderline between a sexual and an erotic image, self-revelation and self-indulgence, courage and vanity.  

after Hopper

With every shoot, I have been compelled to confront my motives, my aesthetics and my ability to be objective about my unclothed body as subject matter. It’s been a fascinating experience to play the role of both model and artist, jumping between camera and frame and capturing an image that is both natural and intentional. An unexpected discovery has been that when artist and model are the same person, there is far more control in how the nude is presented, an interesting shift considering that the artists behind my source material have so far all been male. 

after Hopper  

I am finding that a female take on a female nude is somewhat different, especially a female take on her own nude self, and the resulting work with essentially the same composition as the original, is not simply an impersonation or tribute but its own creation due to all sorts of subtle choices. I like to think of these images as what those original works would have looked like if the model were given the chisel, brush or camera. 

after Picasso

I expect my choice of source material to inspire future shoots will be even more challenging and quite possibly more revealing. For this reason, I am setting up a PAGE here on my blog to collect the final images from each shoot, but also, from now on, to create a special post documenting the experience and including any good images that did not make the final cut and may not be appropriate for social media. Because face it, not everyone wants to see my tush in their timeline.