In my last post, I discussed the impact of seeing the the Metropolitan Opera‘s production of Luluand how it has influenced my own work.

On the left is “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” by Diego Velázquez, 1650, & on the right is Francis Bacon’s “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X,” 1953

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 or just becoming a catalyst for opening yourself to greater experiences. Francis Bacon, the 20th-century British painter, one of my most personally treasured artists, was heavily influenced and inspired by the 17th-century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez and had a reproduction of his “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” hanging in his studio when he made his “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X”. Not only was he influenced by the elements in the composition, such as the throne, the robes, and the posture of the Pope but also by the Pope’s facial expression and gestures. The darkness implied in Velázquez’s Pope has been transformed into articulated agony in Bacon’s version. There is no subtle anguish but, instead, loud and clearly expressed emotional torture. Through his engagement and encounter with Velázquez’s painting, Bacon created a portrait of Pope Innocent X that is undeniably his own. His powerful ability to communicate emotion through his application of paint, his choice of colors, and his way of making marks on the canvas leaves no doubt that this painting was made by Francis Bacon. While clearly influenced by Velázquez, the result is, without question, original.

I find that many young artists are concerned with being “original,” as if this is the defining test for being a “real” artist, without really understanding what “original” actually means. Original works are not innovations or subjects that have not been used before. It is not that simple. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe addressed the complexity of originality when he said, “The most original authors of today are original not because they create something new but because they are capable of saying such things as if they had never been said before.”

Francis Bacon, “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion,” c. 1944
Francis Bacon, “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion,” c. 1944

The first time I saw any quantity of Bacon’s work was in 1989 at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. I was immediately struck by the passion of his expressions. Even the paint itself was screaming with intensity. The raw, honest texture of these emotions startled me, confronted me, and ultimately pushed me. He put into his paintings feelings I thought I was surely the only one to experience. Through his work, I found connection to the deepest parts of myself, beyond the scope of mere words. By the time I had finished viewing the exhibition, Bacon’s work had become a part of me, incorporated 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 EffronteryVintage, 1996) Bacon inspired and dared me to push myself in my own work, as far as I could go, and then to keep going.

Untitled #5978, 1994
Untitled #5978, 1994

I didn’t see the depth of this influence until five years later when I made “Untitled #5978,” an image clearly informed by Bacon’s work. The resemblance to a number of his paintings depicting a scream was unintentional, the result of a long, intuitive exploration, yet it was such an exciting moment for me when I saw this effect. In “Untitled #5078,” the reflection of the lower jaw is prominent on the surface of the water and makes the mouth look like it is double-hinged. The head above the water does not show because it is night and there is no light on it. The scream is coming from so deep in the figure’s gut that her jaw appears to be blown wide apart. The body is twisted in just the perfect way to maximize the force of the scream. The scream is not in anger at something but rather the expression of psychic agony, a release. Bacon’s scream in “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (c. 1944) articulates similar primal raw intensity. In both Bacon’s painting and my photograph, the scream represents pure expression and emotion; there does not appear to be any cognitive activity within. These forms are a mass of muscle, gut, neck, and, of course, an ear and a mouth with a full set of teeth. Without a frontal cortex, both figures lack the ability to think, allowing their reactions to be unrestrained by the power of reason.

Did Bacon’s paintings inform my work? Did his images give form to (or animate) my own feelings? Yes, there is no doubt. After I had experienced his images, my awareness of my self was heightened, and I was enlightened to powerful yet previously undefined feelings and thoughts. Bacon’s paintings dared me to be honest with myself in a raw and real way. This is one of the greatest functions of art – to express complex emotion that cannot be conveyed in a linear or verbal way. Bacon’s work affected me deeply, and it would eventually have a profound impact on my work as well. I discovered “Untitled #5978” through my own exploration, and I was able to see it because of the way Bacon’s work had become a part of my psyche. It was not an attempt to copy but rather was an encounter – the result of an intuitive process – as all of my images are. My debt to Bacon is undeniable as is my admiration. The compelling passion of his paintings pushed me in my own process to be daring and to reach as deep within myself as possible, as he did.

