I’ve taught at the Maine Media Workshops for almost 30 years, and I always love sharing my thoughts and experiences after every summer workshop. Last week, I finished teaching this year’s workshop, “Illusions: Extending Vision” which was offered entirely online through Zoom and a forum based web platform through my own site. Although I’ve tutored many students individually in a similar fashion, this was the first time for me as an instructor hosting such a class, and I have to say, the experience was WONDERFUL!
The class sold out and was a major success, on every level. My students were excellent and so engaged with their work and the process. We were able to have more time to tackle our work together, and the forum platform allowed us to share work, thoughts, ideas and discussions throughout the course. Because of the online format, it was easy to conduct both group and individual critiques.
I couldn’t be happier with the growth and tremendous effort my students displayed, and I’m thrilled to share this video compilation of everyone’s final images. Congratulations to you all, and I’m looking forward to teaching another class in this format again soon!
Now, I understand the implication of writing a post called “Narcissus and Me.” But when I started the series of posts _____ and Me (see recent posts, “Francis Bacon and Me,”and “Edvard Munch and Me”) I did not think through the implications of some future writings. Besides which, having spent all but 17 years of my life pursuing my own passion, the title may actually be appropriate.
In these past “Me” posts I have written about influences from a few of my idols, but I want to delve into something a little different here. Connections, that are not directly related to some experience or influence, but are there without a doubt.
This image, made in 2009, is just one model and his reflection. The model and I are both underwater, and he is looking up. The figure on the right is aware, conscious and giving all his attention to the figure on the left – his reflection. His leaning posture and reaching hand are beseeching the reflection to open his eyes and connect with him. His reflection, however, appears feminine and looks to be losing control, as if giving in to ecstasy or joy. Though there is in fact only one model, this image shows two entirely different points of view: one as a profile, the other as a full face, resulting in the appearance of two people with distinct emotions.
It is no surprise that as I initially studied this image the figure of Narcissus came to mind.
The myth of Narcissus illustrates a powerful archetype that describes the human condition we call “narcissism”. The most common version of Narcissus comes from the first century BCE, from Book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which became a major influence on Western culture. In Ovid’s rendering, Narcissus is an exceedingly beautiful young man who attracts the attention of Echo, a young mountain nymph.
The egotistical Narcissus offhandedly rejects Echo, and in her sorrow and unrequited love wastes away until all that remains is a lonely echo. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, decides to punish Narcissus. She manages to lure him to a pool, whereupon he discovers his own reflection and falls in love with it at first glance. He, too, eventually wastes away, longing for a love that can never be returned – his elusive reflection.
My image above, Untitled 4–14–09–462, could also be seen in this more classic interpretation of the myth of Narcissus. Instead of giving into joy, the reflection, the figure on the left, could be seen as fading away, evaporating as Narcissus tries in vain to touch the object of his love.
This feeling of connection is profoundly gratifying. In this crazy time where we are shut in our homes and effectively isolated from those outside our families, I am appreciating the power and importance of CONNECTIONS. Hmmm…. I am thinking of a new topic for a blog post…..
The NY Times did an article on surgical face masks called…. “The Mask”
It got me thinking because, well, what else is there to do?
Masks are in high demand now, though we are told they do no good in preventing the spread of the virus. BUT we are also told to keep a safe distance of 6 feet between people – doesn’t that imply that it must travel through air? Also it attacks the lungs – so wouldn’t wearing a mask protect us, at least a little?
I’ve always been fascinated with the psychology of masks. I wrote an extensive blog post back in 2013 about the appearance of masks within my work and how their presence frequently comes up in my images.
As the threat of coronavirus continues to become increasingly threatening and very frightening, I am specifically reminded of the well-known “plague doctor” masks that not only have a place in history but have taken root in popular culture and the steampunk motif.
The carnival-ish, bird like mask was designed with a very specific function in mind. It provided a protective and thorough enclosure for the doctor’s face, blocking access to the respiratory system through the eyes, nose, and mouth. More importantly, and more interestingly, was the reason for the long, creepy beak. At the time of the plague, it was believed that the disease was carried by the foul odors and wretched miasma that accompanied it. The beak of the doctor’s masks acted as a sort of respirator and would be filled with perfumes or anything strongly aromatic – such as dried flowers or herbs and spices – that might help prevent the spread of infection through “bad air”.
While the function of the doctor’s outfits was well intentioned (though scientifically unsound), aesthetically they were terrifying. Can you imagine being horribly sick, maybe even hallucinating due to a high fever and your doctor shows up wearing this? Perhaps it would scare the plague right out of you.
