04/23/16: smokers’ detritus #7 – soleil acevedo

soleil acevedo - intimate portrait project

I first connected with Soleil Acevedo on Facebook. I believe it was before she shaved her head but I’m not exactly sure. I do know I took notice of her new look when I saw a photograph of Soleil taken by her friend Brooke Trisolini posted on Facebook last March. In the picture, Soleil is hanging on the pole of a subway car with a few onlookers — a nearby couple watching and a few not paying attention at all. The combination of the photograph’s composition and Soleil’s focus on the camera struck me. I’ve seen many dance photographs taken on the subway and they’re all basically boring. This one had something special, enough so I had to comment. I let Soleil know, of all the dancer-subway pictures I had ever seen on Facebook, this was my favorite!

soleil on the subway. photograph courtesy of brooke trisolini

On occasion, I go to the Thursday night gallery openings with my friend Philip Stark. I don’t really love seeing art this way but on a nice spring or fall night it’s fun to wander around Chelsea, looking not only at the art but also the people. Each gallery not only seems to show a certain style of art but also attracts a style of viewers. There are galleries for hipsters, upper east-siders, New York artists who came of age in the 1980s, aging hippies, etc. It is an interesting site. Philip loves this whole process. I only go because I love Philip. It seems to be the only time we ever get together and if I want to see one of my best friends this is the only way I can do it.

Thursday, April 26th. I did my usual round of errands – B&H, Home Depot and Michaels before heading over to Chelsea. I’m learning which routes to take if I want to find the most interesting cigarette butts. This day was special. At the B&H camera store I bought a lens-extender. Now I could use a “real” camera instead of my phone for closeups of the cigarettes. At first I bought an off-brand extender that looked good, immediately testing it on some cigarettes outside of B&H. Bad! The extender didn’t allow the lens to speak properly to the camera. I know this might seem boring but it’s important. I immediately returned the third party device and bought Canon’s extender for triple the price. I can’t say it was worth the extra money but at least it worked! That’s really what matters.

flowers on 34th street - in memory of prince

The camera with the new extender “saw” the cigarette remains in a different way than the phone. I can’t put it into words but the pictures seemed more real to me. I still see my iPhone as some kind of toy… not a device to be used as a professional camera. I was loving the results as I made my way east on 34th Street, stopping to photograph some purple flowers in memory of Prince.

cigarette butts on west 24th street

Shooting all along my route, there were some nice butts along 24th Street. It was past 6:00pm and gallery openings only go until 8:00pm. I was already in the gallery district so I called Philip to check out his schedule. He was on the way and would call when he got close. I looked at my list of openings and decided to begin with Nir Arieli’s show at Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

invitation for nir arieli's "flocks" exhibition at daniel cooney fine art. (batsheva dance company)

Nir also photographs dancers and I admire his work. He is one of the few dance photographers who has a distinctive style, always molding the models to his own viewpoint. You can always tell a Nir Arieli photograph when you see one. The gallery space was smaller than I remembered it. I could tell some of the people in the space were dancers. That’s always obvious. Dancers don’t look human. I didn’t like the prints on the wall. Nir’s work is great but the printing looked like it was done by a headshot lab. I stayed a few minutes and left, waiting by the elevators for Philip to arrive.

Philip wanted to see the Arieli show and as we walked back to the gallery I ran into the choreographer Fadi Khoury. I took some wonderful photos of Fadi and his muse Sevin two years ago. Fadi has done amazing things with his company in that short time. We decided we should work together again. I’ve been working on a new project photographing companies in the dance studio and Fadi’s dancers will be perfect.

fadi khoury and sevin ceviker in my studio posing for the mirror series

Back in the gallery I took the time to take a closer look at Arieli’s photographs with Philip. I don’t think he noticed the printing as much as I did but he did feel the images were mostly bland. I love Arieli’s work and found a brochure of his photographs lying on a shelf, beautifully printed and featuring the photographs as I had always seen them. After looking at the brochure, Philip understood why I was a fan of Arieli’s photography. I only wished the prints on the wall were as beautiful as those printed in his brochure.

During this second visit to the gallery I had kind of “stalked” a woman who was also attending the show. It wasn’t amorous stalking. I felt I knew this woman, believe it or not from Facebook. She was exotic and appeared to have recently shaved her head, now with a short growth similar to a marine’s hair cut. I have two Facebook friends with this look and I couldn’t figure out which one she was.

Philip was ready to move on. I never talk to strangers. I’m too shy. I couldn’t let this woman go. I walked up to her, introduced myself and said, “I know we are friends on Facebook.” First I asked her if she had tattoos on her arm. Wrong guess? She was the other shaved head Facebook friend. “Did you recently post a photograph of yourself on the subway?” She replied, “Yes!”

soleil acevedo. perfect with no makeup. intimate portrait project

“I’m the person who posted that photograph was the best picture of a dancer on the subway I’ve ever seen!” Now she knew who I was. She is, Soleil Acevedo. It was quite the coincidence and it is why I find Facebook fascinating. Soleil called over her friend Brooke. Brooke is a dancer and photographer. Brooke took the photo of Soleil on the subway. Brooke doesn’t know it yet but I’m going to ask her to pose for the Intimate Portrait series.

Soleil and I did the cell phone thing. She gave me her phone – I called my phone. Now we had each other’s number. Sometimes doing this makes me feel old. I still like using a pen and paper though for this essay, since I’m out of town, I happen to be writing on my laptop. It doesn’t feel natural. We chatted for a while. Soleil is a charming woman. I told her we must shoot soon. When I first saw her on Facebook with that shaved head I knew I needed her to be part of my Intimate Portrait project. I told Soleil I’d call her to set up a shoot. She did seem truly excited.

The next day I sent Soleil a message on Facebook to see if she could shoot on Saturday, the next day. Soleil was available in the late afternoon. We were set.. Usually, at this point I send the model a link to my blog, www.paulbgoode.com/journal, so they can read essays about past Intimate shoots. I don’t want the models to be completely surprised by the intense emotions coming out of these shoots, let alone the physicality. For some reason I decided not to discuss this with Soleil. I waited until she arrived at my apartment. I have no idea why I made this decision. Something inside me said it was for the best. When Soleil arrived I would make tea, we would talk, look at pictures and then begin our shoot.

caitlin trainor. intimate portrait project

Soleil was late. New York City trains! It was okay with me. I was sorting photographs for the essay on Caitlin Trainor and looking at those pictures gave me inspiration for my shoot for Soleil. She arrived. I made tea. We talked. I finally explained what I wanted to do – what the Intimate Portrait project was all about – Soleil wasn’t too happy.

Soleil is private and doesn’t like her personal space invaded. I definitely invade the model’s personal space during the Intimate shoots. I used to be like her before I began this series. If a friend stood too close to me, I wanted to back away. If a friend touched me while we talked, I would jerk away. The movement was slight but my own reaction annoyed me. I wasn’t always like that and didn’t understand why I found touch an invasion of my privacy. I wondered if it had something to do with living alone for many years or if it was something deeper.

Soleil took a leap of faith, trusted me and we began shooting. Only for a few seconds did she seem distressed by the closeness of our two bodies and soon I was sitting on her lap, shooting away as I do during every Intimate shoot. I showed her some photographs in the back of the camera. I asked her if she was uncomfortable. In the pictures she looked strong and relaxed. Soleil said she was good at acting and that indeed she was uncomfortable, though at the same time willing to continue.

soleil acevedo. there is always laughter during an intimate portrait session

I needed bare shoulders, I always do, and once again Soleil pushed past her boundaries, removing her blouse, obviously more exposed than she wanted to be in her bra and jeans. But I shot on, stopping every few minutes, showing her the most recent photographs and making sure she was okay. I always worry when I do the Intimate shoots with a dancer I don’t know. I’ve shot dance for thirty-five years and I’m well known. I don’t want anyone to ever do anything for me because they feel like they have no choice. There is always a choice. I will always respect the limitations of a model. They should never do anything that makes them uncomfortable.

