Having settled on a direction I’d like to explore, this is how the first shoot went.
The room was very dark so I had to rely on shooting with the aperture wide open (f1.8 on the Canon Prime lens) this also gave be the extremely shallow depth of field that I wanted to draw the eye in to the subject matter. Even so the shutter speed was very slow as I didn’t want to take the iso much above 800 to keep the noise down. I still had to brace myself against walls and furniture to reduce camera shake, but still the images do not have a pin-sharp crispness. When printing at 7×5 this is not an issue, but I may find it too soft-focus if I decide for large scale prints. The aesthetic of this project does lend itself to a more hazy feel so this may be an advantage rather than a problem.
(Fig. 1) In 1992 Felix Gonzalez-Torres displayed upon billboards in New York his images of an empty bed. At the height of the AIDS crisis these powerful images were a poignant reminder of the friends, family and lovers we were losing on a daily basis. An image that evokes both the comforting symbol of the warm bed, but also the empty space and trace where someone should be yet are there no longer. The white sheets signifying purity (when the rest of the world considered us tainted and diseased) as well as heavenly peace.
My image (Fig. 2) is a referent to Gonzalez-Torres, but coming now from a more fortunate place in history. It still speaks of the empty bed to signify the loneliness experienced in the gay community, particularly after you pass the age of invisibility (anywhere after 40yrs old)
(Fig. 3) The soft-focus is particularly effective in this shot. The turquoise colour cast and muted tones seem like it was taken in an old Victorian museum vitrine – bestowing a sense of importance on such an innocuous object.
(Fig. 4) The strong geometric shapes within this image appeal to my eye. With the spot on one of the bands creating a counterpoint and a point of irritation; this could be removed in Photoshop in seconds – I have left it there as a signal of realism, along with the dustiness of the horizontal line that bisects the image. Painted in a single colour tone; warm yet with a hint of insipid green.
(Fig. 5) Trapped in web of a spider the carcass of this moth still looks full of life as if it were coming in to alight on a branch. This delicate image comes closest to my inspiration by Rinko Kawauchi (Fig. 6) . The muted tones evoke a melancholic air. I was aiming for a delicate banality with the shots I captured in this styling, but I think the colour palette and rich detail elevate them above the banal and into the poetic. I was looking at the structure of Japanese Haiku poetry in a way to inform this half of the project – a short three lined poem, often about nature and emphasised in simplicity, about the interaction between two subjects whether they be objects or more delicate ideas (rain, the breeze, sunlight etc).
(Fig. 7) The other half of the idea diptych is a naked portrait. The intention is to balance the serenity of the portraits in the form of domestic possession (see the shots above) with the shock vale of the nude (“People see a dick and freak out.”(Miner, 2013)) in an attempt to show how aesthetically serene the nude male can be. We are used to the naked female form but the nude male is STILL a taboo; which tells us as males that our body is shameful (particularly as we get older when as gay men we become invisible after 40).
I have been looking at painters and how they place their subjects on the canvas, rather than relying upon the wealth of nude male photography which has a tendency to reflect the sexual rather than the natural. I liked hearing that Lucien Freud would spend time walking around his subject watching them carefully before he would even attempt to start painting them; from a photographers point of view this gives the sitter time to relax and maybe get bored, but most importantly to lose the persona we tend to adopt when a camera is pointed in our direction. This shot captured in the reflection of two mirrors ably represents a stolen moment. There is a naturalness in the ‘pose’ but the frames give a slightly voyeuristic feel. I utilised the mirrors as I also wanted to explore our self-image. As I have mentioned before Sontag says we fear the cameras disapproval (Sontag, 1977 p.65), but we also fear the person that stares back at us from the mirror. And I would like to combat this mirror-fear by using it to reflect the image in an aesthetically positive way to boost our feelings of self-worth.
The results from this first shoot have reassured me that I am taking the project in a productive direction. I set out to create something simple, poetic and rich with subtle detail and have been very satisfied with the final images I captured. There is a gentle melancholy feel to the shots so far, which mirrors my character as a photographer. I must watch this though as these shots are as much about the men who have agreed to be photographed, as they are about me as image maker; and I must be wary of representing the whole series in this melancholy way as it is in danger of showing us as the doomed homosexual, rather than in a positive and gentle tone.
Miner, P. (2013) Ryan Pfluger on His Encounter With Fred Phelps and Hooking Up With Guys via Photography The Huffington Post [online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phillip-m-miner/ryan-pfluger_b_4142621.html [accessed 31st Mar. 2017]
Sontag, S. On Photography (New York: Penguin Books, 1977)