Poacher Poached

Do photographers make the very worst models?A few things pointed me in this direction as an experiment. The exercise in the last module for running a workshop, the exercise over summer to shadow a photographer and a way to break the ice with the subjects I am working with to enable them to quickly relax into the thought of being photographed themselves.

A while ago a model commented on the way I act when I am photographing someone which made me consider the fact that while we hide behind our cameras and observe what is before our lens; searching for that decisive moment – we should also be aware that we are regarded in turn. I thought it would be intriguing to place myself on the other side of the camera to give myself some insight to how my models feel and also in the hope that something may come across in how they see me as a person.

So I set out to give some very basic instructions to the next two models and then handed my camera to them to see what they could capture of me.

It was an interesting experience. I realised how awkward it can be when someone is pointing a camera at you in order to capture a piece of art rather than the usual happy snaps we post on Facebook & Instagram which are more vernacular and a recording of an event rather than a creation of an image. I became quite conscious of my body & how I hold my stature & my limbs. The physical flaws I am aware of seemed heightened. I did not quite know where to look or how to hold myself. (Something Barthes analyses in Camera Lucida p.10) When I am photographer I can reassure and advise my models so it is more of a collaboration; but with the models in control of capturing me they were at least as awkward as I felt.

Daido Moriyama provoke no2 1969
Fig. 1 Daido Moriyama provoke no.2, 1969

I had in my mind a small set of images that were reminiscent of Daido Moriyama’s gritty black & white images of the seedier side of Tokyo (Fig. 1). Something high contrast, high grain that instilled a feeling of voyeurism in the viewer; that hinted of an intimacy between the model (myself) and the photographer (my actual model) “The nude (photograph) always comes with connotations of a sexuality between artist and model.” (Hammer M.)

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Fig. 2 Northey 2017

I had hopeful expectations but the results I found disappointing. In the first (Fig. 2) I just look awkward; yet not in a vulnerable and intriguing way…just plain awkward – like some bloke with his knob out rather than having any narrative or hook or punctum. The photographer wanted direction…wanted to know what I was expecting him to capture whereas I was looking for something random in the hope that his vision of me would be imprinted on the image.

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Fig. 3 Northey 2017

After the disappointment of the first shot I took along some images on my phone that the second photographer could use to copy & adapt. The results from this shoot were little better (Fig. 3). This time it looked too posed and false when I wanted a more natural naked portrait as opposed to a posed nude.

I wonder why my captures of them work so much better? Is it because they have a recognisable referent in traditional female nudes? Are they better composed? There is some indefinable difference between the two approaches that separates my captures with those of my models. Is it purely down to me as subject? I may try a couple of further attempts to see if something clicks into place. I do not necessarily need a large series of these…one simple image could potentially capture what I am trying to convey; but I feel I am probably on the wrong course with these and may have to admit defeat.

Barthes, R. Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981)
Hammer M. The Naked Portrait, (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland Press, 2007)

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