I was worried about Soleil and I wrapped her body in a blanket, one my mother knit for me 30 years ago. I keep it on top of my couch at all times. I wrap myself in it on cold nights when I’m watching television late at night. It’s a connection to a family I’ve rarely seen since moving to New York City almost 40 years ago. I’m not sure the blanket made Soleil feel any better but I was not stopping. Her pictures were special. Image after image was perfect. I needed her to like me – not as a friend but as a muse relating to a photographer. The friendship could come later. These pictures were important to me. Like my other muses, Soleil was making me a better photographer. There was something special in the way she used her arms and hands to frame her face and body. Soleil really was the perfect Intimate Portrait model.

soleil acevedo. reflection in compact

I could tell she needed a break. We had been shooting without makeup. I thought Soleil looked beautiful with a clean face – still so exotic but I did want to try some shots with mascara and lipstick. I photographed Soleil while she put on her makeup, using her compact for a mirror. I was surprised she didn’t put her blouse back on during this time. I hoped that meant she was now more relaxed. Of course I was happy because her bare shoulders made the photograph — framing the bottom of my images. Shooting these images I was still very close to her. My Mirror Series photographs also require touch and the Intimate Project is an extension of what I learned when first taking those images. I remember being smashed into Madison McDonough’s side while photographing her in my bedroom mirror, only to find out while walking her home after the shoot that she was only 16. Her spirit was much older but it did make me feel a little weird.

Soleil went back to my couch and began to shoot again. She felt more comfortable this time but I knew to be careful with the physicality. I kept my body off of hers more than I had with anyone since the beginning of the series. I’ve gotten used to muses like Alyssa Forte who want to feel the full weight of my body while we shoot. It’s difficult to take a step back after photographing women like her. When I work with Alyssa it feels like our bodies are one. We move as one. The photographs are part of a joint meditation. I wanted to feel that from Soleil.

alyssa forte. intimate portrait project

This shoot was unusual for me. Ha! I imagine it was unusual for Soleil too. What I saw through the camera was one of the most relaxed women I had ever photographed. During the last half hour I felt the tension leave her body. Still, when we spoke I realized she hadn’t let go. In some ways it was frustrating. After the Intimate Portrait shoots the models always feel like the experience was special – something positive. Every time I stopped to show Soleil the photograph I felt her discomfort. That’s not positive. It was hard to understand. The photographs were amazing appearing as if she was the most relaxed person in the world. So I moved on.

soleil acevedo. comfortable? intimate portrait project

Afterwards we spoke for a long time, at length about the difficultly of being a woman in New York City. Men on these streets can be real pigs. All that emotion I had hoped for while we were shooting now came out. The Intimate Portrait shoots can be a release for the models and I realized Soleil was finally letting go. She rarely looked at me while we talked. She needed to get things out of her head. I mostly listened and agreed.

When Soleil arrived that afternoon I gave her a book of photographs by Lillian Baseman. Baseman is one of my all-time favorite photographers. A friend had given me the book the week before and I already owned a copy. I knew Soleil was interested in photography. I wanted to give this book to a young photographer who would use it for inspiration. Soleil knew of Baseman. That surprised me. It seems that most young photographers these days have little or no knowledge of photographic history. I do my best to educate the people I meet. It was the perfect gift for her.

soleil acevedo. intimate portrait project

As Soleil prepared to leave I made sure she had the book. I wanted there to be something positive about the afternoon and I had no idea how she really felt about our shoot. Now, a few weeks later I’m still not sure. I told Soleil I have an old Nikon I’d like to give her. I have many old film cameras I’ll never use again and I want them to end up in the hands of people who will treasure them as much as I did during the many years and thousands of rolls of film I shared with them. I guess the Nikon will be the reward if Soleil is brave enough for a second shoot. If there is a next time I hope she will trust me to look deeper into her soul. If not for me, I’m sure a choreographer out there will recognize Soleil’s special quality and transform her into their beautiful dancing muse.

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, intimate, portrait | Comments Off

04/14/16: smokers’ detritus #6 – aipad

smokers' detritus on west 83rd street

I’ve attended AIPAD a bunch of times during the past twenty years. Five years ago when I decided to become a full-time artist, it became a yearly event for me. AIPAD is “The Association of International Photography Art Dealers.” From what I can tell, it’s member galleries are supposed to live by a certain code of ethics. I guess that means if a photographer creates an edition of five prints, a gallery better not sell a sixth. Hmmm! Wandering through the booths at AIPAD, seeing multiple copies of master prints and contact sheets selling for $10,000, I oftenwonder about the ethics of the galleries. I’ll write about that on another day. The show is at The Armory on 67th and Park Avenue. It was a lovely spring day and I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a walk through Central park. Certainly another chance to merge the Smokers Detritus project with my daily life.

hunters gate. central park. courtesy google maps

grace davidson for grishko

My block on West 83rd Street is a cigarette graveyard. I had no trouble finding good subject matter in front of the local fire station. It’s always a good spot for interesting cigarette remains. Walking the few blocks to the park I entered a little know entrance at 81st and Central Park West named “Hunters Gate.” After some research I found out it’s one of the twenty original entrances to the park, each named in 1862 by the parks’s Board of Commissioners. I’ve shot many pictures near this spot including an ad for Grishko featuring the young dancer, Grace Davidson. Grace was the perfect natural beauty for this setting. I wonder what happened to her?

I walk these paths several times each month. They lead to my favorite location in the park. Flowers were blooming everywhere and I stopped to look at a group of Daffodils. When I was in high school I knew them as Jonquils. The flower store near my girlfriend’s house always had them in the spring.

jonquils in central park

I must have brought her dozens of bouquets during the three years we were in love. I think of her every spring when I see these blooms. I know she wanted to marry me but I wasn’t the right person. Lori did marry the right man and had three sons. Unfortunately, I heard she passed away seven or eight years ago from Leukemia. Life’s twists and turns are often unexpected.

lori sucherman. union pier, michigan. august, 1971

The path leads to a pair of tunnels. The light is always perfect in this location – night or day – any weather. I photographed Caitlin Trainor here a few weeks ago. I’ve always felt there is a history to this spot. Something spiritual. Native Indians must have performed rituals her 500 years ago. I don’t feel like I’m in New York City when I’m shooting here. I don’t know why it took me so long to find this place. It’s only a few blocks from my home. I believe my first shoot on this spot was with Erin Arbuckle on July 31. 2012. She already was my muse at that time. Erin is a true muse – an ethereal beauty who was an inspiration every time I pointed my camera in her direction. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I wonder if she can handle one of the Intimate Portrait shoots? If she could it would be an amazing experience resulting in some very special pictures.

tunnels in central park

I’ve never been afraid to walk or ride through the park, whether it be during a snowstorm or for a summer stroll at 2:00am. Central Park is the reason I moved to the Upper West Side almost 39 years ago. My first apartment was in the East Village and my brain definitely belongs there, only I couldn’t stand all the concrete. I needed some green. I had to move uptown. My apartment is only a few blocks from Central Park to the east and Riverside Park to the west. It’s the perfect location. I’ve made thousands of trips into both parks, enjoying all the nature both places have to offer.

erin arbuckle. central park. july 31, 2012

When I was a fashion photographer in the late 70s and early 80s I did many test shoots in Central Park. There weren’t many people to interfere and at the time you didn’t need a permit for personal photography. Ann Bucklin was one of my first muses and I loved every shoot we did together. She was crazy and fun. We always laughed. She had a lot of spunk. Ann was so strong she sometimes scared me… in a good way. I think the photo at Bow Bridge was taken in 1978? I have no idea where that dress came from? I do remember it was the best picture in my portfolio at the time. I was in love with Ann but never let her know. When it comes to love relationships I’m always very shy and usually have to be hit on the head to open up. I wonder if she knew? Ann, if you read this essay I still love you!

ann bucklin with bow bridge. central park. 1978

I stopped for a self-portrait and then headed across 72nd street. The park is always crowded now. Bethesda Fountain is always full of tourists and performers. It’s like Times Square. I miss the days when I could sit at the fountain and meditate. I guess some would call this progress. It’s happening all over Manhattan. Sometimes I feel like I live in a theme park.

self-portrait with bow bridge in central park

I realized if I didn’t get myself out of the park I would never make it to AIPAD. Seeing the show was important. I left the park at 68th Street and raced over to Park Avenue. There weren’t many cigarettes on the ground. The doormen and street cleaners obviously do a better job on the East Side than in my neighborhood. Some things never change.

woman's cigarette butt. 67th and park avenue

In the median on Park Avenue, just across from The Armory, there was the perfect cigarette butt. I normally don’t shoot in the sun but the placement of this butt was perfect. I could get The Armory in the background. I had to half-hang into the street. The cars and taxis didn’t care if they ran over my leg. I know I was being a crazy person but give me a break! Drivers in New York don’t care about anything but going as fast as they can to make the next red light. I ride my bike everywhere so I”m used to it. I don’t have to like it. I crawled on the ground and managed to get off a few shots before I realized having the use of my leg was probably more important than this one photograph.

