Saturday, 29 January 2011

Dance at the Tate Modern

I teach a class on Friday afternoons to MA Dance students. It is a module for which they have to use dance as an interpretive tool and a curatorial practice and for which they need to create a project as if they had been commissioned by a gallery. So they need to identify their chosen gallery, liaise with the curatorial staff, research the collection and devise a way of introducing dance in that setting, through themed performances or participatory workshops or any other idea  they can come up with.
As part of the teaching I take them to do fieldtrips to well known collections. We look at them anew and find ways of responding to the collection through embodiment - or the possibility of embodiment.
Yesterday afternoon we were at the Tate Modern. With amazing views of London,  Tate Modern has hosted site specific performances in the Turbine Hall and outside.
But I do not want my students to create anything as obvious as that, a performance in a great setting. I want them to engage with the collections, which are  thematically arranged, rather than following a chronology.  The curatorial arrangement is choreographic: the visitors have to walk around, following different trajectories inside the rooms, bend down , rise on tiptoes to view the art objects: all this involves body movement, a dance of sort.

Some time ago Thomas Struth did  a photographic project involving visitors at the National Gallery and taking pictures of their interactions with the paintings. This was repeated in other museums in Europe. The project  enabled Struth to explore poses, groupings and gestures in spectators' movements.
I asked my students to reflect on such issues.  What about the light that comes through the large windows? What about the sounds that visitors make? As we were talking, I kept on thinking of photographic opportunities.

An art nude shoot may not be possible among the magnificent art works of the Tate - imagine reclining and rising up elliptically, in the manner of  Boccioni's piece Unique Forms of Continuity in Space ,* next to the piece itself! But modelling is akin to dance.  I do not mean modelling should be about the most contorted poses one can think of, in the manner of an acrobat. A gentle exploration of shape and making the stillness infused with dynamism are enough. And what better way to learn how to do it than wandering among the art works in a great gallery, such as the Tate Modern in London  or MOMA in New York?

*and have you noticed how strangely reminiscent of the  Nike of Samothrake this piece is?

(All photographs by Martin Billings and modelled by Alex B.)

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Photographer: Talkingdrum. Left, Talkingdrum's version. Right my reprocessed version.

I am experiencing some  synchronicity at the moment in my life and I wonder whether this is due to my involvement in psychotherapy.  According to Carl Gustav Jung, synchronicity is the experience of unrelated events observed to occur together in a meaningful manner.
 Having different roles to perform  is quite exhilarating. As a tutor I am asked for advice, as a student therapist I need advice. Then there are times when a continuum develops and I feel uncertain about my identity and yet galvanised by this uncertainty. There are also times when the questions my students ask me become my own questions or I find that they actually relate to something I am doing, and which is unconnected with them and their concerns.
To give an example. One of my students has been struggling with her essay topic. She is interested in the work of a particular designer who created sets for dance in the early part of the 20th century and is writing her term paper about him. She came for a tutorial. She wanted to know if there was any theory that could help her  make sense of his artistic output. I was a little taken aback she should ask that, surely she might have heard of artistic movements such as Modernism? No, she had not. Even more miffed,  I told her to get hold of a good art history book ( I suggested a few, that's what tutors do)  and look at the artistic periodisation given for the 20th century. Design was something that developed in particular with the Modernist artists  so she will find plenty of material in those books to help her to give a theoretical framework to her discussion.

Photographer: me. Model: me. Postprocessing by DG

She was happy with my suggestion and set to work.  Then she emailed me to say she had a new question.  How do people influence each other?  Again, I was a little puzzled by it, wondering what she was actually trying to do. I flippantly wrote back 'Well, you can always draw on Jung and talk about archetypes and the collective unconscious'. I did that because in my role as a student, I am actually reading up on Carl Gustav Jung and trying to compare a Jungian approach to psychotherapy with a psychodynamic one, the contemporary iteration of Freudian psychoanalysis, identifying what makes 'reflection' and 'interpretation', two parallel aspects of the psychotherapeutic process,  different.
 At the moment my head is full of questions on the issue of transference and countertransference.  I am currently working with  individuals suffering from  addiction, including alcoholism, and am having a tough time because of the aggression and occasional verbal abuse I encounter. In the hospital where I am doing my observation  I am witnessing  different ways of practising  psychotherapy and I am wrestling with the issue of approach and context.

