Not A Hint Of Manly PosturingWednesday, May 18, 2011
I have received the news that Talon Books is publishing a memoir by Jane Rule that was found after her death in November 2007. The powers that be have chosen my photo for the front piece. I have written about my experience in taking her photograph in April of 1991 here. But I must again mention my delight and pride in being so chosen. I remember Jane Rule with a smile in my face and while we had little in common I have recently found out that she was, like me a dyslexic!
The good news coincided with my giving a lecture class at Focal Point on my views and theories on the nude portrait. This 3 hour lecture will be followed by an all-day studio session on Friday with two male models and two female models.
I explained to my students that unless they selected landscape photography as their chosen field of expertise I would warn them that any kind of portraiture, be it business, political (and especially political!) head shots, family portraits, etc would in some way include somewhere some aspect of sexuality. And this would be the case before we even approached the snapping of pictures of an undraped human.
When my two daughters were 11 and 15 I told my wife Rosemary that I was going to commission art photographer James La Bounty to take their portraits she wondered why I would do such a thing being that I was not such a bad portrait photographer in my own right. I explained that as the father of two young daughters I would see them as my “two little girls” and that only somebody who did not know them would perceive (and perhaps photograph) them as young girls on their way to becoming women.
At first my wife hated the pictures but once she was used to them they were up in our living room for many years. Then some ten years ago she told me that they could come down and be replaced by my more recent efforts.
I explained to my class that as a male photographer it had to be my idolization of local virtuoso rocker Art Bergmann that first made me aware that even if I were a born heterosexual man, there is a womanly, feminine side in me (in other men, too?) that I had not known existed. As soon as I took pictures of Bergmann, seeing him as a sexual model for which, with a little imagination, I could be attracted to, I noticed that there was an extra dimension of power in them.
Meeting and taking photographs of Jane Rule, in which I knew that there could be no possible thoughts of sexual attraction left me in a lurch of confusion. This confusion immediately led to the idea that as a man here I had a clear run at not having to show off, to express any kind of machismo. Here in the presence of the womanly (though very tall) Jane Rule I could be myself without any hint of the manly posturing kind. It was a calming relief that was further enhanced by Rule asking me to help her down the stairs. I felt the perfect gentleman next to the perfect woman/lady. It was an invigorating feeling that helped me (not always!) in my relations and dealings with the opposite and not so opposite sex.
And so I told my students that when they faced an undraped man or woman they were not to accept the bunk that the human body can resemble dunes in the Sahara (even if they can or could). They are to realize that the space between the photographer and the undraped subject is a zone of electricity and sexual tension. It is this very tension and electricity that is part of the mystique and the sheer pleasure of taking nude photographs! It is for this reason that there are certain protocols to be followed (and I explained these at length) if a session is to be a successful one.
Curiously I had to tell the story of a Peter Sellers film where he has to crash a nudist colony (A Shot in the Dark, 1964). The story is parallels the other bunk that most men are afraid to go to such a place and not being able to control and unintended rise. I told my class that as a veteran of Wreck Beach photo sessions this was something that never happened. I explained that the protocol dictated that if you are to photograph a nude person on the beach you better be nude yourself. One of my students, a wonderful (innocent?) Basque young man, was to tell me, after the long day (in the studio), of taking undraped photography that it had been much easier than he thought. “It felt almost natural by the end.”