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.