It’s been nearly two months since I shot DL #12, a shoot which itself was embedded in two intense weeks of work on Dirty Laundry as a whole. Trying to conjure up the shoot my mind keeps drifting back to the splitting headache I had when we left and the Hudson River and the lights of New Jersey as I drove us home tired and drained. It was a strange shoot in so many ways. It was the last shoot and as a result I felt the need to do something special yet tied to the parameters that had been established through the 11 previous shoots. Viccy was present for the prep and the shoot which presented all sorts of minor internal conflicts. As my creative partner I kept wanting to consult her- this thing or that thing? – but I couldn’t because the rules prevented it, and opinions with no context are useless anyway. I was filled with distractions and while trying to get organized for the shoot and couldn’t quite concentrate my mind on an angle around which to develop an aesthetic and concentrate picking/buying props. I remember just forcing myself through the motions believing that having done it #11 times I could trust myself to make it happen.
After last minute prop picking we drove the length of Manhattan to P’s apartment. It was a ground floor apartment with high ceilings and a large front room which opened to the kitchen. I knew this would be where I would work. Viccy planted herself in a corner and apart from a few questions just observed. Once I got started her presence became irrelevant and I concentrated single-mindedly on “seeing” the space and getting a sense of the look I wanted while carrying on pleasant conversation with P. Soon I was taking pictures and automatically fell into the usual pattern- in/out, round and round. I got a bunch of close ups and a few wider shots. I focused on his face, his hands, his feet. I got a few details for the setting and I photographed the progression of arranging the candles and then lighting them.
I didn’t give P any direction in terms of the meaning behind the scene. The lighting was dark and moody and I knew that the contrast between that and the normally festive feelings attached to birthday candles together with his aloneness was bringing out a sort of melancholy feeling. However, the stainless steel counter top was creating fabulous reflections and creating a brightness that I decided I might refer to later. Much like DL #10 I knew that using the brightly exposed versions of the same scene would create a much different feeling around the scene and I didn’t want to determine which way it would go until later. P maintained a neutral expression but his body language was turned in like whatever he was doing was quite private/personal. So I just worked around him using his own reactions to the scene and directing his actions subtly through the process.
Once I felt I’d covered the scene completely we packed up and headed home.
Looking back at the photographs was interesting. At this point in the process I’ve become a bit disengaged from the narrative element. It was such a challenge at the beginning but with 12 times in the bag it feels like a trick that’s been played.
Reviewing DL #12 I was struck with how my technical choices deeply effected the product and immediately began to make a mental list of what changes I want to make in the future.
One of the strongest impressions I had was that I need to be willing to take more time and to create multiple lighting set ups. Of course part of me immediately berated myself for not thinking in a more complicated way about the lighting but actually I feel like the lighting choices were often derivative of the constraints of the project of a whole. From the beginning I wanted the shoots to be done by me alone. There were multiple reasons for this. One, I didn’t want anyone else’s input and I didn’t want to feel observed. I knew I would be able to to operate most freely in a creative sense if I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone else. In a lot of ways this was very successful. From beginning to end the photographs were made by me and I was able to really own the role and determine the aesthetic. However, doing everything myself restricted me in a variety of ways. For one, there were moments when I wanted to hold a bounce board or a light but without the right tools I couldn’t really do all these things at the same time. Also I think that working by myself I felt afraid to take up too much time and of the the model and doing all the jobs- lighting, shooting, making small talk, was quite exhausting so after about an hour to an hour and a half I began to fade a bit. Shooting it’s easy to get really deep in the camera and deep in your brain or your eye – so with out another person to bounce off and be responsible to I think I could get a bit lost in what I was doing and perhaps grow nearsighted.
In the future I want to be committed to spending more time with each model. I want to have help with me and I want to take what I’ve been working on – lighting and elaborate props/scenes and allow it to develop and change, or create multiple scenes/scenarios. I also want to find a way to integrate time more.
When we started this project, we set out with the intention to create something that touched the taboo. Along the way I’ve attempted to bring in many visual elements that could create their own story lines or states that might be provocative – gender bending, photographs within photographs, scissors, blades, booze, but in the end looking back over the photographs the visual theme that seems to stick out the most is an avoidance or obscuring of the face. I can’t say I did this purposefully while shooting- in fact there are many photographs in my cache where the face is very clear, however I believe that what came through when I was picking the photos to be features in the index and in the triptychs, there was a sense of these people playing a character and by only using images where their face was somehow obscured they individual was eschewed and the character was allowed to come through. Ultimately I think this contributed to creating a world where the taboo is being looked at. Like when we hide our faces in guilt and shame, as the faces turn away they something darker is revealed.