So, if being “original” is not to be the first to do something, yet if being heavily influenced by other artworks does not preclude originality, then what does it mean to be original?

The word “original” is defined as “Of or pertaining to the origin, beginning, or earliest stage of something; source of something; from which something arises The wonderful paradox of originality is that it is at once something unique and individual (“the earliest stage”) while at the same time it is connected with the source. How can something derive from a “source” and simultaneously be unique? The fascinating paradox of originality makes sense in the context of Carl Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious. If we think of the “source” as the collective unconscious, then the word “original” refers to an encounter with the deepest parts of our humanity – the pool of collective symbols, archetypes, knowledge, and wisdom that is accessible to all humanity. The most profound connections we can make with ourselves and with others is through this “source” in which we encounter the very core of our own humanity and which is shared with every other human being.


It takes quite a bit to bring me to my knees these days, but the Metropolitan Opera‘s production of Lulu did just that.

Patricia, my wife, read a review in the NY Times raving about this season’s Met Opera production of “Lulu” by Berg. She immediately got us tickets for the Met broadcast at a local cinema. Reading the synopsis I couldn’t get past the small type at the top of the page that announced that the opera went on for FOUR hours! As soon as the curtain was lifted, however, I was mesmerized to see a stage filled with heavy ink drawings and projections immediately recalling the intense and demanding style of German Expressionism, an anti-realism style characterized by extreme distortions “to show an inner emotional reality rather than what is on the surface”. Large cut out hands and cylinders with crudely drawn features like oversized paper bag masks appeared incongruous and out of place. Yet these seemingly silly props were thin veneers covering the angst and foreboding that filled the set. Paper cut outs of Lulu’s intimate parts taped onto her clothes made her seem even more raw and naked than if she was actually without clothes. The fracturing nature of cubism and the sophisticated decorative approach of art deco were overladen with the weight and complexity of German Expressionism.

Lulu at the Met

There was so much happening on the stage- intense projections, bizarre music, and of course the actions of the actors and singers. As if that was not enough, a mannequin-like figure on the side of the stage seemingly played the piano. Conjuring the seedy, dark and edgy cabarets in 1930’s Germany, this character interpreted and mimed the actions on the stage, often amplifying the intensely psychological qualities.


The visuals got me. Immediately and fully. The music, the strange “twelve tone technique,” which I know nothing about except that musicians cringe when it is mentioned, was indeed strange but interfaced perfectly with the eerie stage set. To cap off the entire experience, Marlis Petersen has perfected her role to the point where she seems to inhabit Lulu’s complex and grim psyche. Through her voice we could viscerally experience her fights, loves, deceptions, and despairs.

I enjoyed opera before this experience, but now I am hooked. At least for really excellent opera, such as those produced by the Met. Lulu stayed with me on a conscious level, but she also penetrated my psyche. I know this because my work immediately changed.

I had another binge shoot in January, six weeks after seeing Lulu, with Carl. We started off playing with different ideas and new directions. The resulting work recalls the strange reinterpretation of gestures, emotions and figures reminiscent of German Expressionism.

Untitled #01-07-16-121, 2016


Redefining the body using the shape of mirror shards is not new for me; I have been doing it for years…

Untitled #9607
Untitled #9607, 2002
Untitled #9348
Untitled #9348, 2001













but this time feels different, and not only due to the inclusion of color. Perhaps it is coming from the impact of the breaking and shattering I experienced occurring on the set, in the music, and throughout the story of Lulu.

Untitled #01-05-16-366, 2016
Untitled #01-05-16-366, 2016

In any case, I find myself once again inadvertently bearing the influence of one of my art heroes – Kathe Kollowitz.

