Thursday, April 16, 2009
The fat, old man lay on his back in the middle of the bed. The folds of his large, pale belly spilled over his hips like blancmange. His eyes were closed and he breathed so lightly that for a moment, I wondered if he might be dead.A small Asian girl, a third of his age, knelt on the bed next to him, her head slightly bowed as if in prayer over his body, her long black hair just touching his chest. One of her hands rested lightly on his thigh, the long, thin fingers spread apart and slightly arched like a bird's claw."Keep your fingers away from his cock," I told her. It lay, flaccid, in a patch of thinning pubic hair, just a couple of centimetres from the tip of one of her black-varnished fingernails. She slid her hand back from it cautiously as I framed another shot. The fat man didn't stir.Twenty or thirty Polaroid prints were scattered around the polished timber floor where I stood. I hadn't bothered to look at any of them. I was absorbed by the scene I was creating, through a series of expressive grunts and hand waves and the occasional, curt command, as I peered through the viewfinder of a plastic Polaroid 600 camera. I moved around the bed slowly, taking a pace or two forward or back as I reframed an image.My index finger depressed the shutter release and with a loud click and whirr, another self-processing print was ejected from the front of the camera.We had been working together like this, the three of us, for a couple of hours. Bright natural light filled the room and was reflected by the white-painted walls and plain white linen on the bed. Later, I would shoot half a dozen rolls of black and white 35mm film, over-exposing each frame by a stop to lighten the fat man's skin tones and make him look like even more corpse-like. In contrast, the Asian girl, her faced masked by a fall of straight black hair, turned into a dark but still somehow benign demon come to claim his soul.I had already done a series of small, fast sketches of details: the girl's fingers and the sinewy contours of her neck, the fat man's gnarled, shrunken cock and the globular folds of flesh around his waist and under his arms. I observed closely and recorded with the clinical detachment of a crime scene investigator or a curious pathologist.The mismatched couple didn't say a word. They simply did as I asked. They were strangers to each other – and to me – but as the day went on, they became increasingly complicit in the slow, almost prayer-like unwrapping of my ideas. Towards the end of the afternoon, the Asian girl took the fat man's cock in her hand and held it, still, in her open palm. I photographed quickly as it lengthened and hardened, my lens less than half a metre from the head.That night, I pinned the Polaroids and the sketches at eye level around the walls of my studio. I studied each one closely trying to recall what had caught my eye in that moment. I scribbled notes about colours or additional details on the sketches, to give them context in the picture I was beginning to create in my head. I was still studying the images when the first, reddish sliver of sunrise penetrated the closed curtains of the studio. I didn't feel like sleep. I wanted to keep on working. I opened the curtains and the large glass doors of my studio. A crisp, saline ocean breeze caused the pinned-up photographs and papers to rustle like Tibetan prayer flags. I pulled a double-framed, full-length mirror to the centre of the studio floor. I stripped off all my clothes and stood in front of it to examine my own body, stifling a self-negating shudder as I identified where I had stored a little more fat or lost some youthful suppleness. I was, still am, young but these glimpses of inevitable aging and decay were unsettling.They were also inspiring. I documented them with Polaroids as I angled my limbs and contorted my body to re-trace patterns I had sketched roughly the night before. I imagined myself as a multi-armed Hindu goddess, a delirious rave dancer and a ninja assassin in mortal hand-to-hand combat. I imagined myself as a stoned street whore entangled with a john in an alley. And as I imagined, I photographed, until I was too tired to do anything more.The eventual works flowed as easily as the expensive English watercolours I used. Fragmented impressions arranged themselves in a coherent, narrative structure as their shapes and colours seeped into the fibre of the paper. In places, I reinforced strong sensations in pen and ink and alternately scribbled and erased passages from my diary or from short poems – scribbled in hard pencil or acryclic paint applied with a fine brush to form a further layer of both texture and back-story. I inserted symbols drawn from childhood (a dead bird, a snake skeleton) and Carribean voodoo vévés as clues to the weird magic that, I believed, haunted each picture.When they were done, I hid them away for several weeks. I wanted noone to know of them but me. There would be a time when they would belong to others, when I might not see them ever again. But right now, they were mine. Only mine.