AIPAD is quite an amazing show. The four long aisles of booths feature galleries from all over the world. For galleries and collectors, this is a place to sell and buy art. The show isn’t really meant for people like me, photographers who want to get an idea of what the galleries are showing. Here the galleries feature the pieces they think they have the best chance of selling. This changes over time. Years ago it was almost always classic black and white photography. Beginning in the year 2000, current color work began to creep into the show, dominating the show by 2012. After that things began to change with the economy. The prices of classic photography by the masters skyrocketed while more recent work was a tougher sell. The old work began to occupy much of the wall space. I love seeing these photographs but unfortunately it doesn’t give me an idea which galleries might be appropriate for my work.


I do appreciate “classic” photography much more than work done after 1980. This year at AIPAD the walls and bins were filled with some of my favorites. Photographs by two photographers I love, Ruth Bernhard and Harry Callahan, sat side-by-side. I didn’t learn about Bernhard’s work until I frequented photo galleries in the 1980s but Callahan has been one of my favorites since I began shooting seriously in high school. I probably knew about him early on because he had lived and worked in Chicago, often photographing his wife Eleanor. I sometimes wonder if the photographs of his wife are part of the reason I felt the need to have muses. They are special. A portrait of my muse Larissa, taken for the Intimate Portrait project, reminds me of one portrait of his wife. I love both images and how it they always remind me of where my photography began.

harry callahan - eleanor chicago 1948; paul b. goode - larissa new york city 2016

My good friend and photographer, Leslie Jean-Bart, met me at the show. When he arrived I had already wandered for an hour and the distraction of a friend was a relief from the intensity of viewing so many images. Leslie’s work was featured in the fifth issue of my magazine VISION Art Journal. He is doing some remarkable work, photographing reflections in the water at Brighton Beach and Coney Island. We ran into Julie Grahame, the publisher of Acurator, an online photography magazine that has promoted the careers of many photographers. Julie is incredibly knowledgeable about what makes a photograph great and her reviews of my own work have helped me immensely.

leslie jean-bart and julie grahame with unknown photographer at aipad

Leslie and Julie sat and chatted while I continued to wander the exhibition booths. I found a portrait by Man Ray I had never seen before. The emotion of this photograph seemed different than any of his images I had previously seen. Though Man Ray used his solarization technique it seemed less abstract than his other work. Maybe it was taken during the time Lee Miller worked as his apprentice. I feel her hand in this work. At first I thought the photograph was a horizontal image mis-mounted vertically. I soon realized I was wrong, but still, weeks later, I want to turn the photograph on it’s side. I wonder if I love it so much because of the model’s hand. Hands have become a necessary element in many of my Intimate Portrait images, beginning with my first shoot with Elise Ritzel. The way she used her hands in the photographs changed the way I viewed the project. It became as much about shapes as it was about emotions. Take away the fabric and the solarization from Many Ray’s photograph and this image could be my own.

Leslie was frustrated by the lack of new work. I understood his feelings. Leslie’s photographs are ready gallery shows. He has the prints. I probably need six more months before I’m ready to show my work to the curators. I have been selling some prints on my own but there is nothing like a gallery show to get an artist’s career moving forward.

We managed to get through the entire show and headed home. My original plan was to photograph cigarette butts while I walked back up the East Side but now I had a companion. I didn’t want him to wait while I searched for the perfect butts along Park Avenue’s curbs. I should have known there would be an endless selection of cigarette remains right outside of The Armory. Leslie, with his good nature, allowed me to photograph the best of this smokers’ detritus. If I wanted, he would have let me shoot away for an hour but I knew that wouldn’t be fair. I would have another chance later after we parted ways.

cigarette remains in front of the park avenue armory

Leslie’s a great walking partner. I don’t have many friends like him anymore. After we separated at 96th and Broadway my gaze quickly fell to the street. Now back in my neighborhood there were cigarettes everywhere. Either no one ever sweeps the streets or there are so many smokers the cleaners can’t keep up with the thousands of butts tossed on to the street every day. It took me almost an hour just to make it to 92nd and Amsterdam. Fortunately it was getting dark and since I was using my phone as the camera, I needed daylight to get the image quality I wanted.

cigarette remains with dog tag. 92nd and amsterdam

When I’m shooting for the Smokers’ Detritus series I always look for abstract designs or other detritus elements to make the photographs more interesting. Between 91st and 92nd street, there on the ground was something new – two cigarette butts and a dog tag, license number 3182503. I looked it up on the NYC Health Department website. Inactive. Expiration date 02/09/2016. I wondered what happened to the dog? Did the people move away? Did the dog lose the license? I hoped the dog didn’t die but I know that happens. I have many pets. Were those cigarettes smoked by the dog’s owner? No one lives forever… especially smokers.


Posted in art, cigarettes, portrait | Comments Off

04/03/16: smokers’ detritus #5 – caitlin trainor

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!

caitlin with carmen: only in my imagination

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!

2 men looking at jackson pollock's "autumn rhythm (number 30)"

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.

caitlin trainor: intimate portrait project

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.

caitlin trainor: relaxing for the intimate portrait project

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 trainor becomes a muse

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.

caitlin with her wedding ring

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.

caitlin trainor: intimate portrait project

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 trainor: champion easter egg blower

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.

caitlin trainor in central park

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.

jamie rae walker in central park

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.

caitlin trainor after our shoot in central park

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.

cigarette butt in central park

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.

jackson pollock and lee krasner (photo: hans namuth)

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.

cigarette embedded in jackson pollock's "full fathom five" (detail)

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.

cigarette outside the museum of modern art

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.

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, nudes, portrait | Comments Off

03/31/16: smokers’ detritus #4 – natalie johnson at brighton beach

mussel shell and cigarette butt. brighton beach

I needed a day out of the city and away from the computer. Brighton Beach has become my go-to place for an afternoon of meditation and peace. I love picking up food from the Russian buffet at Brighton Bazaar, having a picnic on the boardwalk. I half-watch the Russian emigres stroll by, looking part American and half-Russian. Many still have that “Soviet” look, the men in matching sweat suits or black leather jackets appearing to imitate Sylvester Stallone. The women wear too much makeup for a stroll on the beach or shopping on Brighton Beach Avenue — too much gold jewelry.

my dig overlooking the illinois river. koster site

I always go alone except during Friday nights in the summer. Then the trips are as much about the Coney Island fireworks as they are about the beach time and Russian food. I love this alone time! I can walk forever without worrying about a friend getting tired or cold. In recent months I’ve spent much of my time at Brighton Beach photographing cigarette remains for my Smokers’ Detritus series. This is a solitary project. As with still life photography, it’s best to do it alone — no distractions. Photographing cigarette butts on the beach reminds me of my time as an archeologist — walking the barren land, concentrating on the subtle differences in the soil, searching for signs of the discarded remains of humanity.

coney island: friday night fireworks

I looked up the weather and saw the day was going to be a balmy 72 degrees. I thought of Natalie. We’ve talked about doing pictures for my Intimate Portrait project on the beach, Natalie partially buried in the sand. This might be the perfect day. I sent Natalie a text and she was free. We’d both take the B train and meet at the last stop… Brighton Beach Avenue.

manhattan bridge

I always get on the back of the train. It lets me off close to Brighton Bazaar. I just missed a B at 81st Street and took the next C, grabbing the A at 59th hoping I’d catch up to the B in The Village. At the 4th Street station I ran down the stairs, just in time to catch that B. I settled into my seat and pulled out TIME magazine for the long ride. As the train crossed over the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn, I snapped a few photos with my phone. I’ve been thinking about beginning a new photo series based on the subway and I’m trying to figure it out. I imagined Natalie was on a train at least 15 minutes ahead of me. I sent her a text saying I was 30-40 minutes from Brighton. Ten minutes later I received a video from Natalie, crossing the Manhattan Bridge. Now I guessed she was 15 minutes behind my train. I thought it was funny we both photographed our crossing of the bridge. I sent her one of my photos.

We texted back and forth during the ride. I sent her a photo of the people on my subway car. Natalie decided the man and woman should get together. From my observations I decided the woman was a real estate agent and the man a musician.

b train: subway riders in brooklyn

Natalie: “I think it’s funny – an unlikely couple.”

At Sheepshead Bay, one stop from Brighton Beach, I let Natalie know I was almost there and I’d pick up food from the buffet. She texted back, “I’m at Sheepshead. I want to go to the buffet. Pickled Beets!”

Me: “We’re on the same train!”
Natalie: “Haha! Love it – thought so.”

natalie on the brighton beach avenue subway platform

We were at opposite ends of the train. I’m at the back and Natalie in the front. We took pictures and exchanged our views from the train. Natalie and I had both taken the same A train from 59th Street, both rushed down the stairs and taken the same B at 4th Street. What was the chance of that happening?

