Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Phoenix in the Mirror

Unmasking a Mystery 

Last night in anticipation of my latest installment in the Self Portrait Project I wrote on Facebook that part of the fun for me doing these shoots is setting up the shot. I compared it to cracking a code or unmasking a mystery. I lied. Almost all of the fun comes from studying an existing artwork to figure out the angles lighting and mood - even the mistakes and accidents - that combined to create the final effect so I can re-create those conditions and then re-envision the work with just enough of the original to be recognizable but not be merely an imitation. 


Not only is it a great way to distract my squirrel brain from running in circles over trivial matters and focus instead on a real puzzle to be solved, it gives me the sort of satisfaction in the end result I don’t often get in any other way. It also keeps my ego in check by making me laugh at myself when it goes wrong. For instance, I discovered after a quick test shot that I am about 5 inches in hair length away from being able to do the shot posted below, or if I did, might create very much not the effect desired.

 Phoenix by Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham is one hell of a photographer to choose to imitate. When I selected her as this month’s inspiration I had in mind her unique ability to make bodies look like landscape, often shot within landscape. Unfortunately the endless winter and whatever sense of modesty I still possess kept me from stripping down in the great outdoors to pose picturesquely au naturel in Nature. Being limited to the not so great indoors, I kept looking through her catalogue and found four photos of a model known as Phoenix and was immediately smitten.

 Becoming a Phoenix

Captured standing, in the mirror, on her side and recumbent, Phoenix proved the perfect inspiration after the somewhat ironic pinup shoot last month. I wanted to get back to basics and create images that were about a celebration of the human form as a purely aesthetic phenomenon, not as prurient or philosophically provocative subject matter. 

 Purely Aesthetic

Call it a union of kindred artistic spirits, or maybe it’s just the hair, but something made this one of the most blissfully easy shoots I have yet done, considering I was impersonating a gorgeous blonde – which I am not – and borrowing the moves of one of the greatest magicians of the medium – which I am not,  and performing an activity which requires the poise and skill of being utterly confident and comfortable posing nude and posting the resulting images, which I am so very much not. But what’s the point of a comfort zone unless you step out of it?

 Out of the Comfort Zone

That said, that last shot did not appear on Facebook and I am hoping won’t raise any red flags here. On principle I defend its artistic content but bold as I am when it comes to standing up (or lying down) for art, I wouldn’t be a photographer if I enjoyed being the center of attention. Another reason this project constantly breaks and remakes me. Quite possibly I will emerge from it as both a different sort of creature entirely, as artist and as woman, as subject and object, beautiful in my moments of triumph and surrender.

 Moments of Triumph and Surrender

Phoenix indeed. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me in my undertaking and continuing this project. Your kind comments, useful suggestions and the example of your own courage whether in creative projects or just being unapologetically who you are mean the world to me.


  1. Loving following this journey with you.
    And the incredible 'textures' to your images.
    Go well.

    1. Thanks EC! Good to have you along!

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  2. These are great shots. I love model photography with long hair like this, like waves in water.

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  4. I was so happy when I saw on my sidebar that you had posted again.
    The shots are beautiful. The light in the second to the last one gives it a dreamy quality.

  5. Glad you are following the project with such enthusiasm Kass - appreciate your feedback!