I can’t help but feel the same when I look at the modern equivalent- gas masks, full facial masks and hazmat suits. We of course know now that these are far more effective than the perfumed bird masks of the bubonic era, but their appearance is similarly intimidating, frightening, and ominous. Let’s hope these are more effective than their predecessors.
Stay safe my friends. Keep 6 feet between you, and I personally think it would not hurt to wear a mask.
My last post was on my relationship with Edvard Munch, one of many connections I have with other artists that fascinates me. Recently, a well-respected curator upon seeing my work, said that I am “having a conversation with the history of art.” I have felt this for years and thought I would explore some of those connections through my blog.
Francis Bacon (1909-1992.) is another inspiration of mine whose work has penetrated my psyche and whose influence pops out in my own images periodically. The first time I saw any of Bacon’s paintings was at the Hirshhorn Museum in 1989, and the impact was immediate, powerful and permanent.
As discussed in a previous post on “Originality”, Bacon’s influence is the result of a long, intuitive exploration, wherein the experience of his images has heightened my self awareness and gives form to previously undefined feelings and thoughts. Along with the work of other artists I’ll be examining and highlighting on the blog, the resemblances illustrated here are unintentional, and the echoes of their work through my own are the articulation of a deeper, psychological encounter.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of these connections, and of course to hearing any thoughts or feedback from readers!
are many, many artists that I have been interested in, several artists that I
admire but only a couple that have penetrated my psyche and become as much a
part of me as my DNA. Munch is one of
I was reminded of the first time I encountered Munch’s artwork at the age of 17, at the library in art school. Holding this book of Munch’s work, I realized that I was not alone. The emotional force in his paintings connected with me intimately, directly, and intensely. At this vulnerable age, I was sure I was utterly alone in my despair but Munch revealed to me that was not true. His paintings were screaming my feelings, articulating my fears and connecting to my isolation. From Munch, I connected to heavy overwhelming depression, the energy of anxiety, fear of death, loneliness and confusion of spirituality. Munch knew his work could have these powerful effects. “Many believe that a picture is finished when they have understood what terms the world and I are on — ergo, a kind of egoism. Yet at the same time I have always thought and felt that my art might also help others understand their search for sanity.” (excerpt from Private Journals of Edvard Munch)
Untitled #3912, 1991
To be influenced is to engage so deeply with a piece, with a work of art, that it becomes part of you, infecting your point of view, challenging values, searching for understanding or sanity or just becoming a catalyst for opening yourself to greater experiences. It is an undeniable fact that Munch influenced my work and it is not merely an accident that my work often refers to his artwork. I have spent my entire life looking at books of art, traipsing through museums but when I find an artist that brings me to my knees in the way Munch’s work does, I embrace it. Love it. Consume it. It becomes a part of me. Tucked away in my subconscious, Munch’s work has continued to be a part of me, incorporated for decades into my psyche. Jeanette Winterson expressed this perfectly when she stated, “True art, when it happens to us, challenges the ‘I’ that we are.” (Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage, 1996)
Untitled #3725, 1991
There is no doubt that I have been changed by my relationship with Munch’s artwork and my debt to Munch is as undeniable as is my admiration.
Untitled #9-27-11-57, 2011
Recently I started looking more directly at Munch’s work in connection with my own and I was truly amazed that the correlations were, at times, direct. Sometimes it is the color palette, the graphic relations or gestures, and, perhaps the most important is the psychological connections.
After my last post “the Agony and Ecstasy of Chaos,” I started thinking more about DAYDREAMS.
Let’s just take a moment here – did you daydream in class, or actually, anywhere? I was always criticized for it – on report cards, and in class. “If only she would pay attention…” was the mantra that followed me from grade school through high school. As I described in my last post, I would spend much of my class time tilting […my head this way and that, trying to line up the cross bars of the window with trees, poles, or buildings outside, until the alignment of the two would make crosses, or parallel lines, or even new shapes.] Little did my teachers know that these seeming lapses was actually the start of my career as an artist!
Now, I believe that daydreaming is a wonderful and healthy thing to do. It also feels quite good! Letting the mind wander – making connections and putting things together. In our crazy and manic world, we don’t have much time for daydreaming between checking our phones, messages and emails, UNLESS we happen to be lucky enough to be an artist.