We met on the subway platform, bought our food and headed over to the boardwalk for a picnic. The closer we got to the ocean the colder it got. The wind gusts were strong. This was not going to be a day for the easy Intimate Portrait shoot I had imagined. I hoped Natalie would still go through with it.

newport pack on brighton beach

Natalie spied hundreds of seagulls going crazy over the ocean. I had never seen a swarm like that, the gulls in a tight slowly moving flock close to the shore, diving like missiles into the water. They must have found a school of small fish and were now in the midst of a feeding frenzy. The gulls drifted west along the coastline. We followed them in awe before realizing we were freezing in the strong wind. Natalie and I headed back to the boardwalk, finally enjoying our Russian treats. I stopped along the way to photograph an empty Newport pack in the sand. In the harsh sunlight it reminded me of the photographs I’ve seen of Hiroshima after the nuclear blast.

coney island

The weatherman had predicted a cloudy day, perfect for my portraits, but the sky was clear. Natalie had never been to Coney Island so we took the boardwalk and headed in that direction. Even off-season Coney Island is a special sight. I like it the best without people, in the distance appearing as an apocalyptic wasteland.

natalie on the coney island boardwalk

By the time we reached Coney Island we were freezing. Natalie, anticipating a warm spring beach day, now used her beach towel as an extra layer for warmth. We made the requisite bathroom stop and headed along the shore back towards Brighton Beach. At least now the wind was behind us. We stopped for a moment to study the stiff foam left on the beach by the surf. I imagine it’s some kind of primordial soup — molecular bits of animal, fish, sea plants and human waste. It has the color of a sandy meringue. During my trips to Maine in the 1980s, I always called this foam “radioactive lobster residue,” probably having something to do with my frequent food comas caused by eating way too many fresh lobsters at one meal.

sea foam: radioactive lobster residue

We passed a young red-haired Hasidic man, alone, his payot blowing straight out behind him in the wind. It was a wonderful photo opportunity but I didn’t want to disturb his meditation. I didn’t pull the camera out from my backpack. I felt the need to remember this moment — a photograph lost. I quickly took a few pictures from a distance with my phone.

hasidic man

As we got back to Brighton Beach the clouds finally began to move in. It was now or never for our Intimate Portrait shoot. As I searched for the right spot on the beach Natalie seemed a little nervous about posing topless. At first I thought she was worried about the cold. I was surprised. The beach and boardwalk were almost deserted. She’d be laying in a shallow pit in the sand and I’d either be crouching above her or sitting on her lap. Someone would need an x-ray telescope to understand what we were doing. I told Natalie not to worry and began digging the pit to cradle her body.

natalie enjoying the ocean breeze

video: natalie enjoying the brighton beach breeze

Before we began, Natalie spent a few minutes enjoying the wind, dancing and moving in the breeze like only Natalie can. She crawled into our pit and I began shooting. It was brutal! Standing above her the wind gusts pushed me around making it difficult to hold the camera steady. I could hardly see with the wind and sand blowing in my eyes. What I went through was nothing compared to Natalie’s torture. The sand swept across the beach blowing on to her face and body as if she was the Sphinx during an Egyptian sandstorm. The sand was everywhere. Natalie could hardly keep her eyes open let alone focus on the camera. The camera captured streaks of sand flying across her face, looking much like raindrops during a shower — feeling more like micro-hail, stinging every inch of exposed skin.

intimate portrait of natalie deryn johnson on brighton beach

We forgot the cold. We were too occupied by the discomfort of the sand to think about anything else. It didn’t feel like an Intimate Portrait shoot with it’s feel of quiet meditation. This was a battle. It was Natalie and I against the elements. Somehow we kept shooting. I don’t know for how long. I don’t know how Natalie had the strength to pose. I finally sat on her lap. I couldn’t feel her body. My legs were too cold. Slowly I felt the warmth of her body, wondering if my camera’s auto-focus system was working properly — focusing on Natalie’s eyes. I still couldn’t see. Finally I had to end the shoot. I’m only willing to “torture” a model if I know the pictures will be great. This time I wasn’t sure.

sand on natalie's face: intimate portrait project. brighton beach

Our bodies, our bags, our food, my camera — everything was covered in sand. Thanks goodness I had packed a thermos of my famous green-mint-ginger tea. We needed it. I could tell Natalie was feeling better, no longer half-naked and once again wrapped in layers, her towel now an official poncho. We headed off the beach to Brighton Beach Avenue for grocery shopping. I knew a good place for coffee. Natalie needed it.

natalie at the fruit and veggie store

We stopped at my favorite fruit and vegetable store. This place has great produce at amazing prices. It’s where I buy my beets, cilantro, lettuce, and the fruit I use to make jam. Everything here is so fresh. Strawberries were one dollar a quart. I bought three to make jam.

The coffee definitely revived Natalie. I’ve never seen her that jumpy! We were about to head home on the subway but at the last moment decided we needed some more beach time. We headed back towards the boardwalk to finish off our leftover food — a second picnic.

picnic on the boardwalk

The wind wasn’t quite as strong but the air was colder now as the sun had moved behind the clouds. We sat on a bench with a nice view of the ocean and finished off our Russian salads and some delicious chicken and sausages. The food was crunchy with grains of sand. I saw Natalie and realized we looked like a pair of homeless people from the mid-70s. Her recently purchased California sunglasses only enhanced the look.

My pictures of Natalie sitting on that bench looked like she was sitting in dense fog. I realized the lens on my phone was covered with a thin layer of sea salt, collected during our walk along the surf. I hoped my portrait camera hadn’t suffered the same fate. It would ruin our pictures in the sand… the ones we just suffered for.

discarded cigarette on the boardwalk

I stopped to take pictures of a few cigarette butts near our bench. After all, that was my original plan before I invited Natalie on this adventure. It is the subject that ties this series of essays together.

later that night - the strawberries cooking for jam

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, nudes, portrait | Comments Off

03/26/15: smokers’ detritus #3 – jackson heights

Today day began in an unusual way, but that’s what I expected. I’ve just come off three months of intense work, publishing the 7th issue of VISION (my dance art magazine) and photographing two weeks of Paul Taylor’s dress rehearsals. I’m exhausted. My brain is fried.

the cover of the seventh issue of vision magazine

Last night I didn’t want to go to sleep. It’s not that I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to stay awake and do things that didn’t involve designing magazine pages or retouching dance photographs. I alternated between cleaning the bathroom, putting up a few photos on Instagram and playing a dozen games of Spider Solitaire. By 5:30am I was finally ready for bed.

My street was noisy this morning. The honking woke me up several times. Once the cats see I’m awake I’m fair game for love and attention. Teel curled up at my head, Jasper in the crook of my arm – Madeline crawled up my leg and went to sleep on the side of my chest. I’m not allowed to move.

At 11:30am I finally crawled out of bed. I had a 2:00pm meeting with a dancer/choreographer who was coming over for tea. We planned to talk about shooting portraits of her and pictures of her dance company. I had hoped the meeting would turn into an Intimate Portrait session but deep inside I knew that was impossible. A few days before I had sent a “friend request” to this dancer and she accepted immediately. Soon afterwards she sent me a message assuming, since I am a photographer, I had “friended” her because she directs a dance company. The thing is, and I told her this, my interest was solely in taking portraits of her. When I first saw pictures of this woman on Facebook something about her look struck me. I knew she had a fire inside – something special! At the same time, I saw a woman who could never allow herself to pose for one of my intimate portraits. Those shoots take trust, freedom, and a certain sense of openness and spontaneity. Studying her Facebook pictures, as I do with everyone I contact, I could immediately see has erected a heavy blockade between her mind and her soul. I couldn’t imagine her letting go, accepting not only the physical contact of an Intimate Portrait shoot but also the freedom of emotion necessary to make these portraits successful.

alida: #1 intimate muse

She texted me to say she was running late. It didn’t matter. I was using my free minutes to finally look at the photographs I took of Alida Delaney two months earlier. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t looked at the photographs. Not at all! There were 2,000 images, blinks and all, staring at me from my computer’s screen. I hadn’t even deleted the blinks. Alida is not a blinker! There were so many blinks this time! Probably more than in all of our other shoots put together.

