04/16/16: It seems none of my days go as planned. Lately it’s been this way too often. I was excited to shoot Carmen Salta and Caitlin Trainor together, first for my Intimate Portrait project and then out in Central Park for the rock/rope series. It was going to be amazing! But as with everything in my life right now, it didn’t go as planned. I’ve always been spontaneous but this is getting ridiculous!
I began this essay during one of my frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum, two weeks after my shoot with Caitlin. I’m sitting in the modern art wing. Two men walk by and one exclaims to the other, “This is a real Jackson Pollock!” Really! What did he expect to see in the museum? I can still be surprised by an American’s lack of artistic knowledge. Our education system stinks!
I text Carmen two hours before the shoot asking her to bring pointe shoes. She texts back canceling the shoot. She’s sick. I wonder when she would have let me know she wasn’t showing up? It ends up being good for Caitlin. She’s running late and now doesn’t have to rush. I’m disappointed – not only about the pictures I’ve lost. I had dreamt about Caitlin choreographing a duet between her and Carmen and thought this shoot would bring them together. It’s a squandered opportunity and I’ve already moved on with my endless list of possible artistic collaborations.
04/26/16: Another week has passed. I’ve had a lot of time to think about my shoot with Caitlin. It was quite extraordinary. I’ve photographed her many times – both portrait shoots and as a dancer. This was the first time she felt like a muse. Since it was a shoot for my Intimate Portrait project this new feeling was emotional and physical.
This was the first time I’ve seen Caitlin completely let go during one of our photo sessions. There was no fear. The only other time I saw this in her was during a performance of her solo, Self-portrait, reflected, where photographs of Caitlin posing on my rooftop are projected on the background during the dance. Don’t get me wrong, there are photographs of Caitlin in my portfolio. But she had never had this energy before. During the Intimate Portrait sessions the models and I have a special connection – even after 100 shoots it’s something I’m unable to explain. Maybe there is a reason this spiritual connection is meant to remain a secret. All I know is it almost always happens. Caitlin is one of my best friends but I’ve never felt this kind of connection during our shoots. She always tried too hard – worried about her age – could never completely let go.
This time was different. I don’t know why. It didn’t come from me. During the past few months I haven’t shot much and I’ve been relying on the models to reach into my soul – pulling on the artistic side of my brain – making great photographs happen. Natalie Deryn Johnson and Alyssa Forte both do that for me. My newest muse, Soleil Acevedo, also has that power but doesn’t seem to understand why. There will be much more about Soleil in a future essay!
Caitlin and I hadn’t had a good talk in months so we sat and chatted for an hour before I picked up the camera. People transform in the environment of my apartment as does the light coming in my living room window. I’m always watching. Sometimes I see an alignment of light and emotion. Right then I need to pick up the camera and begin shooting. It is “a “need,” just like an addict needs their fix. Something happened to Caitlin in the light. The Intimate shoots are about being as connected as possible. She took off her top and we began our work.
I’m on the model’s body during these shoots. Physically everyone feels different. It’s about body shapes – waists and hips – the body’s temperature. It’s about trust and our ability to feel comfortable while working with this connection.
Caitlin and I have shot for the Intimate Portrait project before but I have never felt comfortable on her body. She has big bones with the matching musculature. My lack of comfort wasn’t emotional. We’re very close. I just could never find my place on her body. In the best of situations this shooting process is technically difficult. With Caitlin I always felt like I was on a bucking-bronco seconds away from a toss into the dirt.
I don’t know why it was so different this time? Unlike the other shoots, this day I melted into her body. At first it was a distraction. I wanted to understand the difference. I could see it in the pictures as we worked together. Caitlin’s face was different. There was no stress. All of her emotions, her secrets, opened up to the camera.
I don’t know for how long we continued to shoot. During the best sessions time stands still. I knew I worked hard – drops of my sweat falling on Caitlin’s body. The emotions were incredible. Caitlin was like a wild animal. There was both a sexuality and sensuality I had never seen in her before. It was as if she had lost control. Caitlin was aware of these emotions but didn’t know why they were streaming out of her.
I’m also a good friend of Caitlin’s husband and thought about him on and off during the shoot. If asked myself how would I explain it this shoot to him? There are no words. To explain how the shoot felt I would have to touch him as Caitlin and I had touched. Although I feel the model’s warmth, the photographs are still work. I’m taking pictures – my eye is smashed up against the viewfinder – focusing – struggling to keep the camera still – watching the light… but it’s more than that. The physical contact during the shoot allows me to feel the pictures as if they are something real. They are no longer a two-dimensional depiction of a model on paper or on a computer’s screen. Unlike any other work I’ve done, these photographs embody the physicality, a warmth and understanding between two people.
