Dec 042013
 
Photographed on a trip to Bhutan in 1978 

The mask has been used throughout history not only as a way to disguise oneself but a means to project a different persona.  Early cultures and civilizations used masks in sacred ceremonies as a means of channeling spirits and/or gods.  Ancient Greeks introduced masks into theatrical productions to hide the individual and personify their character.  Masks continued to be used in miracle, morality, and mystery plays throughout the Middle Ages, as well as in sacred dramas in Tibet.  Today, party goers at cultural events like Mardi Gras and Carnival become unencumbered by their typical inhibitions behind the guise of their masks, and protesters have made use of the Guy Fawkes mask from the movie “V for Vendetta” as a symbol of opposition and anti-establishment.

Psychologically, we hide behind masks every day; in the way we present ourselves to the world, act in certain situations, and conduct ourselves within a given environment.  We may use masks to hide our deepest, darkest fears, or we may use them to reveal our truer, inner selves.  Oscar Wilde said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, give him a mask and he will tell the truth”. 
I’ve always been fascinated by the powerful symbols that masks can be, and the phenomenon of transforming oneself with a mask.  The theme of the mask has been consistent throughout my work from very early on.  From a very early age, I had struggled with identity issues.  I was confronted with the realization that I loved other girls at age 11, at a time when the masses considered homosexuality a perversion, and was wrecked with feelings of being an outsider.  I feared I was a pervert, a freak, and an outcast.  Fearing I was destined to be lonely and unfulfilled for the rest of my life, I vowed to hide my true self and my secret at all costs.  

Then in 1972, as a young student at MICA, I had created this self-portrait:
I had been experimenting in the darkroom by cutting, scratching, and burning negatives.  For this image, I cut the negative in half, put it in the enlarger, and projected it onto photographic paper.  The little Connie inside the split was a cut-out face of me from a different negative that I put directly on the photographic paper during the exposure.  By cutting the negative, I inadvertently cut the symbol of my facade or public mask in half to reveal the little Connie that had been stored away.

It wasn’t my intention to make an image that made a revealing statement about myself or my secrets, I was simply playing and experimenting.  It took me years to even grasp the full significance of what this image meant.  Although it was technically crude, this was the first time that I used the symbol of a mask.  Throughout the course of my work, the archetypal symbolism of masks have re-emerged again and again, sometimes in the water:



But more often, and more reminiscent of the early cut negative self-portrait, in the mirrors:


  
I’ve been thinking about this recently because one of the latest images shot in the mirrors has a very strong feeling of a figure removing a mask:


I love the gesture in this image- the way she seems to be holding the mask as if just revealing her confident and clear self beneath.  The mask is almost ephemeral, even though she clearly has a grasp on it, and I love how it has the feeling of a full face masquerade type mask.  There’s a sort of twisted elegance about her figure, and the way she has exposed her true self feels very natural, despite the overall bizarre quality of the image.

Whenever the appearance of masks have come up in my work,  it is always in the form of layers, both visually and symbolically.  I’ve often interpreted them as conveying psychological layers, representing conscious and unconscious elements, revealing deeper levels of understanding and awareness.  Carl Jung said that “the persona [mask] is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is”.  In many of these images, I see layers of the psyche being either exposed or hidden, the persona being projected or revealed through the presence or removal of the mask.  Continuing to work intuitively, it is always exciting to see common threads like this resurface in my work throughout the years… 


 December 4, 2013  Posted by at 5:44 pm Thoughts and Ramblings Tagged with:  No Responses »
Sep 112013
 

2013 has proven to be a very busy year. With so many workshops and a lot of traveling, I haven’t had many opportunities to get into a regular shooting schedule.  There’s pro’s and con’s to this, but one advantage is feeling the freedom to get in the studio and just play.  Without any concrete directions or thoughts on where to begin, it really opens up the possibility to make new discoveries and wild breakthroughs.