When I am looking though the lens, completely present to my seeing, it feels as delicious and wonderful as a daydream. The important piece here is that I am FOLLOWING (NOT guiding) my eyes. In daydreams we allow our minds to wander this way and that without CONTROLLING our thoughts. It is different than the crazy monkey brain that jumps all around distracting us, but rather a pleasant process that leads us . When I am photographing, and truly following my eyes, I am, as in daydreams, not controlling where I am going. At this point I am discovering – trying different relationships between forms, lines, shapes, tones, colors, etc. “WHAT HAPPENS IF….” These connections may SOUND absurd when I THINK about them, but these visuals may lead to metaphoric seeing.
This latest work, 2019, illustrates my love and even passion for putting lines and shapes together in “nonsensical” or playful ways. I love lines intersecting, crossing, and following other lines. Currently I am working with two models, one very tall, and the other quite a bit shorter which creates an interesting visual relationship. Above, in Untitled #04-19-19-880, a leg (red light) and an arm (natural light) are combining in a way that makes no reasonable sense but creates a visually fluid dance.
In 2016, exploring how using different shapes of broken (plastic) mirrors could reshape or reform the figure, I discovered they could also define or exaggerate gestures as in Untitled #06-06-16-598, above.
(Any hyperbole you find in this post may be credited to my growing passion for opera…)
Nothing pleases me more than when two distinct lines come
together in a surprising way. They could
touch, cross, form a point or run parallel. Actually, I am also quite pleased when shapes do the
same thing – combine to create an entirely new shape.
Putting graphic elements together is extremely satisfying for me. I don’t know why – but it is not new. As a kid, as I would stare out the window – daydreaming (perhaps that is why my report cards regularly said, “if only she would pay attention in class…”.) I would tilt my head this way and that, trying to line up the cross bars of the window with trees, poles, or buildings outside, until the alignment of the two would make crosses, or parallel lines, or even new shapes.
After indulging in this quirky pleasure for 60+ years, I have gotten quite good at it. Actually, I have made a career out of it. My work has always utilized this “gift” (?) starting with putting layers of reflections together. My LATEST work takes this even farther. Let me tell you how this goes in a typical shoot…
I have a large mirror held upright in my studio. I tape some shards to it creating a graphic mess. Then I put one model in front and another behind the mirror. This is the start. After fussing with lights for a bit I confront the chaotic mess – a jumble of lines, and fleshy shapes. At this point I often get irritated with myself – why do I put myself through this? The pressure is to find some interesting relationships within this mess. This self-abuse and “monkey mind” go on for the first minutes, sometimes longer other times shorter. It stops when I begin to see something – and my explorer self takes over. It is a very slow process organizing this visual chaos – luckily, I love doing it… once I stop the self-talk and just get into looking at the forms.
Why does this work?
Well, for one thing it gives me a different framework to begin exploring shapes. I’ve been photographing the human form for so many years, in order to continue the challenge of seeing it in a new way I put up different mirror shards, redefining the familiar shapes.
“True artists and true physicists know that nonsense is only that which, viewed from our present point of view, is unintelligible. Nonsense is only nonsense when we have not yet found that point of view from which it makes sense.”
When he says “the point of view” he is talking directly to us photographers. Point of view is CAMERA ANGLE! The importance of exploring (or playing) cannot be overstated – it is the foundation of seeing in new and unexpected ways. This is particularly evident when working with reflections in the mirror shards, as the transformation from even the slightest shift in camera angle can be drastic.
This blog post can be summed up neatly and poetically by Nietzsche:
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Since I started shooting in color in 2007, after many years as a devote black and white photographer, I have been learning about color and its affect on the “read” of the image. Once I found RED, however, it changed my life. [If you feel I am prone to exaggeration I credit it to my growing passion for opera.] RED conjures passion, depression, elation, energy, viscera, and the most powerful of all emotions – love. Remarkably, it can be both attractive and repulsive – sometimes at the same time.
Recently I invited two very dear and close friends to see my new work in my studio. I have shared my work with them periodically for many years, so they are quite familiar with my images. These are a few of what we looked at:
In just a couple of minutes one said that she saw them as pornographic and the other quickly agreed. After I regained my composure, this led to a fascinating conversation. To me these images are not overtly or even covertly sexual [well, maybe a TAD seductive] but this was a reaction I felt I needed to pay attention to. As I have said many times I do not work with an idea or an image in mind but prefer to rely on my intuition. When I am shooting I am exploring the subject in front of me by studying the forms – lines, shapes and tones. I don’t intend for the images to have a specific meaning but rather I see them as open to interpretation by the individual viewer.
