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.