Untitled #01-05-16-292, 2016
Self Portrait by Kathe Kollowitz, woodcut on Japan paper, 1924












I have always been a fan of Kathe Kollowitz, a German artist working in the first part of the 20th century. Her work speaks of the tragedy of war and of the human condition. She would often divide the planes of the face into extreme geometric forms, transforming the external expression into a reflection of innermost concerns.


I’m still exploring this new work, and have been really drawn to it’s emotional and geometric qualities. The shapes of the mirror shards flatten the body, but within their reflections there is dimension and form, which is defined even further by the color. The texture of the particular mirrors I’ve been using also lends itself to the German Expressionist style, with scrapes and scratches that echo the dark, dense, and inky quality of the movement’s mark making.  Woking with one model instead of two seems to emphasis the deconstruction of the form, while the reconstruction is incomplete, marred, or extremely distorted.

I was so immersed and so captivated by the production of Lulu, so affected by the power of its expression, that it influenced my own work. 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 or just becoming a catalyst for opening yourself to greater experiences. Lulu did just that, and has since elevated my exploration working with the same materials and subject for over 30 years.


Untitled #1-22-15-288 is another recent image from my last “binge shooting” session with Carl and Cory. The figure is deformed, with its legs appearing as stumps and an odd sensation that his body is caving in on itself. He is in transition, caught in a spontaneous moment of struggle as his body morphs into something else, perhaps a corpse?

Many of the images from this shoot are quite dark, but this is nothing new. Darkness has always shown up in my images, especially in working with the mirrors.

In 1991 I had the good fortunate to meet Stanley, a young schizophrenic man, and I asked him if he wanted to model for me. When I showed him my work and talked about what I wanted to do, he enthusiastically agreed to be part of the project.   We had a weekly appointment to photograph.  I would show Stanley the images we had made the week before, and we would talk about them: what they meant to me and what they meant to him.  We talked openly about the psychological quality of the work, and about his condition.  I realized that his personal experiences could push my work to a new level. The conversations we had offered me insight and understanding into both Stanley and the photographs.  Stanley and I worked together for about a year, and the images we made grew deeper and darker as the trust and understanding between us grew.

3757Photographing Stanley alone, without another model, enabled me to concentrate on just him.  I worked with integrating his position and gestures with the marks on the mirrors, as in Untitled #3757.  I had always admired the way that painters could be expressive with the way they applied the paint and realized that the marks on the mirror could also be quite expressive, especially when combined in a visually striking way with the gesture of the model.

I cannot explain how these images came to be so psychologically challenging.  Initially it was not easy to photograph Stanley: I did not want to pose or direct him too much, and he wasn’t sure what to do or how to move.  As a way to diffuse the awkward tension that was building between us, I suggested we put on some music.  Stanley loved the idea, and picked out what he wanted to listen to from my collection.  He immediately began moving with the music, and I encouraged him to relate to the marks on the mirror as he did.  He was creative and an artist, so his gestures were interesting to me.  Often I would ask him to stop, move this way or that, purely responding to the visual elements, trying to further integrate his body with the lines and marks on the mirror.  Stanley did not filter himself, he had a direct and genuine quality.   Because of his disease, he wore no public mask, so he often exposed what most people hide, leaving him raw and vulnerable. In a fascinating sort of dance, I was reacting on a visually intuitive level to his equally intuitive movements.

The symbiotic dynamic between Stanley and me led to some dark and challenging images, further enforcing the power of an intuitive creative process.  I felt these images came from someplace outside of myself.  I have known darkness intimately throughout my life, and the emotions I felt from these images were not alien to me.  At that particular time, however, they did not feel like they were mine.  I was not having any crises when these images were made; on the contrary, I was happily in a relationship and pleased with how my career was going.  There was no angst in my life at the time.  Neither were the images a recording of Stanley’s psychosis;  he was not having a breakdown when we were working together.  We never tried to illustrate the expression of any particular emotion or psychological condition, and the images consistently surprised me.

