Don't Purse Your LipsMonday, April 04, 2011
Ever since I started taking Methotrexate three months ago to control my arthritis I have felt little relief but I have been bombarded by nightly dreams that are so odd and so real that every night before I go to sleep I think, “What’s going to happen to me tonight?” Because of my aging plumbing I must leave the comforts of my bed two or three times per night. The dream is vivid when I wake up and when I find myself back in bed the dream continues. It is much too late in my life to even consider writing a novel based on the idea that dreams are simply a parallel (or parallels) of the reality we all think our life awake is. Many have tackled this before me (inluding Julio Cortázar in Continuidad de los Parques). And as I have written here before, I am not going to leave a writing pad and pen by my night table like Graham Greene used to do and like him record my dreams. My dreams are odd to me but probably boring to others.
I have always believed that women have a greater imagination for originality and by corollary I believe that they might have more complex dreams.
This story begins last Friday when I was teaching my students at Focal Point to take photographs of some models in the school studio. One of our models was a spectacularly beautiful and very tall blonde. Seeing some of the inexperience of my students she volunteered (without being asked) poses and did something that many models do which is to purse her lips. I told her not to do so and I further informed my students that models should do as they are told and they (the students) should not be railroaded into model poses. "You the photographer, are in charge, not the model."
To be fair I think I am only partially right. As I look at the pictures I have taken since beginning in 1968 (in Mexico) I can see I fell for model poses that I thought were model poses and if I took such pictures I would then be seen as a professional photographer.
To my students I always tell them that a backdrop, a model, a light, a camera and a photographer (particularly seen in parallel layers that do not intersect) represent a rapid road to photographic failure.
You need more than a good model and all the above to get a good picture. And to get one you have to justify the pose. My way has always been to avoid the fashion approach and to go the route of the portrait.
If some of my pictures have been good, a reason for it is that I have been lucky to photograph unusually talented models (I prefer the paradoxically more intimate word subject even if the word can sound so cold). One in particular was my photographic association with Katheryn Petersen who may have been more than uncommonly beautiful. She always brought more than that to my studio. She brought a vivid imagination or what to me seemed to be acted out daydreams.
Her instructions to me (one that I would not hasten to repeat to my students at Focal Point. They must not find out!) were usually, “Alex, load up. Shoot. Don’t ask.” With Petersen I must add here that I really had to use motor drives. And to keep up I needed at least two cameras with drives as I did not want to stop her pattern of action with a, “ Stop, I need to re-load.”
The pictures here are all from one session except for the last one which I simply want to show so you can see the incredible look and versatility of Petersen.
It seems that the morning began with her showing up in a dress (that it was not tight was very unusual) a box, ballet slippers, and sunglasses. I soon found out that the box contained chocolates. She sat on my canvas backdrop and went through a lengthy routine I have never understood. I have pulled some of the ones I like. She also brought some tight jeans and played the conventional model and I took the conventional model shots that are not in the least unconventional because of her look. How could one be that while shooting Petersen? Impossible!
I tell my students that the technical side of photography should always be down pat. You cannot be worried about it if you have to be creative in some way or in the case of shooting Petersen, she does all the work, but you better know what you are doing. I am glad I did even though to this day I have no concept of what those daydreams of hers were all about. Why the chocolates? Why the sunglasses? Who cares, isn’t she stunning?