The Dithering Photographer And His ClonesFriday, February 19, 2010
About 10 years ago three photographers (I was one of them, and one of the others was a woman who also became one of my subjects) had a project which we repeated three times. It started at a downtown café called Subi’s. I told the other two that we would pick a fairly attractive female and bring her to the studio for a group shot. Then during a month each one of us would photograph her and make sure that none of us were aware of what the other was doing. At the studio I would plainly tell our subject, “If at any time any of us ask you to undrape you must do it. If there is any objection to this, tell us now.” Then we would have a one night show in my studio. One of our subjects Corrie Clark reneged on our instructions and I had a hard time (I succeeded in the end) in making her undrape.
It took me years to go through the normal channels of not knowing how to convey to my subject that I wanted her to take it all off. I had not discovered the direct approach nor was I aware that for every photographer that wants to have the model take it all off there is a large multitude of subjects who will readily volunteer if asked.
With one model in particular I was particularly indirect and obtuse. I dithered around taking pictures that were not satisfying me in the least. Finally my model said, “Is this what you really want?” and she lowered the straps of her slip and exposed her breasts. I blushed and took my pictures.
Since that one time I have learned to put my cards on the table. There was one young woman who told me, “You can only photograph 25% of this and you can only go as far down as here. I turned off my lights and told her that she could go.
In another occasion I had two very beautiful young women in my studio and to break the ice I told them, “I have two daughters who are both older than both of you. I am not in the least interested in you except as my photographic subjects. I prefer women my age and that is why I am attracted to my wife. I just want to take your pictures.” They looked at each other and walked out of my studio. Since then I have been ambivalent about being direct and in some cases I have chosen to say less and take more pictures instead.
Of late, without my studio, I have given the whole process some thought. I occasionally teach a nude portrait class at Focal Point and with my instructions my students become my surrogates and take pictures my style. This led to one of my students saying to me in the presence of my other students, “What you want to do is to turn us into little Alexes.” He got up and walked out and never did return.
It had all begun when my student had projected some pictures which we critiqued. One of our models had been slightly on the large size. I always tell my students that it is our obligation to make people as good as we can and if possible even better. A lot of this can be done with lighting and camera angles. The moving of the body can diminish neck folds (anathema!) and I tell my students I don’t want to look at armpit folds (double anathema!). The student in question did nothing to hide the model’s pendulous breasts. I pointed this out and was told that there was nothing wrong with pendulous breasts. I asked one of my female students if she would be happy with pictures that showed her breasts as being like that. She agreed that she would not be happy. To finish the argument my student said, “We pay the model. We can make her look anyway we want.”It is in such times that I feel like picking up sticks and moving to Trelew in Patagonia and learn to speak Welsh. But that is not a viable option at this moment.
I photographed María de Lurdes Behar three times. The third time she was one of my tub women for a show. The first time around I took pictures when I was still in the height of my dithering period. It was 1990.
After some exposures I finally came up with enough nerve and most of her clothes were discarded. Some of these pictures are extraordinarily beautiful. Because my intention was always to photograph the model undraped I never did look at the pre-undraped exposures with any interest, until now.
At my age I find my drive (that one!) is diminishing and my idea of what is erotic is more in the direction of subtlety. Clothed, is now suddenly much more interesting. I found a couple of pictures of María de Lurdes which I think are beautiful. I hope that anybody looking at them might just agree.