The painter Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1912) expressed the experience this way: “The position of the artist is humble.  He is essentially a channel”  – accessing an expression from a deeper place, or what Jung would call the collective unconscious.  This is exactly what was happening when Stanley and I shot together.  The darkness and intensity of the images we produced was unintentional, but expressed real and recognizable pain.  Once again, letting go of trying to consciously control the meaning of the image, rather letting my eyes lead and using the camera as a tool to explore, opened me to the power of intuition.


The session this image (#3725) was made was like any other shoot with Stanley—spontaneously creating the experience and the images together.  He danced with the music we had playing while I worked on incorporating his movements in a visually cohesive way with the marks on the mirror.  Yet this image takes us over the edge of sanity, into a type of psychosis, a disorienting place full of unimaginable terrors where the protective masks and the egos are demolished. The word psychosis is literally a disorder of the soul. This image illustrates an agonizing condition, a spiritual crisis of prolonged darkness and profound loneliness Christians refer to as the “Dark Night of the Soul”.  The figure could be the embodiment of evil, a contortion of the soul so twisted the essence becomes perverted into malevolence.  It is shocking and disturbing because we all recognize this state, whether we want to look at it or not.  Perhaps this makes it uncomfortable because it forces us to confront the potential evil in all of us.  Untitled #3725 does not refer directly to the darkest moments of my life, or of Stanley’s, but of darkness itself, the darkness we all know.

This is the power, and also the danger, of the intuitive process.  It does, if followed, eventually lead directly to some deep, core stuff, and that core stuff can be quite dark. I have often been tempted to turn my back and quit; the process has been hideously difficult at times, uncomfortably revealing at others.  It has also been the most profoundly satisfying endeavor that has opened up the world to me and brought my life meaning and great joy.

Since being involved in the art world for over the past 30 years, many things have changed.  Trends come and go, notions of what is considered “good” art vary, and what is popular in contemporary art fluctuates.  While these things are constantly being redefined, I’ve continued to question and contemplate the function of art in our world.  Here are some of my thoughts:

OedipusAntigoneArt can take us to the unknown – to a place we don’t have any experience of – and give us that experience.

We can have an experience of tragedy without personal tragedy.  The Greeks called this catharsis, which comes from the greek word for cleansing or purging.   Greek tragedies were opportunities to vicariously experience deep feelings.   For example, Sophocles’ Oedipus let’s us experience murder, incest, suicide and self-mutilation. We feel the horror, but ultimately we don’t have to suffer the consequences.  We can experience genuine and deep feelings without actually living the event or circumstances that elicit these emotions. All Great Art is an invitation to experience – fear, joy, anxiety, confrontation, vulnerability, ecstasy and rapture.  It is not a description or documentation of an event or feeling – it IS the event or feeling.

Art is a way of expanding and deepening awareness.

It is not a way to confirm what we already know, but to push beyond that.  We want to try to understand what is beyond our reach.  Art gives us the opportunity to access unconscious material by enlightening the rich areas of our mind that otherwise would not be available to us.  Through a work of art, we can peek into our unconscious and make what we discover there part of our awareness, enriching our lives and our understanding of our world.

Karen Armstrong, author of “The Case for God”

Art is a way of communicating that which is beyond the limitations of language.  

Karen Armstrong states that “Music goes beyond the reach of words: it is not about anything” (The Case for God, Anchor; Reprint edition).  She goes on to say that through music we can have experiences that do not translate to verbal communication.  The same can be said of all forms of art- we listen to music for the feelings evoked, we read books and watch movies for the connections we make.  Through art, we can transcend the inadequacies of language and communicate on a deeper, more meaningful level.

In all of these years considering the value and function of art, the common thread seems to be clear: it’s all about connection.  Art connects us to each other, to ourselves, and to our humanity.  It connects us to our past, present, and future.  We are unique in our capacity for self awareness, our capability to grapple with the meaning of life and our mortality.  Art provides us with a means to explore our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.  It enables us to share our discoveries with each other in profound and [deeply personal] ways.  Through art, we are offered insights into who we are and why we’re here, and it enables us to fully experience our extraordinary and complex existence.