The contact allows that to happen. Looking at these pictures of Caitlin on my monitor, they are more than beautiful photographs. I also feel a physical connection to them, to her, allowing for a stronger emotional reaction to the images. You can also see it in the model’s eyes. It’s more than posing for a picture. It is about the merging of two physical bodies and the electric activity of two minds. (I’d love to have an EEG machine hooked up to both brains during an Intimate Portrait shoot.) With Caitlin it was unlike anything I had ever experienced during an Intimate shoot. It was as if she had released all of her emotions at once, those that she had once held back during our previous shoots.
The funny thing is that the shoot was secondary to the real reason Caitlin came over to my apartment that afternoon. The main reason I asked Caitlin to visit was to blow eggs out of their shells, helping me prepare for my upcoming Easter egg dyeing party. The shoot was an afterthought. As long as she was coming over, why not shoot. How we had the energy to blow out two dozen eggs after the experience of that shoot, I have no idea?
Caitlin is the champion egg-blower. Let me explain. To properly dye eggs in the Ukrainian style the egg inside needs to be removed from the shell. Small holes are bored into each end of the egg, the yolk is broken and stirred with a thin metal wand then finally, and gently, you wrap your mouth around the egg and blow out it’s contents. It is not easy. A tuba player would struggle. For some reason this batch of eggs was particularly difficult. The shells were thin and the yolks were stiff. We needed every bit of our aerobic strength to get the insides out. Caitlin was frustrated and broke a few eggs. We laughed a lot. No worries. All the eggs ended up as frittatas.
I had bought a new 70-200mm lens the week before and still hadn’t removed it from the box. The second reason I asked Caitlin to visit was to give me a chance to test this lens. I asked her if she still had the energy for more pictures. Her husband had made dinner and she was already late. I knew my question was basically rhetorical. Caitlin is always up for more pictures. We headed out to Central Park. At least it was in the direction of her apartment. It was already dark but I knew the path near my favorite location was lined with streetlights. I wanted to give the lens a real test. Would the auto-focus work in the dark with Caitlin dressed in dark clothes, posing against a dark background?
Of course, once we got there Caitlin had endless energy. She was all over the place. I was tired and could hardly hold up the heavy camera. It was so dark I could only see her as a moving shadow. I thought the lens kept her in focus but I wasn’t really sure. I don’t think I’ve shot in a situation like that since working with Jamie Rae Walker in 2009 – also in Central Park. During that shoot, Jamie didn’t move and that camera still couldn’t focus on her face. I had Jamie hold up her hand and wave, giving me some idea of where to manually focus. It was difficult. Caitlin never holds still. We shot over 800 pictures. It was a fun way to end the day.
I know it can be silly but I’m trying to relate all my recent essays to the Smokers’ Detritus series. I needed to photograph a cigarette butt before Caitlin and I could say good-bye. I didn’t think I’d find any until we left the park but looking down at my camera bag, there was a discarded butt only inches away. The light was good. I shot the butt and I took a snapshot of Caitlin laughing at my eccentric behavior. I know that’s why she loves me. There’s nothing better than having an intense artistic experience with such a beautiful friend.
Under normal conditions this essay would have ended here. I’d pull out a fresh sheet of paper and begin the sixth essay in the Smokers’ Detritus series, talking about my visit to the photographic gallery show, AIPAD. But there is more to this story.
Thirty minutes before I began writing this essay, while sitting in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art, I visited the galleries showing the Jackson Pollock exhibition. I had seen this show a few weeks ago but I wanted to look at the work again. Three days ago, I had seen the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery in Chelsea. Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock were wife and husband.
I stopped to snap a photo of the wonderful mural portrait of Jackson Pollock working with Lee sitting in the background. Hearing what I thought might be a talk in the next gallery, I walked over to find a group of college students on a Jackson Pollock lecture-tour. I love sitting in on these talks. Typically I wander a museum alone, viewing whatever interests me at that moment of time. Taking part in these lectures forces me to look at art I might never have noticed.
The painting they were discussing was Pollock’s Full Fathom Five, one of his first “drip” paintings. According to the museum’s description, “An assortment of detritus, including cigarette butts, coins, and a key, are enfolded by the paint.” How perfect! The lecturer explained this addition of detritus by Pollock as a deliberate act. I imagined his process in a different way – the artist smoking while leaning over his canvas, tossing paint back and forth, accidentally dropping the cigarette on to his work, covering it with the latest splash of paint.
Picking out the cigarette would have ruined his work. Why not leave it in place? Sometimes accidents lead to genius. As Pollock splashed and dripped paint on the canvas he searched for more detritus on the studio floor, adding it to his work – completely covering some of the pieces, leaving others partially exposed. I find it interesting that art experts always need to find a reason for everything in a work of art. As an artist, I know many creations have little meaning or prior thought. They are works created by spontaneous acts and emotions.
I had parked my bike on the 54th Street side of the museum and knew from previous experience there would be a choice of discarded cigarette butts nearby. I photographed several before riding home through Central Park. Like Pollock’s painting, I never know how my essays will proceed, but an artist needs to know when a work is finished.