I determined that three common ingredients had to be present in the images for them to be considered pornographic to my friends; 1. a face 2. a breast 3. the color RED. 1. The face identifies the figure as an individual as opposed to an anonymous model, opening the doors for a sense of vulnerability. 2. Since a breast is something that is usually hidden, seeing one adds to the idea of a person exposed. 3. But the RED is the essential ingredient in these particular images to evoke those strong feelings.
The different uses of RED-
A little about RED – RED, a primary color (along with green and blue,) symbolized nobility and wealth during the Renaissance; became the color of revolution in Russia, China and Vietnam; and is often used in flags to illustrate power. Because it is the color of blood it is also associated with bravery, sacrifice, and danger. It conjures feelings of passion, anger, love, joy and sexuality [my friends’ reactions.]
Without a face, as in 01-07-19-679, the sense of vulnerability is lost, but the RED empowers the form with a life force.
As I see it, a sense of depression is elicited in Untitled #4-24-12-012, as the RED hand reaches up from hell to pull the psyche down. (Obviously you may have different reaction, but if you see this as pornographic I might suggest medication and/or therapy).
Untitled #09-04-13-287 is Oedipus, the tragic Greek figure, who pokes out his eyes after killing his father and marrying his mother [the “Cliff Notes” version of the tale, if you want more detail click here for the Wikipedia version. /en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus]
I would love to hear your thoughts and continue this discussion. Do you see the above images as pornographic? Yes? No? Controversy has been my life-long companion (not by choice) and I am no stranger to censorship, criticism and all the other stuff that goes along with being an artist, so please be honest…
Last year was another productive journey in the course of my work as I continued to integrate more abstract forms within the mirrors. Perhaps my biggest area of growth in 2018 was my use of lighting in the studio, in primarily two ways:
I significantly upgraded the lighting system in my studio. The impetus for this change had to do with safety – during a shoot my studio is dark – really, really dark – lit only from the modeling lights on the strobes [which provide not much more light than what you would have in a darkroom.] I do this so extraneous elements don’t show up in the various reflected materials. As a result of working in essentially a cave, I would often trip over the legs of the light stands. Since this is a working, creative space I could splat on a multitude of things on the floor such as broken plastic mirrors, scissors, lenses, black crates, models, etc. So I invested in a rail system where the lights are hanging from the ceiling. The result is much, much safer, instead of tripping over the lights I now bang my head into them – a significant improvement! The unintended benefit is that it is so incredibly easy to move the lights up and down, and side to side that I have been much more playful – always a good thing.
The second reason for my growth in my use of light is that I started working with a new model, J., who is from Jamaica and has beautiful dark, dark skin. My other new model, R, is a lovely and expressive young woman of Filipino descent.
J.’s skin appears metallic – almost granite like in texture- with brilliant highlights dropping off to shadow very quickly, while R.’s lighter skin has a broader tonal range from highlights to shadows.
I have not had a regular female model for several years, so combining her with J. in a purely formal way has been a new direction this year.
OPERA Another area of growth for me in 2018 was my continuing love of opera and frequenting more productions. Opera is full of extreme emotions – jealousy, unrequited love, a love triangle and/or death, murder, sickness. There is nothing subtle in an opera plot. [BTW opera fans are just as enthusiastic as football fans, and almost as vocal!] It seems that my devotion to opera manifests itself as RED in my work.
RED – seductive, visceral, angry and passionate, crept back into my work toward the end of 2018. RED can be both joy and agony, and passionate and visceral. More about RED in a later blog.
Plethora Magazine, based out of Copenhagen, Denmark, is a biannual publication that produces what one would consider more to be curated selections of fine art reproductions than a conventional magazine. The final format is a substantial 70x50cm (about 27.5 x 20″) portfolio of stunning prints, every issue being a beautiful work of art in and of itself. The production of each is just as remarkable, bordering on theatrical:
“Skillfully printed by the monks of a Hindu temple, Plethora Magazine pays homage to the unique qualities of artisanal printing tradition and offers a purist vision for the future expression of the printed magazine – along with a quiet ode to all things left behind by fast track digitization. No noise, no ads and no logos, just 52 pages of poster-size visual indulgence and tales from the life less ordinary presented in a careful blend of quirky archive material, wondrous art prints and contemporary artist features.” (– from the website)
I am truly honored to be featured in Plethora’s impressive Issue #7, curated around the theme of “Automation”. Completely relevant to so many of my latest mirror work images, the collection in this issue deals with fragmentation of the human body image, notions of a mechanized humanity, and investigates the once-sci-fi-but-now-very-real potential of artificial consciousness.