Hands that Hide
I really didn’t understand until the midway point of my shoot with Christian, but it was to become one of the more profound shoots I experienced in some time. As my alert Gentle Readers will have noted, I photograph a lot of women. Not exclusively, but pretty damn near. Before Christian, it had been over 20 years since I had made any male nude photographs. So I was looking forward to shaking things up a bit.
In fact, that was one of my goals at Zoefest XIII this year. Come back with something unexpected. Come back with, not the usual.
I had a great long talk with Christian the day before we shot. Immediately I could tell we were on the same page, not only in our appreciation for the art we created, but as fellow human travelers. Lots of shared philosophies and beliefs.
Christian and I agreed it might be nice to go back to the cave where I photographed Tara to see what else we could artistically mine in there. I try not to reuse very distinct locations, but I felt what Christian and I would create in there would likely be very different from what Tara and I had done.
We headed out at first light to get to the cave before the tourists were even thinking about their first cup of coffee. I’d be making long exposures on a tripod again in the dim subterranean light. And we’d need more time to work than quickly getting in, shooting, and getting out before being surprised with cave wanderers.
A little back story for a moment. In the late 90s, I spent three truly wonderful years working with a therapist called Charlie. And during that time, he helped me to come up with a way to visualize the idea of my art. My art center. Where it came from, deep inside me. Taking a vague concept and making it something a little more real.
I’d imagine a huge cave-like space. With walls that looked like the roof of your mouth more than anything else. Definitely an organic space. Dark. And in the center of this cavernous room, was small stump-like thing. Almost like a nub. And that was my art core. The center of me. And I could visit this place from time to time.
As long as my art was working, as long as I was creating, as long as I was making art that inspired me, I could manage any challenges in any other areas of my life. Because my art center was thriving.
However, much like the canary in the coal mine, if for whatever reason I wasn’t creating work that moved me, or that I had gone too long between personal art projects, the light in that subterranean space would dim. And it would become very difficult to see my art center in the darkness. If my art wasn’t working, it would be difficult to face whatever else life might be throwing at me during that time. If my art wasn’t working, I would begin to feel broken.
And what I realized halfway through photographing Christian in that Kauai cave, is that I wasn’t making images of Christian as much as I was making images of myself. Of my cavernous art center. My art nub. The truest me that I could express.
Christian was giving me so many pieces of myself through what he was emoting. Things that cycle through the state of who I am from day-to-day. Strength. Focus. Determination. Positivity. But just as often, isolation. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. And sometimes the need to hide when I wasn’t feeling at my best. All of these things.
You’ll be seeing examples of these emotions being expressed from other images with Christian in the coming months.
After we finished about an hour and a half of shooting, we packed up and headed back to our temporary ocean-side home, Christian asked me an interesting question.
“What were you thinking about while you were shooting?”
And I had to laugh, because I knew I was going to have to explain my little art nub visualization to him. It does sound a little weird when I say it out loud to people. But as I mentioned before, Christian and I had found ourselves to be on similar artistic frequencies. He found it more interesting than odd. And I think it’s because he also has a similar sensitivity to the world as I do.
I mentioned before that it had been over 20 years since I had done any nude photography with men. And I remember one of the reasons I decided to experiment with it all those years ago was because I wanted to make sure I was photographing nude women for the right reasons. That there was something more to the art than simply having women take off their clothes in front of my camera. And me. That is wasn’t a creepy thing. I couldn’t exactly explain at the time why I found it so important to make art with these generous women. Just that it was.
And I photographed a few men during that time of artistic introspection. The first two were body builders. Certainly powerful masculine figures. But with a tone of aggression that I didn’t feel I had in me. I tried to find the beauty in their form that was perhaps like a panther or some other top-of-the-food-chain animal. But what was missing was the sense of awe that I experienced when I photographed women.
The third man I photographed was an art school friend of a friend. Just a normal guy. And the poses he was giving me, what he was emoting, was 180-degrees away from the body builders. Quieter. Almost vulnerable. Wrapping his arms loosely around himself, as if for protection. This. This was more of something I could relate to. Something I had felt before. And I realized that I was photographing women because they better helped me express something perhaps more prominent in myself than the first two men did. The need to feel wonder. Awe. Getting lost in feminine curves cascading into curves. A sense of empathy and nurturing. Something that is more prominent in the many layers of beauty that a woman possesses. What is profound inspiration to me. That’s the art I wanted to create. And still do.
Yet now with Christian, that same feeling again of a subject channeling something very personal to me, was a very welcome outlier. A surprise discovery and realization.
A few days after the Christian shoot, I was having another conversation with Zoe Wiseman, the namesake of Zoefest. I mentioned that in photographing another man in Christian, it was really the first time in a long time that I could remember feeling like I was photographing myself. Photographing women certainly contains pieces of myself projected along with who they are. But I wouldn’t say when I photograph a woman, it truly feels like I’m photographing myself. Although that’s something I may explore in the future. Food for thought.
“Oh, I always feel like I’m photographing myself when I photograph women,” Zoe quickly responded.
Happily, Christian also lives in California, so the chances of our paths crossing again more art creation are quite good. He certainly helped me create something unexpected. Not the usual.
And as a very good artistic friend of mine said when I gave her a preview of today’s photograph, something raw, honest and inspiring.