Originally published November 2, 2016
Photographers are Creepy
Day 9 – Justin West is late because he keeps getting ideas for styling our shoot along the cab ride there. We’ve been talking about how to best utilize Andrea’s collection of oddities and taxidermy and it’s amazing to be working with a model who wants to get it right enough to shop for a suit on the ride over. He’s really serious about the work in a way that I certainly identify with.
We have a great conversation throughout the day and I learn a lot particularly about photographers he has worked with who have used photo shoots as a way to exploit. From the stories of a lot of people I have been meeting, this is disturbingly common. It is really interesting to me because I think I veer often into the place of over protectiveness in a way that can undermine the potential of a particular shoot. Most often than not, I am working with someone nude, so I walk on one side of a very careful line between creating a space where a person feels safe and daring enough to take chances…and a space where someone can feel regret.
When I hear these stories where someone uses this interaction as a way to try and get sex, it preys upon my own feelings of shame and judgement…my own fears of being misunderstood through the lens of a stereotype. There floats in the air, the archetype of the lecherous photographer…sweating and manipulating, a stilted voyeur. There are many stereotypes in hats that I personally wear that I find to be counter to what I want to achieve in wearing them. Including the hat of choreographer. I’ve always felt uncomfortable and not necessarily welcome at the table for what personality traits seem to be expected of someone who choreographs. It’s not by design and it’s not that I have an agenda to smash them with my actions. It’s just not me.
The weight of those stereotypes can be exasperating because they are limiting.
We want to say “this equals this”. This word means this. I understand a thing to be this and to veer outside of that expectation makes me uncomfortable. A woman means this. Sexuality means this. America means this.
As I learn more about the photography and especially publishing world – everything gets reduced to its simplest, most recognizable, un-nuanced commodity. This is all for the ease of selling…and because I am new and I want to do well, I can find myself, in small, maybe imperceptible ways, start to change. And all of that potential for discovery. The possibility of bringing something new into the world from the murky, grey unknown evaporates to the service of our lazy psyche that wants certainty. On some level, I start to feel like I am running a dance company again in that I’m trying to find ways to communicate about being an artist rather than BEING an artist.
The possibility that there are people out there who want to use the vulnerable place an artist and model might go, to manipulate for their own personal gain, inhibits me. I understand what it is to have a muse.
I understand that there is a necessary process in at least metaphorically falling in love with your subject and your inspiration.
That is part of the creative force that drives the whole process. But it is equally important to keep boundaries around it. And not only to be kind but also to honor the endeavor we are setting out to achieve. People are actually human and no one can live up to the fantasy I am capable of concocting in mind. And to cross that line ruins both the artistic and personal relationship. This is not to say that there are not perfectly acceptable ways of negotiating this boundary. History is full of epic romance between artist and muse…but I think the thing that feels off in this is the apparent dishonesty. Like that now cliché scene in the movie Fame where Irene Cara thinks she is getting her big break, but is instead manipulated for a sexual end. This the part that betrays the quest for honest discovery in art and makes the body and sex dirty and complicates what might be communicated about an important aspect of our existence. One that is worth exploring in a way that moves us forward.