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  • Writer's pictureJae Hodges

Escaping Discomfort

So, I'm doing this photography course and the latest assignment I tackled was Expression Photo. Ask yourself a question, then observe the expression that results. I'm not big on self-portraiture so I wondered if I couldn't get as much from the exercise by turning it around to observing portraits that I'd taken and wondering what question was on the mind of the model. 

I had the tremendous opportunity to photograph a live model drawing session during my artists and writers residency in Orquevaux, France and I don't mind admitting it was eye-opening, thrilling, unbelievable, and all the other positive adjectives I could go on (and on) with. I chose two that were particularly expressive and the question that came to mind was "where do you (I?) go when people are staring, by way of escaping or protecting oneself against discomfort? One of the reasons I chose these two particular images was because I think my answer would be very nearly the same as hers. 

In one of the photos, "Netta" is looking off to the side.

Netta Avoiding Gaze

Her expression is not blank, but I think penetrating, as if she's looking through the furniture that was surely in her line of sight, imagining what she might be doing if she lived in the Château and this were her drawing room, or contemplating what she might do after the long drive and train ride home. Perhaps she was choreographing a ballet in her mind. Perhaps she was simply making a market list for dinner. What is clear is that she is not in a room, standing naked in front of an uncovered picture window, in front of a group of people circling her with their sketch pads and watercolors, and me flitting about the room snapping pictures. This one makes me think of studio photos of actresses from the 1920s. Very subtle, very soft, very much a woman of solitude in a world of chaos.

In both photos I used an illusion filter to give the images an ethereal look--faded black and white dematerializing into bright white edges. Numinous, as in appealing to higher emotions or to the aesthetic sense (according to Merriam-Webster). There, but not there. Above the fray. 

The second photo is a double exposure with the right figure clearer than the left, as if she's fading into the background. In this photo "Netta"'s eyes are closed. No longer is she training her gaze on some object to help transport her away from the room, and her condition as object. Here, her mind is completely in control of her situation, and she can choose to be there or not.

Netta Eyes Closed

There is more of a darkness to this image, though. There's a shadow cast across the back of her head, creeping around to absorb the side of her face. Yet she still has a serene look. I can't help but think of Pygmalion and Galatea. Here is the ivory woman of mythology becoming completely devoid of the flaws of flesh and blood. 

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