Sunday, May 02, 2010

Thinking Through Another's Skin

I've been drawing, painting and photographing the human body for nearly fifteen years but when someone I don't know well undresses in front of me, I still get a momentary, complicated rush of embarrassment, prurience and reserve. I haven't yet mastered the detached, clinical regard of a physician – or a coroner. It takes me a while to get comfortable with studying another's body – which is why I've used my own so often as reference for my work.
As I wrote
here, a few days ago, I've wanted for a long time to use someone else as both the phsyical and psychological subject of a work. I've considered enlisting friends or former assistants but my various ideas cried out for someone (or something) unfamiliar.
Yesterday, I photographed a young, long-limbed, part-Indonesian girl. I met her for the first time only the day before, when I approached her on a busy city street to ask if she'd be interested in modelling for me. I suggested she look through my work online. When we spoke on the phone later that day, she admitted she was nervous but ready for anything.
At my hotel room, she slipped out of her clothes in front of me without any shyness and lay naked on the bed.
It took time to get at not only what I was looking for visually but something more, a sense of the character that was driving the not entirely coherent narrative in my head. I shot for two hours, on low res' dgital and 35mm film, pausing only to ask her to change the angle of a limb or twist her torso. My demeanour was ruthless, almost predatory – hers sensual, relaxed and open. We chatted about boyfriends, sex and what foods we liked in the minutes it took for me to change a film or check an exposure.
I wasn't expecting to come away with much that was usable from this first session. I was still feeling my way around the edges of an idea and it will take more time, more encounters, to figure out what it's really about. I might yet discard it to explore something else. Only when I begin to make drawings from these and other photos – and only when I've worked my way through several – will I be able to assess whether the disparate fragments I have in my head are coalescing on the page.


Mike Wood said...

Thats cool. Seems like a worthwhile exercise and a good ice breaker shoot to get you into doing more. :) Lovely figure. And a cool name.

Beak said...

"Lovely figure"?

Aaron B. Brown said...

First rule of shooting people, be nice to your models and subjects. Best to shoot when you're feeling up and in a good mood, your models will pick up on this and it will affect them. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable they will be, and this invariably translates to better photos and a better working experience for everyone. Such positive energy most assuredly shows through in the end product.

I would imagine that this energy transfers through to painting process as well, in your case Hazel.

Anonymous said...

what do you think of naomi wolf hazel? just curious.. I am thinking of going to hear her talk


Anonymous said...

mmmmm gorgeous photograph


Anonymous said...

Aaron, for a supposed fan of Dooney's, you really have no clue. Have you even read Dooney's own words on how she works?

"...when I'm working, I'm ruthless, selfish and probably exploitative (although I do try to maintain a semblance of empathy and care). In these respects, I'm rather like the predatory Diane Arbus..."

'Be nice to your models and subjects'? Have you got a body of work that argues that such a method works better than Dooney's? Or Arbus' for that matter?

Given her accomplishments, given her artisanal skills with a number of media, hell, given her success, your 'advice' here and in other comments comes across as out-of-touch not just with the stuff of art and photography but the woman's own accomplishments in them.

Remittance Girl said...

Good luck with your endeavor.

Nadine Robbins said...

A good photo session is essential in creating the basis of any form of human emotion. Good luck with your work. Inspiring attitude. :)