As I sat with the task of deleting the blinks, I began to remember my frustration during the shoot. Maybe this was why I chose to ignore the photographs for two months? I had used my busy schedule as an excuse but I now realized that was a lie. The recent shoots with Alida have been complicated. Graduating from college has changed her. She’ more dominant now. That’s good for her but not so for my shoots. The best intimate muses totally let go; they’re almost submissive, completely giving in to my photographic needs. I give everything I have in return. It’s an emotional collaboration. The successful shoots all work this way. Once a model tries to take control over an Intimate Portrait session the connection is lost. What was special is gone. I’ve learned to be very careful when choosing models for this series.

woman at the indian buffet

Authors note: I’m writing this essay while eating at an Indian buffet in Jackson Heights. I made the trip to find fresh turmeric root and to get some new cigarette butt photos. As I write, a chunky woman (to be kind) walks up to the buffet and says, “I can eat at buffets. I get a lot of exercise. I don’t get fat. I can eat whatever I want.” I found it funny she needed to announce this to the world. Back to my writing.

The more I look at Alida’s pictures the more I remember the frustration. I text her a couple of pictures; a funny one and a beautiful serious portrait. Even though there are some wonderful shots looking at the shoot still upsets me. Great pictures often happen as part of a series of similar images taken quickly together. I see an expression or shape of the body and guide the muse towards what I hope will be an amazing picture. Over and over this happened with Alida, but every time just as she approached what would be an amazing photograph, she got distracted and made a stupid face or giggled. Every time! I pushed her emotionally during this shoot. I needed her to go farther emotionally then she had during previous sessions. Over time my pictures of a model need to improve and mature, otherwise why continue working together? Maybe this time I pushed Alida too much? No! I know what’s inside of her. Deliberately, either in her conscious or subconscious mind, she wouldn’t let me have the pictures I needed.

alida: diva muse & funny person

Over the next couple of days Alida and I texted back and forth about the shoot. She didn’t remember how she felt on that day. I know she seemed distracted to me and I struggled as a photographer. So many times I was close to capturing her in a new way, with more emotional strength and better energy.

Alida is one of my all time favorite muses. After three years of shooting together we’ve become friends. Even though we don’t shoot much anymore I still consider Alida “Muse #1.” The Intimate Portrait project began with her. That’s something I’ll never forget. When we shoot again I know I’ll push her emotional boundaries. I think this time she will be able to let go.

teel and madeline in the hallway

The doorbell rings. Teel runs to the door. He’s the official greeter. The dancer (who will continue to remain nameless) gets off the elevator and walks in the wrong direction. She turns and sees me. She’s exactly the person I saw on her Facebook page; the striking woman with an emotional blockade. I ask her if she would like a cup of tea. She declines. My meetings are always casual. That’s the person who I am. This already felt too professional. Was she concerned because the meeting was in my apartment? I’ve shot for some very important clients in my space including every dance magazine. It’s a New York City thing. You work wherever you can.

I have two walls near my entranceway covered with prints from some of my favorite shoots. I brought her over to see the work I do. The wall is a mixture of portraits from the Intimate Project, my mirror series, a few rock/rope images and my favorite portraits. She quickly let me know she couldn’t do a shoot for the Intimate Project. I can’t say I was surprised. She tells me she could do one of the rock/rope shoots. I don’t tell her this but no one does a rock/rope shoot who hasn’t sat for an intimate portrait first. In fact for now I don’t do pictures of any person who hasn’t shot for the Intimate Portrait Project first. I’ve learned that a model who can open up for that project always photographs better afterwards. I can no longer accept anything less.

intimate project and mirror series pictures on the wall

The dancer seems sweet and we talk for a while about her company. She does have a passion for her work. As we talk I can see why I wanted to photograph her in the first place. That spark is in there. Unfortunately I don’t think she’ll ever let me see it. I wonder to myself if she puts up the same barrier with her own dancing and choreography? I tell her we’ll talk soon about the possibility of working together. I meant it when the words came out but as she walks out the door I realize that’s not going to happen. Did she feel the same about me? Not everyone can work together and I understand that. I’m sure there’s another photographer out there that’s right for her.

Now I sat at my desk with no model to shoot: nothing to do. Even though I knew she would never shoot with me I left the afternoon open just in case. I happened to be out of turmeric root so I headed out to Jackson Heights for a shopping and Smokers’ Detritus adventure.

cigarette butt on the steps down to the #1 station at 79th street

I packed my bags and headed to the subway, quickly photographing one cigarette butt on the steps of the #1 station at 79th and Broadway, then taking the 7 train to 82nd street in Jackson Heights, one stop past my destination. I thought it might be fun exploring that stretch of Roosevelt Avenue. Neighborhoods in New York City change quickly. This area has a large selection of Mexican restaurants and bars with a smattering of Korean, Chinese, and Indian establishments. I’m always amazed how segregated New York City can be. Walking for almost half a mile on this busy avenue I passed only a few white faces.

manhole covers with cigarettes along roosevelt avenue

I’ve been interested in how manhole covers collect discarded cigarette butts. You can tell I was once an archeologist! I imagine the wind blows the debris down the street until it’s caught in the ridges of the covers. Future archeologists thousands of years from now might uncover some of these manholes during a dig and believe they are sacred ritual places where priests sat and smoked together. The problem with science is sometimes it uses too much imagination when considering the data before it.

I decided I would photograph every manhole cover while walking along Roosevelt Avenue. Despite this mini-assignment my favorite cigarette picture of the day was a stream of Smokers’ Detritus caught in a wide crack of the sidewalk. As much as I loved this river of butts it also disgusted me, all this garbage on the streets of New York City.

river of smokers' detritus

This essay is just as much about the pictures not-taken as it is about the images I took during my Jackson Heights adventure. There are no photographs of the woman who visited me earlier in the day and there are no photographs of another striking woman I saw during my walk along the avenue. Passing a small hair salon, I caught a glimpse of a woman checking out the styling of her hair. She was dressed in what I believe was traditional Indian wedding makeup and garments. I wondered if she was a bride and today her wedding? I only saw her reflection in a mirror. This woman might have been the most photogenic person I have ever seen in my life!

gulzar hair salon: jackson heights

The window to the salon was crowded with knick knacks. I wanted to take a few pictures with my phone but at the same time I didn’t want to be noticed and couldn’t find a good angle to easily capture her image. This woman obviously knew shw was perfect and spent time making sure every single hair was in place. I stood there for a while and then moved on. I couldn’t help but stray back in front of the salon one more time. I almost walked in the door. I thought with the salon mirrors I could do one image for my mirror series, but only having my phone as a camera made me feel amateurish and stupid. Anyway, I’m much too shy to bust in on a stranger. I’ve only done that a few times in my entire life.

I let it go and moved on, stopping in the middle of the street to photograph a flattened cigarette pack. I sometimes forget how calm the other boroughs are compared to Manhattan. No one ran me over. No one honked or yelled. The cars sat and waited while I took the picture and we all waved to each other as I walked on.

marlboro pack. 75th street. jackson heights

I passed the large subway station and bus station at 74th street, hearing a commotion around the corner. I expected it to be some kind of protest march. This is Little India and with both Indians and Pakistanis living together a protest every now and then is normal. As I turned the corner there is was – a rally to celebrate Bangladeshi Independence Day. Scott Stringer, the comptroller of New York City was introduced and spoke at length to the crowd. I’m not sure why the CFO of a city would speak at such an event, that is unless he has his eyes on the next mayoral election?

bangladesh independence parade

Comptroller Stringer gave a rousing speech and the small group, very small, gathered for a parade down the local streets. I have to admit it was a lot of fun to watch. In the past I’ve seen the Halloween, Mermaid, St. Patrick’s Day, Gay Pride, Puerto Rican, Chinese New Year, Easter, Israeli National and dozens of other parades – this felt like a real neighborhood get together. No superficial pomp, no commercialism – it was real. Believe it or not, New York City’s Halloween Parade once had this feel.

halloween parade. greenwich village. october 31, 1976

I wandered the neighborhood for an hour before settling into a local Indian buffet. I thought it would be a good place to begin this essay. No distractions. While writing I could take as long as I wanted to eat my meal. The rice pudding was delicious.

turmeric root at patel bros.

After dinner I walked down the block to Patel Bros., and amazing Indian grocery store. I have a particular grocery list for this place; onion naan, beets, raw cashews, mango puree, cilantro and of course fresh turmeric root. With my bags packed with food I walked to the subway station on the corner, passing small groups of people carrying green and red Bangladeshi flags. New York City is an amazing place. In this neighborhood I stand out as an outsider. My grandparents were immigrants and it’s possible some of the families here have a longer American history than my own – my ancestors arrived from Russia around 1900. I’ve read that Indians are the second largest immigrant group in the country after Mexicans. Who knew? I love this place!