I have recently been thinking about what a rich and powerful word “muse” is  

The Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, were Greek goddesses of inspiration in the realms of literature, science, and the arts.  Originally there were only three Muses, embodying song, practice, and memory, but the number eventually expanded to nine to further personify literary and artistic wisdom.  Poets in Ancient Greece would invoke a Muse or Muses for assistance and insight, essentially seeking to become channels for them to sing through.  One of the most well known examples of this is when Homer calls upon the Muse to ask for help in telling the story of the hero in The Odyssey, saying: 

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.” 

(Robert Fagles translation, 1996)

The etymology of the word muse is fascinating in and of itself.  “Muse” comes from the Ancient Greek “Μοῦσαι.”  Not only does it identify the goddesses of inspiration, but in a broader sense has also become a way to refer to someone–or something–that inspires.  By the Renaissance, a muse could be an artist’s favorite model or even lover, a title we still make use of today to describe the motivating qualities of a significant other.  
As a verb, to “muse” is to be absorbed in thought or to deeply consider. To “amuse” someone is to divert their attention, entertain them, and/or cause them to muse.  Amusement typically inspires laughter and mirth.  “Bemused” is similar in implying an aspect of thoughtfulness, but usually inspiring it with a more puzzled or bewildered sense.

“Muse” is also the root of words relating to or describing some function of the arts.  While it has become solely used to identify the production of harmonious sounds, the word “music” is derived from mousa, and in Ancient Greek “mousike” meant any of the arts related to the Muses.  And of course, a museum is a literal “house the Muses”.

Lee Siegel wrote an excellent piece in The Wall Street Journal in reference to a 2009 MET exhibition entitled “The Model as Muse”.  In it he discusses the evolution of the muse throughout history, from Ancient Greek goddesses to modern day pop icons.  He also questions the current status of the artist/muse relationship, asking “Who, in our proudly individualistic culture, wants to feel like a valet to someone else’s imagination?” He touches on some great ideas, and it seems to me that the article points to a larger issue taking place within the contemporary art world, namely that we have forgotten the value of the muse in today’s art.

I’ve always felt that Spell, an image I made in 1986, depicts a figure being guided by an 
unconscious force- perhaps intuition, and/or the muse.
When the Ancient Greek poets sought to become a channel for the Muse, they were seeking truth beyond what they were capable of consciously suggesting by conjuring it from one or all of nine personified goddesses of artistic inspiration.  This seems to me a stark contrast to many of today’s artists, where ego has come to play a much larger role in creating works of art.  Instead of reaching to a higher level of truth, much art today serves to express the artist’s personal feelings, thoughts or political views.  The art that is celebrated nowadays seems also to have shifted to the ironic and the conceptual-“Con Art,” as art critic Julian Spalding refers to it.  We are no longer seeking higher human truths that connect us to one another, ourselves, and our humanity, favoring instead the witty and the clever.  Many museums featuring much of contemporary art no longer have the magnificent quality of “housing the muses”, instead highlighting work that is often alienating and isolating.  Perhaps the role of the museum has changed over the last several decades, from showing work that is inspired or inspiring to documenting the latest art star and the ever changing fashion of art.  Truly challenging art seems to have been replaced by work that is either excessively innocuous or shocking and sensational–very different ends of the same shallow spectrum and equally uninspired.  

I think there are many reasons for this shift in values and the loss of the muse. 

As an artist, teacher, and funder of the arts, I’ve come to see the contemporary art world from several perspectives and it has given me a unique point of view into some of these areas that I see as problems within it.   I’d love to have the opportunity to open up a dialogue about some of these issues and share further musings on the rich and complex world of art.