This image is from a recent shoot where we were really starting from scratch, and where I really felt like I could take a lot of risks and see what developed.  The whole shoot was just fantastic, but I have to say I LOVE this image!

I feel like this image is really emotionally charged.  The figure here is really suffering, he’s clearly in agony and we’re witnessing it.  It’s a very active quality of pain, and very striking.  There’s a heroic quality to his pain, maybe something like martyrdom?

The red portions of the figure read to me as very raw, like recent wounds, while the dark area in his chest feels like an old wound of some sort.  The lighting and the colors in the shoulder and arm gie the impression of exposed tendons.  The fist coming through the chest could be something punching out, something reaching out from within or bursting through, but I also don’t always see it a fist.  Perhaps it is an exposed organ, maybe the heart?

There is something about the overall quality of agony here that makes the lines around the wrist and upper arm appear to be chains of some sort.  It’s almost as if he is bound in a dark chamber somewhere.  Or maybe this is an internal struggle- a psychic battle in some dark corner of the mind- and representative of something Karen Armstrong referred to as the labyrinth of the mind….

All that said, I find the face here just INCREDIBLE.  There is subtle but clear smears of red over his eyes, and to me it gives an immediate feeling of blindness.  Perhaps he is nearly blind, or blinded by blood.  Seeing his blindness adds to the overall tragedy of the suffering he is experiencing, bound and body falling apart…

So much of the color work I’ve done shooting with the mirrors has had classical religious qualities to them, specifically reminding me of Christian iconography.  This image, however, goes back to a more mythological feeling for me.  Prometheus, who is credited with giving man the gift of fire, was punished for doing so by being bound to a rock where every day an eagle would tear out and feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again, day after day.  The bound quality of the figure in this image, the body falling apart, the raw flesh, the clear agony and obvious suffering, even the fist reading as an exposed organ, all remind me of the torture of Prometheus.

This is a well known sculpture of Prometheus by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, housed at the Louvre in France:

As the fall season begins and I work on getting back to a regular shooting schedule, I’m looking forward to posting more images here and on the website, and making more unexpected and exciting connections like this one!

 

 September 11, 2013  Posted by at 8:07 pm Thoughts and Ramblings Tagged with:  No Responses »
Nov 132012
 
Just added a handful of new images to the portfolio section of the website!

Working with deeper red gels on one of the models and a new mirror, the most recent work has taken on a disturbing, almost more violent feel.  It’s been fascinating to me to see the progression of this work to this point.  It hasn’t been my intention to make unsettling images by any means.  The materials, lighting, and visual approach just came together to bring out all of these details that amount to this disquieting feeling.
Continuing with this work, I’ve been reminded of some of the earlier work I’ve done with the mirrors- the darker images in particular:
 
Thinking about this has made me go back and find connections in the current body of work with images I produced as far back as 20 years ago….
-CLICK THE JUMP BELOW FOR MORE- 

I love seeing some of these side by side!  The color work brings out relationships in the black & white work, and vice versa.  Each era of work seems to enhance meanings and subtleties in the other, and brings new understanding and interpretations.

 Mother and Child, 1986

Untitled #04-14-09-462, 2009

 November 13, 2012  Posted by at 6:28 pm Thoughts and Ramblings No Responses »
Mar 272012
 

Last week, I gave a lecture and presentation on my work as a guest at The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles. The slide talk went very well, and the audience was wonderful.

Every time I give a slide presentation of my portfolio, I try to update it to include my latest work. Not only does it keep the talk fresh and up to date, but it gives me the opportunity to reinterpret some of the older images and sometimes see things in a new context.  Looking at some of the older images with a broader and more developed understanding of the work can provide new insights on what I’ve done in the past. In preparing for my talk at The Annenberg, I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time…

When I made the image I call “Dead Silences”, I was in my second year of grad school. In a critique with 8 fellow students and the professor, one student mentioned that it reminded them of a “Janus” face. Rather than admit that I had never heard of “Janus” before, I nodded in agreement with most of the other students who seemed to understand what this statement meant. I did however research it afterwards, and was surprised at just how accurate this observation was:

According to Wikipedia– “In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.”