Posted in art, cigarettes, dance, portrait | Comments Off

03/20/16: smokers’ detritus #2… jackson pollock

eran bugge in paul taylor's "polaris"

I needed to get out of the house. I photographed four Paul Taylor dress rehearsals last week – 12 dances. Shooting dance four days in a row is normally no big deal unless it is the choreography of Paul Taylor. There is something about his dance that is always more complicated than the work of other choreographers. I’ve always felt his steps are danced on the half-beat, on time with but always just ahead of the music. Pairs of dancers fly across the stage, hitting their crescendos a beat apart. Which couple do I follow? When do I click the shutter? For a photographer who tries to capture both the movement and emotion of dance, it is a nightmare.

So here I am, sitting in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art looking for both calm and inspiration. Yesterday I successfully found the necessary “calm” while photographing a rehearsal of a new dance by my friend, Caitlin Trainor. She was threshing out ideas with two of her dancers, Tamrin Goldberg and Allegra Herman, the stage a stairway in the Diana Theater building at Barnard College. I knew there would be great light through a wall of east facing windows. It was my first meeting with Tamrin but Allegra is already a muse who enriches my soul. I found Tamrin to be an amazing spirit. I was captivated by her the moment I walked into the room. This shoot was special!

allegra herman and tamrin goldberg

Tamrin – just so you know – you are going to be my muse.

I worked with the three dancers for two hours. It was the best rehearsal experience I’ve had in a very long time. I needed it. My shoots with Taylor are at Lincoln Center. I’m stuck in a seat with a tripod set in front of me for most of the afternoon. I must get certain photographs to show off the choreography and the talent of the dancers. There is very little time to think about taking photographs in my own vision.

tamrin goldberg, allegra herman, and caitlin trainor

The shoot with Caitlin and her dancers was the exact opposite. I moved up and down the staircase, my camera often in the faces of the dancers. We all occupied the same space and my movement was unrestricted. The pictures were all about my own needs. Caitlin loves my work. She would be happy with any images I give her. This shoot – I love it a lot!

Today is day #2 of my “mind clearing.” I walked down to MOMA through Central Park. The willow trees are beginning to turn yellow-green and daffodils bloom along the pathways. Despite the crowds I enjoyed the nature, not once stopping to photograph the flowers in bloom. I had already decided the pictures I took today had to be inspired by my visit to MOMA.

As I walked into the museum I saw a young man splayed across the staircase leading up to the galleries. A few professional looking people with “real” cameras photographed this man as a museum guard, showing no concern, stood nearby. I was surprised the guard was allowing this to happen. The body of the man on the floor half-blocked the stairway. As climbed the stairs and walked into the mezzanine’s large exhibition space I noticed half-a-dozen bodies splayed out across the floor. I then realized it had to be a performance art piece. Marina Abramovic performed in this same gallery. It seems no matter how hard I try I can’t get away from dance.

dancer at the museum of modern art performing maria hassabi's "plastic"

This performance piece is called PLASTIC, by Maria Hassabi. I didn’t love the dancers’ outfits and basically I didn’t get it. There were a lot of people in the gallery watching. I guess this kind of thing is nice for tourists. I’ve seen too much during my forty years in New York to appreciate this type of performance piece. I need more.

detail of jackson pollock's "number 1a, 1948"

I decided I would use this museum visit as inspiration for the Smokers’ Detritus pictures I planned to shoot during my walk home. There it was on the wall, Jackson Pollock’s Number 1A. The painting reminded me of the strings, twigs, hair and whatever, often provides the backgrounds for the cigarette butts I photograph in the streets. I took a few closeups of the Pollock and then needed to write. My plan was to head over to the gallery with Monet’s Water Lilies but somehow I found myself sitting in front of Dance by Henri Matisse. Once again drawn to the dance. I can’t get away from it. I have loved this Matisse painting for a very long time; before I moved to New York and began this life as a professional photographer and well before I ever photographed dance.

a woman photographing "dance" by henri matisse

This essay has an ending that hasn’t yet been lived. It’s 5:15pm. The light outside is perfect for shooting cigarette butts. The galleries are closing. I’m off to create my own art.

Later that night: Except for Home Depot not having the supplies I needed, the walk home from the museum was wonderful. Outside the museum, 54th street was full of cigarette butts. I kind of expected that. People smoke before entering MOMA and toss their half-finished cigarettes everywhere – hundreds lying on the streets and sidewalks. Hundreds, but no “Jackson Pollocks.” I photographed some of the detritus anyway.

kent cigarette remains on 54th street

I didn’t shoot while walking up Fifth Avenue to the park. I spied a few interesting cigarette remains in the street but there were too many tourists crowding the sidewalks. Crawling on the ground with my Iphone – I would have been crushed. That’s when I headed over to Home Depot. I figured I might as well get one errand done.

I crossed 60th street from Home Depot on Third Avenue back to the park. Where 54th had been too clean to be interesting for my Smokers’ Detritus project, 60th street was somewhere between a garbage dump and an ashtray. I was shocked an upper east side street near Bloomingdale’s and Park Avenue could be this disgusting! As the saying goes, “One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” This dirty street was a cigarette butt goldmine.

crushed newport pack on 60th street

It took me a long time to cross the two avenues between Home Depot and Central Park. Cigarette butts in every variation of decay lined the curbs. The sidewalks were so dirty I wasn’t sure I wanted to stop and take pictures. I couldn’t help myself. My poor knees. I did photograph the most worn cigarette box I’ve yet to see in the streets. That was a good find! Still, no “Pollocks.” I knew I had to get into the park while there was still light.

Smoking isn’t allowed in the park. You’d think it wouldn’t be a good place for my series. Think again! In the center of the park, up near where I live, I rarely see a spent butt. Along the edges of the park it’s different. I can also find subject matter under benches along the pathways that cross the park and especially at the southern end of the park where the tourists congregate. I followed a path from the entrance at 60th street towards the Central Park Zoo, hoping to finally find my modern art piece. There is was between the benches – a perfect mix of human and nature’s detritus – lines and wiggles, splashes and blotches. A Jackson Pollock on the streets of New York. I took my pictures and thought this photo essay was finished.

smokers' detritus in the style of jackson pollock #1

I stopped at Bethesda Fountain for a few pictures. It was almost dark and the remains of light on the fountain were beautiful. Behind me, under the 72nd street concourse, I could make out the shadows of homeless people in the darkness. The lights in the tunnel are usually on at night but this area, with the beautifully restored mosaics was shrouded in darkness. Maybe the timers for the lights hadn’t been reset for the spring time change? In the center, a man was splayed out on the ground, not unlike the dancers at the Museum of Modern Art. Every few seconds he let out a loud moan, sounding much like an injured wild animal. I’ve heard this sound in the desert at night. It’s eerie and unnerving. I wondered if I should help him? Maybe I was being overly cautious but the situation appeared to be dangerous. If I walked into the dark tunnel I could have been trapped. I’ve walked through Central Park at all times of night for almost forty years and this was the first time I felt danger. I know not to go against my instincts. They rescued me many times during my trips to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Another man was standing at the edge of the passageway, his back towards me, staring at the man on the ground. I decided to let it be.

bethesda fountain

At the foot of the steps leading to the fountain, not far from the moaning man, I saw a cigarette on the ground. A Marlborough – the final ashes lying nearby, torn off by the wind. It sat on top of the remains of nature, a mix of the fall and spring. This bed of debris was the butt’s final resting place and the perfect background for this subject.

smokers' detritus in the style of jackson Pollock #2

I thought once again about Jackson Pollock. Only in recent times have I begun to appreciate modern art. I don’t know much about him. I know his work was partially inspired by his studies with Thomas Hart Benton and exhibitions of Picasso’s work during that time. I know he was married to the artist Lee Krasner and painted many of his famous works in a large barn located in East Hampton. In 1948, when Pollock painted Number 1A, 1948, he must have been completely surrounded by nature.

I looked this up. Google can be a wonderful research tool. When a famed art teacher named Hans Hoffman asked Pollock, “Do you work from nature?” Pollock replied, “I am nature.”

My Smokers’ Detritus pictures from today are perfect.

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03/12/15: stories and smokers’ detritus

cigarette butt outside of "the tombs"

Caitlin Trainor says I’m the only one who can make discarded cigarette butts look beautiful. It’s a wonderful comment but not exactly true. Irving Penn did a series on cigarette butts in the 1960s.