Working with both underwater and above water elements, there is a considerable color difference.
Generally speaking, color is perceived by the light that is reflected off of and/or absorbed by an object.  Color is interpreted by receptors in our eyes, and varies depending on the light’s wavelength (measured in nanometers, or “nm”).  Light with a wavelength of around 700nm is perceived as red, for example, while a wavelength of around 400 nm would be interpreted as violet.  The colors of the visible light spectrum are red, orange, yellow green, blue, indigo, and violet.
Excellent llustration of color absorption under water from
Due to the way that water absorbs light, there is a loss of perceived color when photographing underwater.  The longer the lights wavelength frequency, the easier it is absorbed by the density of water.  As depth and distance increase underwater, the harder it is for light to travel through.  In addition to getting darker, color too begins to fade, beginning with the red end of the visible light spectrum and followed by orange, green, blue, etc.  (An interesting point: While there is a point that the transmittance of color reaches absolute zero and none can be perceived, you could use something like a red filter and a longer exposure to filter out the blue light and give more time for light towards the red end of the spectrum to be detected.)
When we can simultaneously see light reflecting off an object- in this case, a figure- that is both inside and outside of water, the color shift is unmistakeable.  In every day seeing, we may take this dramatic change in color for granted as we are used to perceiving it that way, but to be able to examine the difference in a still, two dimensional image can be an entirely different experience.  I photographed under water for 14 years and never consciously noticed this remarkable color difference until seeing the images after those initial shoots in color.  I’d spent years integrating the three layers I’d become aware of– above the water, below the water, and the reflection on the surface of the water.  Shooting in B&W, I was always focused on the forms and relationships I was seeing happening within those three layers.  In working with the natural phenomenon of how water absorbs light, I found a fascinating fourth layer. 
Untitled #4-24-08-492

I discovered, quite by accident, that I could exaggerate the disparity of how things appeared above and below the surface of the water.  By lighting the portions of the body that are outside the water with warmer, natural light, while illuminating the submerged portions with a cooler, bluer underwater strobe, the passage from above to below became extraordinarily distinct.  The boundary between above and below water became charged, creating fascinating transitions and bizarre transformations.  [Since the strobe only illuminates what is under the water, there is also a significant exposure difference between what is above and below the surface.  By considerably slowing the shutter speed, the body above the water becomes soft due to the motion blur, while the strobe freezes the body underwater into sharp focus.  This differentiation can give the body outside the water an ethereal, flame-like feel that contrasts with the hardened, cold, stone-like feel of the body underneath, like in this image from 2009:

Untitled #06-10-09-189

In this image, the shutter speed is so slow and the exposure is so long that the warm light above the water manages to illuminate the body just barely below the surface.  You can see how the strobe has sharpened the right side of his face that is submerged in the water, making it both sharp and much bluer in hue.

I find all of this- and the science behind it- just incredible and truly fascinating.  I had no idea these dramatic effects of light and color were happening right before my eyes for so long, and the discovery of them reinvigorated the intrigue I’ve always had for working with this subject matter. 

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… 

Last week, I had the pleasure of teaching a three day workshop for the Union of Arab Photographers in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates.  The request from the UAP came up quickly and was unplanned, but I jumped at the opportunity to travel and teach in the Middle East.  Having seen the Lynda course I recently published with Ben Long, they were interested in hosting a class on composition. 

This was such an exciting trip and I found it fascinating to be in a culture so different from my own but sharing the same passion for photography.  I found the UAE to be very enthusiastic about photography, to really value communication, and felt like it was a deeply appreciated medium.  
All of the people I met with were incredibly warm, welcoming, and hospitable.  The students I worked with were extraordinary- all were very enthusiastic, open, and eager to learn.  Photography is such an important language, one that transcends cultural differences and communicates in rich, profound ways.  It was a wonderful experience and I hope I have the opportunity to visit again some day!
I’m hoping to receive some samples of students work to post here within the next couple weeks…
Our class!


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…

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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.

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.