I will repeat that for anyone who had trouble understanding what I just wrote or who had trouble comprehending that I actually wrote it: photographing nudes can be boring.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I shall probably never tire of seeing the sight of a beautiful, nude woman before my eyes. Still, trying to create interesting works of art with it is another story entirely. I’ve been photographing nudes since 1995, and just a few years after I began, I started to ask myself how much longer I could go on photographing models in the same Edward Weston-type poses.
I thought those thoughts in regard to my outdoor nude photography. Now that I’ve been photographing more in my home studio set-up (for various reasons), with its small space and large limitations, it’s even worse. (I believe that this has been the first year in which I’ve shot more rolls of film of nudes in my studio than outdoors or any place else.) I feel like my studio work is little more than a nude girl standing in front of a backdrop – again and again and again. How much longer can I go on just making “pretty pictures”?
So, what’s to be done about it? Well, I’ve thought of using more props in my studio imagery. The problem there is that I have no place to keep such things. I bought a few papier mache masks in Venice this year and I don’t even know where to keep them.
Another thing I’ve been playing with is the multiple exposure technique. I’ve used it outdoors with some success and a bit in the studio, too. Then I hit upon a strange, new idea.
The idea came about by reading some blog postings discussing the pros and cons of models shaving off their pubic hair. (To me it is very much a con.) Then I thought of Marcel Duchamp’s drawing a beard and moustache onto a picture of the Mona Lisa. Add to that the old joke that my mother used to say: if Phyllis Diller had one more facelift, she’d have a beard.
So, I came up with the idea of using the double exposure technique to superimpose a model’s pubic hair onto her face to create something surreal, like the Duchamp.
I gave it my first try with a model who came to my studio this past summer. It’s not an easy thing to try to do. As I work with a tripod, it’s a real pain in the ass to have to lower and raise the tripod with every exposure to get it set at the right height. As my camera’s viewfinder does not have any grid lines that would allow me to register the overlay properly, I just have to try to remember where in the frame the important parts are supposed to go.
At the top here, you can see the result of that first effort. I made several different tries at this, and this is the one I think works the best. (I photographed another model with this method, but I haven’t developed that film yet. I purposely developed and scanned the photo you see here so I could show this second model exactly what I had in mind. She offered no objections.)
Was I successful with the photo you’re seeing here? Well, I do think it looks kind of surreal in the manner of the Duchamp. I think she might even fit in well with the Three Musketeers!
Still, while my intention was to create something absurd, bizarre, satiric or surreal, not everyone agrees that I did. I posted this photo on an art posting site a short time ago and I received a response from a woman who said she found the image to be offensive.
Well, as you can imagine, I was really taken aback by this. I mean, here I was – trying to create something in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp, and I get a reaction that’s more in line with the cover of Hustler showing a woman being put through a meat grinder. Marcel Duchamp and Larry Flynt. Does that make sense?
Therefore, I am asking you – my readers out there in bloggie land – to please give me some feedback here. Is there something about this image that’s offensive to women? Or is it more surreal than anything else? (Could it be both?)
Certainly, this is not the first instance when someone has tried to depict a woman as a man – or a man as a woman, for that matter. A few years ago I met a photographer who has gained a certain amount of recognition for photographing her middle-aged, bald-headed husband dressed up in women’s clothing and wearing women’s make-up. Did I get offended, as a man, by such images? Of course not. That’s her vision and let her go with it.
The one thing that the comment made me realize is that perhaps this kind of imagery contains a lot more power than I had initially thought. For that reason alone, I am even more determined to carry on with the series.