Sunday, March 13, 2011

Would I quit?

I haven't been shooting models for very long, at least compared to many other photographers.  It's been a bit over a year since my first "model" photoshoot.  Since that time I've probably done 25-30 photoshoots.  I know I'll look back someday and realize how this really is just geting started, even though I do put so much effort, creativity, and energy into every shoot.  Also, despite not having done this for a long time, I feel it's become part of my existence, part of who I am, and the desire to keep creating is a life-giving force to me.  That's was pretty much the extent of my awareness of this pursuit's "hold" on me until fairly recently.

Since I'm a single man, I had not had to give much thought to what some potential partner's reaction to all this might be.  However, a couple months ago I did have a string of dates with one particular woman - not a model, but just someone I dated for a bit.  She became aware of my photographic interests fairly soon into our knowing each other, and it was quite obvious she was not comfortable with the idea, even as she visibly stiffened when I mentioned it, and tried to explain why it was an interest to me.  Her first pre-judgment was that this was somehow involved with sexual impropriety, or something along those lines.  She hadn't even seen any of my work, and she was already dismissing this as something unacceptable.

"If my boyfriend did that, he would have to stop", she declared.  "Of course, you're not my boyfriend, so it's fine for you.  Yes, you can go ahead and do whatever you want.  I'm just saying that for me, if it was my boyfriend, I could not accept that". 

I was a bit stunned at first.  I scrambled and fumbled around trying to explain to her how this kind of interest can be an expression of art, of beauty, or at least of celebrating the beautry of women.  But I could easily see that my words were like paper airplanes being flung against a three-inch thick oak door, bouncing off without any measurable impact.  So I gave up fairly quickly on any attempt to change her mind, or open up her eyes.  (I can add that any interest I had in her at that point dropped substantially, but that's a separate story).    It did, in fact, cause me to think a bit about myself, however.

That was the positive to that conversation, in fact.  This woman's comment/observation, gave me something to reflect on in myself - something I hadn't really thought of up to that point.  Suddenly, numerous questions and thoughts entered my mind.  Would being attached to my photographic interest (models, in particular) put a wedge between any potential relationship I might have in the future?  Was there some unhealthy aspect to this that I hadn't heretofore considered?  What would I replace this outlet with if I did actually stop?  Getting really deep - was I at a subconscious level avoiding a committed relationship and putting obstacles in place to prevent myself from getting into one?  Gosh, what is the whole point of all this - my spare time, money, my preoccupation with looking for shoot locations, interesting props at the Goodwill store, etc.?  Am I crazy???

To avoid boring the reader to excess, this entry won't delve into excessive detail about how I waded through all my thinking to arrive at conclusions to these questions, but I did come out the end of that period of reflection with more assuredness of where I'm going.

I realized there are many things that fulfill me as a person through doing photographic work.  I tend to be both a creative person, and also a person who likes to build or construct things.  I feel some kind of energy from the whole process of getting an idea, and then putting the pieces together to create something that did not exist before.  The process of conceiving an idea, and then transforming that into an actual physical manifestation in some ways defines me as a person.  For example, I recently found a large box that I painted and converted into some kind of "light chamber" in which I had the model climb inside and pose.  In fact, that idea came into my head the moment I saw the discarded box.  I remember getting this thing ready a couple days before the shoot, waking up early in the morning and jumping out of bed to go outside before work and paint this thing - stuff like that.  Maybe other photographers - certainly other creative souls and artists - have experienced this feeling.  It's as if some hidden energetic force overtakes the body and makes ordinary bodily maintenance (sleeping, eating, etc.) seem an annoying distraction.  I like that feeling (well, not all the time) - I get a buzz out of it!

On top of this, I'm discovering how a certain kind of community unfolds before me as I find my way along discovering my art.  I have met so many interesting models, for example, and a good many of them are just as beautiful on the inside as they are in the appearance department.  There have been many times where the photoshoot with a model became a bit of a gateway into a new friendship, sometimes leading to introductions to other friends of theirs.  I recently did a shoot with a model, and afterwards we attended a gallery open house for a friend of hers who was displaying his painting work.  She introduced me to several friends in attendance, all of whom were involved in art in some way.  This was really a gas for me (my "day job" is working with engineers and technical people - really the polar opposite in terms of personality types).  That evening, we all ended up going out after the show, having dinner and partaking in a karaoke session that ended only in the wee hours of the morning.  I just love this opportunity and the adventure of following new paths, socially as well as artistically.  This is just one example, and there have been many similar episodes.