The resemblance of Janus in this image still fascinates me to this day, and was only the first of several instances in which one of my images resonated with an unintentional reference.

I had been thinking about this a lot since seeing the connection between one of my recent images and Masaccio’s “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”.  For the slide talk at The Annenberg, I thought it might be fun to illustrate some of the other inadvertent analogies that have appeared in some of my work…

– Click the jump below to read more –

This seemed like a good place to start.  I’ve always been inspired by Francis Bacon‘s work, so unlike Dead Silences and Janus I was aware of the connection here.  What excites me about this however is that I had not set out to make this image look so much like a Bacon piece.  As I mentioned in the blog post referenced above, when I go into a shoot, I don’t have an image in mind, or even an idea of what I want to convey.  Although I saw the connection immediately, I had not intended to create it.

The Bacon reference above was obvious to me without illustrating it with a side by side comparison, but I found seeing it and being able to show it to others was a lot more interesting than simply talking about it.  It made me look at some other images in my portfolio and think about other potential connections.

I’ve always felt that the figure in this image had a majestic air to her.  She seems to have a regal or royal quality, beautiful and yet vulnerable or delicate.  I’ve also felt like there was something egyptian about her, maybe due to her stance or that weird thing on her head that looks like a bizarre headdress.  I started doing Google image searches for “egyptian headdress” and was amazed at what came up:

and better yet:

I LOVED seeing the relationship between these images!  I was thrilled at how much the “headdress” shape on the figure in my photograph resembled the ancient crowns of egyptian royalty!  In my excitement, I showed the connection to a friend, who thought of another extraordinary resemblance:

Apparently there is a body alteration practice common in ancient Mayan and Incan cultures called  “head binding”, in which the human skull is artificially and intentionally deformed.  This method of cranial deformation was done by binding wood and/or cloth to an infants head to distort its normal growth, and was most likely done to signify social status.  I thought this was such a bizarre relationship, and such a cool connection to something I’d never heard of!

Another recent image with an unintentional reference was this one taken just last year:

This was an early favorite color image of mine, and as with a lot of the recent color work photographing in the mirrors, I felt that it had an undeniably classical religious quality to it.  It specifically made me think of early Christian imagery.  The hands looking cut off gives the figure the feel of a martyr, and something about the gesture and the cross made by the scratches near the head reminded me of Joan of Arc.  It inspired me to do another Google image search for early images of Joan, and I was again thrilled by the results:

Seeing these made me reinterpret the “cross” by her head as more like the hilt of a sword.  This was a very cool discovery- not only do the scratches in the mirror resemble her sword, but it appears in the same vicinity as some of these other images I found- right near her head as she gazes towards the heavens.  Once again, I hadn’t set out to create an image that bore a likeness to Joan of Arc, it was only seeing it afterwards that I had the impression or feeling that it did.  Finding these other depictions helped illustrate just how much it resembled her likeness.

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and a close colleague of Sigmund Freud’s. Feeling that Freud’s model of the unconscious was incomplete, Jung developed several theories that offer a deeper analysis of the human psyche.  One of his most notable theories includes the idea of a third layer to the mind- the collective unconscious.  While our unconscious contains our personal trauma, the collective unconscious is where we store patterns, symbols, and information that describe our basic humanity.  He relates the notion of the collective unconscious to instincts, an aspect of our psyche that is complete at birth and hereditary in nature, and informs our behavior although we’re not consciously aware of it.

Jung believed that the primary content of the collective unconscious could be referred to as archetypes.  Similar to the idea of motifs in mythology, these archetypes are the themes, forms, or expressions that are universal to mankind, establishing a fundamental connection to people of all cultures and a link between past, present, and future.  When an artist expresses an archetype through a piece it is given form, form that is relevant and significant to the time.  According to Jung, artistic expressions that affect us deeply and that endure resonate from the collective unconscious.

