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.   


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.