I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art whenever I can. It is a great inspiration for my work. During this trip I saw a photograph by Aaron Siskind and believe there is something of his style in my cigarette butt photographs. Too bad! I was never a big fan of his work. I always preferred the photographs of his contemporary, Harry Callahan.

harry callahan and aaron siskind. photo: henry horenstein

Some of my favorite cigarette shoots happen while walking from my apartment on the West Side, crossing Central Park to the museum on Fifth Avenue. Today it took me more than an hour to walk across two avenues. The sidewalks were completely littered with cigarette butts in various states of deterioration. I’ve joked with my friend, the photographer Leslie Jean-Bart, that I could do my entire Smokers’ Detritus series on West 83rd street, it is so filled with the disgusting remains of smokers. Get close to the ground, as I do while shooting, and you’ll realize the curbs smell like well-used ashtrays. At least I’m finding useful to do with this trash. Hopefully I’m turning it into art.

west 83rd st

Today I promised I wouldn’t leave the museum without writing in my journal. I have already been wandering for hours. I haven’t found a place to sit that inspires me. I decided gallery hosting Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware might be a good spot. I remembered there are benches near the painting.

emanuel leutze's "washington crossing the delaware." courtesy metropolitan museum of art

I was right. Even a tour group passing through with a silly guide hasn’t been much of a distraction – primarily because I’m facing in the other direction – away from George Washington and towards a life size alabaster statue, nude, of a young girl. The light on it is nice. I thought the statue was more interesting than Washington and a bunch of people in a boat, which I hear from the guide is historically inaccurate.

erastus dow palmer's "the white captive" in the metropolitan museum of art

The tour group finally leaves. I have the gallery to myself. Just me and the guard… I’ll check the ID of the statue. It was created by Erastus Dow Palmer and is named The White Captive and it’s marble, not alabaster. I don’t get the “captive” part. I guess there is a bit of fear and tension in her face. I think the statue was just an excuse by the artist to work with a young nude model. After reading reviews about the statue, first exhibited in 1859, I don’t think I’m the only one who questions the artist’s motives. I wonder who the model was?

Irving Penn did a photographic study of cigarette butts. He sent his assistants off into the New York City streets, looking for the appropriate debris. From what I’ve heard about Penn I’m sure he was very specific. Penn then laid out the cigarettes on a simple white backgrounds, photographing them with a large format camera – finally making gorgeous large platinum prints. I worked as a black-and-white printer for one of Penn’s former assistants, Gordon Munro, and during the my last year in his studio, I made a feeble attempt at producing platinum prints. I often wonder if Gordon was one of the assistants Penn sent out, searching for the perfect cigarette butt? Gordon and I are still in touch. I should ask him. Gordon is now deep into platinum printing, setting up a special darkroom for the project. He recently told me it would have been difficult to begin without my impeccable notes on mixing the platinum-paladium mixture and coating sheets of various qualities of paper. It’s always smart to hire a Virgo!

irving penn. crushed camel pack. hanging at pace gallery

The Pace Gallery in Chelsea recently exhibited a variety of Penn’s photographic series – a few cigarette prints were there. I still love them but not as much as I did when I first saw these photographs decades ago. The prints are amazing but lack the grittiness I’ve come to love in my own series. Photographing the cigarette butts in place – where they’ve been discarded – the dirt, hair, seeds – is a necessary part of the image. Most important is the texture of the sidewalks and streets – the ground beneath my subjects. It adds so much to the images.

irving penn. cigarettes. photographed at the pace gallery in new york city

At Penn’s exhibition there were a few prints of cigarettes in situ. Penn had a camera adapted allowing him to get close to the cigarettes in the street. It’s obvious why Penn stuck mostly to the studio. The streets were not his place. These pictures are not special. Penn needed more control. In my mind no photographer in history has matched his artistic genius in the studio.

Another tour group. This time they’re distracting. I know I said the gallery has been empty but all this time there has been, shall I say, a heavy-set woman sitting at the opposite end of my bench. I didn’t want to mention her before because I was going to call her a “grey blob.” That didn’t seem nice. But she’s still there and now she’s part of my history. I think she’s a little “off.” The woman is dressed a lot better than I am. That’s not saying much. She has five of the older tin museum entrance buttons clipped to her collar and three of the newer entrance stickers stuck to the lapel. I guess she never cleans this coat. I thought I was weird because I kept a few of the tin buttons as souvenirs! She must love this place!

crushed marlboro pack. bay ridge

I notice my knees are dirty and my left knee is bleeding out a few small cuts. Throughout the year I wear shorts as much as possible. It’s difficult to explain. Now who’s the strange person in the museum! I wonder what kind of diseases I might get while kneeling on the filthy New York City ground, photographing the used cigarettes?

smoker's detritus on 36th street: in the style of siskind

Siskind and Penn. Texture and beauty. The inspiration of art. It’s what my Smokers’ Detritus series is all about. In the beginning, it was meant to be a few pictures for Instagram but while wandering the city, finding these interesting subjects everywhere – in puddles, cracks in the sidewalk, under bus stop benches – I couldn’t stop shooting. It is the debris of real people – crushed or flicked. These bits of smokers’ detritus give hints about the past owners. Each day I comb the streets I learn more about these smoking people. It helps me see in a new way. It makes me wonder… if Erastus Palmer included a nightgown in the sculpture, why isn’t the model wearing it?

Posted in art, cigarettes, nudes | Comments Off

alyssa forte: rescued from the void

alyssa forte: intimate portrait

02/04/16: photographer’s note
It’s difficult to put the Intimate Portrait photographs into words. How does one explain a shoot where I’m sitting on a half-naked model for three hours while wearing only a t-shirt and shorts. When I’m away from these shoots for a few weeks I find it difficult to explain even to myself. These shoots are physical and emotional but not in a way you would think. On occasion they can be sensual but that’s what happens when two bodies touch for hours. Still, it’s not about that. It is about warmth. It is about the model finding peace in her soul. As much as I enjoy the warmth I get from so many special people, while the camera is in my hands I rarely think of anything except the images before me. I have a real need to capture the great pictures the models give me.

For many of the muses the Intimate Portrait shoots becomes a therapy session. Often I get calls to set up a shoot when a muse is struggling with a boyfriend or having difficulty finding their “center.” I often wonder if they need a physical shoot with a man they can completely trust. A person they can touch who asks for nothing of them except amazing images. I have to say the emotional warmth I feel during these sessions is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life and it has changed me. I am a better person thanks to my muses.

Today, while visiting an exhibition of the great photographer Irving Penn at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea, I spied a quote in an essay written by Edmonde Charles-Roux describing a series of Penn’s nude photographs featuring a small modern dance company taken in 1967. “There was no voyeurism involved in the way he took these pictures: he simply concentrated on capturing the way the bodies moved…”

Of course my images are also about emotion but I couldn’t describe the process of the Intimate Portrait project better.

01/28/16: Artistic Funk
Once every few years I go through a period of what I call “artistic funk.” My mind is blank. I can not see. It’s not that I can’t create my art but I’ve lost my vision… the ability to have photographic “daydreams” while sitting at the computer or walking along the New York City streets.

opening spread of vision #7: work in progress

I feel content, sitting at the computer looking at past photographs or working on the next issue of my VISION art journal. This artistic vacuum is not lost time. Much has been organized. During this period of time, though void of art, has included the repair of several antique clocks, building two bookshelves, setting up a new business laptop, organizing thirty years of model releases, framing new photographs and stripping the paint off a hidden window above my bedroom door. No waste of time. No pictures.

02/03/16: The “funk” continued to get worse. I was beginning to feel like an empty vessel. The artistic void was beginning to effect my day to day life. I didn’t feel like shooting at all. Sorting through old photographs felt great. The future felt empty. I had no daydreams about my muses or future pictures.

I figured I would spend the next month working on the “Paul Taylor” issue of VISION while waiting for the Taylor season at Lincoln Center to begin in mid-March when I would be busy photographing two weeks of dress rehearsals. Maybe when that job was completed sometime in April I’d figure out how to shoot portraits again. I have enjoyed the recent rehearsal studio shoots with the Taylor company taken for the upcoming issue of VISION. Possibly I could begin a new project photographing studio rehearsals? Rehearsal shoots don’t take quite the same emotional intensity as my Intimate Portrait. I can be in the studio with a dozen dancers and still feel alone.

larissa baseman: intimate portrait

The Intimate Portrait project feels dead. I’ve photographed more than 50 models for this project, over 100 shoots. Is that enough? Future shoots for this project would be a failure if I no longer have the passion. If you’ve read my blog you know how physically and emotionally intense these shoots can be. I’m not sure I can find that artistic place again. I just did shoots with two of my favorite muses, Larissa Baseman and Natalie Deryn Johnson but felt empty afterwards. So strange, the normal post-shoot emotion is that of extreme warmth and goodness!