When I began researching Jung and his theories on the collective unconscious, it explained the unintentional resemblance to the sometimes mythological iconography in my work.  These inadvertent connections to other symbols and forms in history and art make sense when I think of them this way.  In addition to giving context and understanding as to why these accidental connections have emerged in my work throughout the years, my studies of Jung and his theories have provided valuable motivation to continue making work.

Apr 122011
 

As I’ve said, working in the water with color revealed new dimensions, depths, and interpretations to my work. Differences in color temperature of light above and below the surface of water revealed distinct variations that were totally unexpected, allowing me to see the same subject matter I’ve been working with for over 25 years in a totally new way. The color also gave form and context to certain aspects of the body and it’s reflections, things that were more abstracted by black and white.

After photographing with color under water for 2 years, I decided it was time to explore how color would impact the mirror work.

This is a fairly recent image since starting work with the mirrors again a few months ago.  I think the color has a similar effect on the mirror work as it did in the water- it defines a lot of the forms that were previously annihilated by black and white. The color brings with it an element of reality, and along with the notion that photography is automatically taken as truth, creates a tension with the bizarreness of the rest of the image.

The image above is one of my favorites that I’ve seen in the mirrors so far.  A lot of the latest mirror work has had an undeniably classical religious quality to it, which is a surprise to me, because I’m not religious.  When I go into a shoot, I don’t have an image in mind, or even an idea of what I want to convey.  After seeing this image, I couldn’t help but think that not only did it feel classically Christian, but that it reminded me of something in particular.  And then it struck me:

This is from  “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”, by Early Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio.  I was so surprised to see the similarity not only in the gesture, but in the overall expression.  There’s something about the articulation of the image that feels very similar as well, something about the graphic quality…

A good friend of mine came by the studio and had a similar reaction to the image, but a different painting in mind:

“The Birth of Venus”, by Sandro Botticelli.  I though it was so interesting he had such a different association with the expression.  The gesture is the same, but the overall feeling is so different than the one in “The Expulsion”.  It’s also a bit more of a contrast stylistically, but definitely similar.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other works of art, particularly with the same kind of notoriety as the two given here, that share similarities.  What I find so interesting is that I hadn’t planned this prior to making this image, rather, it was discovered after the fact.  I also love that my friend could have such a different, but equally relevant, interpretation and/or association with an image that is just as much a surprise for me as for anyone else.  I feel like that is one of the advantages of working intuitively, that it can lead to these wonderful discoveries, and bring up more interesting questions.

Apr 062011
 

But I’m working on being better about it.  In the past year and a half- or since my last post- I’ve been extremely busy with a number of exciting new things:

– Continuing with the color work I started in 2008, the images have since taken off on a life of their own.  They have introduced new challenges and exciting discoveries, transforming the forms I have been working with for over 25 years in ways that I have never seen before.  Working in the water with color revealed new dimensions, depths, and interpretations, and working in the mirrors has been equally transformative…

– I was part of a major international photography expo in Beijing, China, organized by renowned critic A.D. Coleman.  In addition to having a fabulous time, spending it with my wife Patricia and some of the most accomplished photographers working today, I also photographed much of the experiences and things I saw there…

– My workshops have been going strong and they have been an absolute joy to be teaching.  It has been wonderful to work with so many gifted students, and I’m thrilled with the work they’ve been producing.  This year I’m looking forward to more great workshops in Provincetown and Maine, and a new one in Oklahoma coming up this June…

In short, it has been an incredibly productive 17 months.  I know I’ve been a lousy blogger, and I’m simply racked with guilt about not sharing all of this here.  But in upcoming blog posts, I’m looking forward to posting some of the latest color work and how it has progressed since my last post.  I’m also eager to share images from some of my recent travels, as well as lessons and student work from my workshops.

Stay tuned, the best is yet to come!

 April 6, 2011  Posted by at 6:34 pm Thoughts and Ramblings No Responses »