On the topic of community, it seems one can't mention the word without adding the prefix "online": the "online community".  Honestly speaking, I'm not always a big fan of that term, inasmuch as I fear that for many of us the online world tends to eclipse the "real" world, and real interactions with live humans.  That said, there are truly some rewarding relationships and bonds that form through the internet world, and of this I am truly a believer.  It's really enjoyable - even exciting - to hear from folks on Flickr, for example, who comment on my photos, and likewise, to see thier work and learn from them and exchange ideas.  I am quite sure that some of those online meetings will continue over time, and some will even result in face to face meetings some day.  Yeah, it's pretty real, and the connection is very meaningful to me.

So, what about the obvious aspect of model photography that might raise concerns for a girlfriend, wife, or partner?  Are those legitimate?  Yeah, they are.  I mean, the feelings of suspicion and jealousy that might arise are understandable and real, even if they are unfounded.  I do understand that part.  I've asked a number of my women friends about that, about how they would feel about their partner being involved in a hobby, or even a profession, such as this.  My unscientific research leads me to believe that somewhere between half and two thirds of the gals I'm likely to meet would not be able to accept this.  It isn't a good or bad thing, it's just a complex formula tied to things like our family upbringing, societal norms, self assuredness, religious views, past experiences, and even things like the person's sympathy with artistic endeavors.  Some women I talked to told me they'd have absolutely no problem with it (I'm talking photography, not fooling around), where others flatly admitted they could never accept it.  Not surprising, and that's all good and okay.

But, for me, and back to the opening line...  "Would I stop?".  Would I stop doing photography of beautiful women, looking into the camera with their beckoning eyes, sometimes scantily clad, and arguably some of the most lovely of God's creations on the planet?  Would I stop if I met someone that loved me, I loved deeply, and with whom felt the kind of soulmate attachment we all dream of finding?  Would I stop if this person could not accept it?  Well, in spite of all my reflections and compelling thought lines substantiating this photographic passion, I'd have to say - yes.  I would stop for love.  Just as most any of us will sacrifice anything, maybe even our very lives, for the ones we love, this is something I would sacrifice if the situation called for it.  But, we're not there yet, and I kind of hope that when I do find that person, she'll be able to undestand and support this form of creativity.

Meanwhile, I'll keep pressing that shutter button...


  1. Great post. From reading your other posts, I feel like we're kindred spirits in many ways. You present some interesting questions, not only from the women you've dated, but also in the deeper aspects of your art. I deliberately avoided using the word photography.

    Your art is a representation of yourself. You're aware of your motivations, you're on a quest for discovery; a quest that could very well be lifelong. When you speak to your interests about your art, you have to represent it fully. It's part of who you are. You can't expect everyone to embrace what you do, or even grasp your artistic drive. There are many aspects to your art that you don't grasp, and that's okay. You do it and you derive fulfillment from it.

    The problem / beauty with art is that not everyone gets it. We all interpret art differently. To your interests, they see it as a threat, and as something completely unacceptable. You see it as an appreciation of women in their very essence. You recognize and appreciate the woman and her beauty as art. If you were using it as a guise to manipulate and exploit them then it wouldn't be art. There is a very distinct line. That's not to say that thoughts of what could be, or what we would like to be, don't enter our minds. But, that's a line we try our best to avoid crossing.

    The other point of this is your art subjects. Your subjects are willing participants. They want to be viewed as art. Many work hard to achieve the right look, the right pose, and the right allure. Why? Because women want to be desired, even if that desire is manifested in the form of fantasy. It doesn't even have to go that far. It's as immediate as the camera that's being focused on them.

    Would you give up your art for love? You'd be giving up part of yourself if you did that. If your love respects you, the things that defines you, and your art, then she will support you. She will also trust that you will be as thoughtful and careful about your love as you are about your art, if not more.

    What I'm saying is that you cannot and should not apologize or compromise your art (or anything about yourself) to calm someone's insecurities. It will first begin with art, then it will become something else, and inevitably you will find yourself compromising yourself. Trust me, I've done it all. It's not worth it. What you do with your art, and who you do it with are no more of a risk than whom you may encounter in your work life, or anywhere in between.

    Your art is part of who you are. It can't be exchanged to satisfy another's interest as say a piece of furniture.

  2. Wow! Mark, that is an incredible offering you've put forth there. Astoundingly insightful, and well considered. I deeply appreciate your sharing this perspective, and I'm sure anyone who reads this post will benefit all the more for having read your contribution. Many thanks.