The muses were wonderful. I possibly had my best shoot with Natalie and the pictures of Larissa were wonderful. It was all them. They drove the passion of the shoots. I was only a robot on auto-pilot. The benefit of having 40 years of professional experience is the ability to take great pictures at any time when an amazing model is sitting in front of me. The lighting and composition are easy. The models’ talents and desires for great pictures “forced” me to do my job well. But I had no feeling. No memory of having done these shoots. That’s not me.

natalie deryn johnson

Natalie’s shoot, two weeks ago was when I first realized my passion was gone. Her body underneath me during the intimate portrait did not feel right. Natalie had just separated from her boyfriend so at first I blamed it on her. Of course I kept that to myself. Maybe in that emotional state the physical contact during our shoot made her uncomfortable. I never looked at the photographs. That never happens. It was only a week later when Natalie asked me to take pictures on her upcoming birthday I realized I hadn’t looked at our shoot. It was like it had never happened. Only then did I understand how the lack of comfort during our shoot had nothing to do with Natalie. It was all about me.

larissa baseman: cashmere coat

Larissa has become my friend. I wanted to see her. We hadn’t shot since Christmas. I hoped photographing her would set me on the right path again. I thought if I shot Larissa a few days before Natalie’s “birthday shoot” maybe I would return to normal.

It didn’t happen. Larissa and I chatted for a long time before we began taking pictures. I’m sure I was trying to stall as long as possible. I knew I had no vision, no excitement about shooting. Sorry Larissa. I hope it didn’t show. I was lost at the beginning of the shoot, not knowing what to do. We began with portraits, Larissa standing in my living room wearing my long black cashmere dress jacket. I struggled to capture her beauty. Larissa is incredibly photogenic. A goddess!

We should have done intimate portraits first but I wasn’t ready to touch her. We did finish off with a series of portraits for the Intimate series and of course, Larissa was amazing. She always is. Her natural beauty is startling. Again, afterwards I felt nothing. I was sinking.

I do know how to jump start my art when I’m feeling like a failure. This time I wasn’t sure if I should try. I’ve shot so much during the past few years maybe something inside my head was telling me to take a break and look to the past to see what I had accomplished? There is a business to being an art photographer. Possibly this was the only way I could move forward with the business of art?

When I began this essay I had no idea it would be about Alyssa Forte. Alyssa didn’t exist in my life except as a Facebook “friend” who only appeared in my life on a rare occasion as a post on my computer screen. I’m not sure if she friended me or I her. I imagine I saw her on another friend’s page, was intrigued by her look and made the friend request myself. I have no idea when. Natalie and Alyssa are best friends. Possibly I saw Alyssa in post by Natalie? I know Natalie wanted Alyssa to work with me on an Intimate Portrait shoot.

Last week Alyssa contacted me on Facebook about shooting…

“Hey Paul,

Natalie Johnson recommended me for your intimate portrait project – I also am in need of some decent more formal headshots, if possible.

Let me know if you’d be interested in shooting me sometime.


Alyssa Forte”

alyssa forte: one of our first images

Here I was, not wanting to hold a camera in front of my face, hoping I would spend the week laying out the first pages of VISION #7 and now I had shoots with Larissa, Alyssa, and Natalie on back to back to back days. The thought did not make me happy. I needed to get to work on the Taylor pictures. I didn’t need these shoots. At the same time I felt I had no choice.

As I mentioned, the shoot with Larissa failed to motivate me. I didn’t care. I love the time we spend together. I hoped it would be different with Alyssa. I spent time the night before our shoot looking at the photographs on her Facebook page, wondering what she was like as a person. I was positive I could photograph her well. A few of her pictures did show a spark. I wondered if I could capture Alyssa’s energy, taking her to a new emotional level during our Intimate Portrait session?

alyssa forte: skin

On the day of the shoot as I was having my morning tea and setting up the lights I took one last look at Alyssa’s Facebook pictures. I saw something. Daydreams of our future pictures together slowly filled my head… conversations took place that had not yet happened. The doorbell rang, Teel running out into the hallway to greet Alyssa as he does all the muses. She came up the stairs and I saw her face. There was something of an angel inside of her. I knew the day would be good.

Alyssa and I talked for an hour before we began. I still wasn’t ready to take pictures. I needed to watch her face in the light for a long time, to feel what the person was inside of her. Finally I could no longer keep myself from shooting and we began. Alyssa had spoken to Natalie about these shoots, read my blog. She knew what was involved. The beginning was easier with Alyssa than most of my previous Intimate shoots, not having to explain the physical contact or the need to photograph more than her face but also the skin and texture of her shoulders, her breasts. Don’t think it’s about nudity because it’s not. My photographs are determined by the light and shadows. I make skin look great.

It’s here where I realize how the quote from the Penn exhibition suits my work so well, “no voyeurism…simply capturing the way the bodies moved…” I could not have described the Intimate Portrait shoots any better!

alyssa forte: intimate portrait

Alyssa removed her top and we began shooting. I almost always begin by standing a few feet away when working with a new model, checking the light on their face; shifting my lights and their body on my couch until the miracle begins. It was fast with Alyssa. She was happy with the first photograph and after a few dozen pictures both of us began to fall into a zone. We’d shoot for a few minutes and look at the images. Talking to her felt good. It began to feel like an Intimate Portrait session. I hadn’t felt that way in a while.

I moved back and forth, sometimes sitting on Alyssa’s lap then standing above her as the light and composition dictated how I photographed her face and body. With every picture she became more relaxed, her expression better.. I got used to the shape of her body beneath me, physically using her, holding on to her hips with my legs to keep my balance. We were connected. The warmth felt good to both of us. The contact was important. During the best Intimate Portraits the model and I never want to lose touch with each other. We stop talking with our mouths and speak with our bodies, understanding how each other’s subtle movement will effect the photographs.

alyssa forte

I could feel Alyssa begin to take the deep breaths that inform me when I model has finally relaxed. At that point I feel absorbed into their bodies; the beginning of our joint meditation. The entire process begins to feel like a spiritual journey. At times the model allows me to take this journey with her. At other times she goes somewhere alone, still focused on the camera giving me the pictures I need.

Unlike the others who felt this way, Alyssa never seemed to let go of me. Our emotional photographic journey was always together. One time, when we stopped to look at the photographs we spoke about finding inner peace. It is something important in my own life and it is the bedrock that keeps me steady at all times. When I pulled the camera back up to my face I realized Alyssa had absorbed everything I had just said to her. I was sitting on a new person. Something had happened to her. She was the same but different. More at peace. More beautiful. I stopped shooting to show her the pictures. Alyssa couldn’t believe it was her. She said she listened to what I had said and had found that peace inside of her. It showed in every photograph.

We stayed physically close for the rest of the shoot. We didn’t lose touch when I showed her pictures in the back of the camera or when taking short breaks for conversation. I held on to her, tight. It’s what she asked for. I tried to stay part of her at all times. The more of me she felt the stronger the images became.

alyssa forte: intimate portrait

This is what the Intimate Portrait shoots are supposed to be about; trust, warmth, connection, emotions, passion. Alyssa was perfection. She allowed me to be inside of her head. She completely opened up to the needs of my photographs. Many times during the shoot I told her that she had rescued me from that artistic void. My appreciation of her effort is impossible to put into words. I’m not sure if she knew how important that was for me? How can anyone know except the artist himself?

I never wanted the shoot to end. My eyes tired and it was difficult to focus close up in the dim light. I didn’t realize at the time I had taken over 3,700 photographs. Each picture was still so good but I could no longer see. I didn’t want to lose the physical contact with Alyssa. I don’t think most people understand how the pure warmth of another person, one who is caring, can make you feel special.

I sensed that about Alyssa when I studied her Facebook page but I didn’t sense the depth of the goodness of her soul. Alyssa was everything to me during our shoot, giving me both great warmth and amazing pictures without hesitation. This is the first time I have been able to write in over 4 months. Alyssa brought me back to the place where I can create again. Alyssa, once again I thank you for saving me!

alyssa forte: intimate portrait

Alyssa’s thoughts, sent by text after the shoot.

“The emptiness–fullest potential to be filled and to give. All of my expressions expressed.

Pressed out onto paper, screens, televisions–

A hard copy of a lifetime of feeling. Everything that I though fleeting becomes permanent; my essence, the essence of others- The essence of others onto me. Became fixed – in time. Captured.

Until images return to extinction – there will always be this. All of those. And this.”

Those are my initial thoughts in a more abstract way… Alyssa Forte

Posted in art, dance, intimate, nudes, portrait | Comments Off