Back to my student. She wrote to thank me, saying that I had given her a wonderful idea. She is now going to look at depth psychology as a framework for her discussion.
 I was a little disturbed by this. This girl is not approaching her essay the right way, that much I know, and I will soon see her for a tutorial to check on what argument she is constructing and give her proper advice. But even though her essay is not meant to be dealing with this question at all, I now find that knowing how people influence each other is actually fascinating.  Social psychology is the discipline that studies such processes - how people influence each other's thoughts, feelings and behaviours.  And  of course transference and countertransference are the way a client  and a therapist influence each other in their interaction...
...Just mulling over a few thoughts.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The model as artist and a forthcoming exhibition

Photographer: Frank Reinhold

I  have been thinking again about the model as artist 

Original photo by Talkingdrum. Postprocessing by Digital Dao

Following the acceptance of Michael Culhane's work for the forthcoming Dirty Show in Detroit - all sorted, the two photographs will be there, thanks to the help given by Mando with printing and framing - I got an email from Brenda O. urging me to submit work for Mirror Image an exhibition to be held in St Louis, MO, examining " the concept of the photograph being a mirror of its creator reflecting back their experiences, ideals, beliefs and invoking discourse".

I immediately wrote back, especially since I had just read the rude note forwarded to me, that I was only the model, not the photographer, so the work was not mine, not really. I got a response at once and I take the liberty of quoting from it:

"I don't shoot my own work either, for the most part I act as director of photography so when I do a shoot with a photographer if the images are specifically for my own use we sign an agreement that I have the copyright to certain images and then I can use them as my work. I still credit the photographer. I have even won photo contests that way...granted I'm not using famous photographers, for that it gets more complex when you are both known in your field...but this one photographer I worked with has now been published and another thru me won Image of the Decade from Women in Photography International....There is a great artist whose husband is a photographer and they collaborate all the time she also works with other photographers, her name is Joanna Frueh, you might want to look her up, she just recently won a lifetime achievement award from the Women's Caucus of Art. Keep me in the loop, you are truly lovely to look at, and clearly know your craft"

I did not know that art modelling had got that kind of recognition! And by art modelling I do not mean only art nude but also conceptual work, work in other words which has something to say and does not just involve the viewer stating blandly "oh her boobs are fantastic, I wish she was my girlfriend". If that is the only comment anyone's photographic work elicits does it not make you think that maybe THAT IS the message conveyed by the photograph, reflected back in the comment? Something to explore in another post...

Oh and if anyone wants to have more details about the Mirror Image exhibition, please get in touch.

(Photos modelled by Alex B)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Self portraits

Photographer: myself

I have started my self portraits project at last. I was at the studio of photographer DG yesterday afternoon and did a whole shoot with one of his cameras, using a remote. I could not have done it without his patient input and help with setting up. So much to learn!

I went through a number of simple poses, nothing too inventive it was just a way of saying hello to the camera and see how we got on. Taking one's own portraits is very different from modelling for another person, unless you truly know the photographer well and are fully involved in the shoot as a collaborator.

But no, actually. It is not the same. Because on a shoot with another you dont have to worry about technical details and you do get feedback on how you look, whether your limbs are out of frame, that kind of thing. I found the remote a little difficult to live with. Do I show it? Do I hide it? I kept on changing my mind.

Many shots were awkward, I was worried and it showed. But I loved the process and am dying to do it again. Modelling for yourself is like acting and being your own director simultaneously. Exciting.

I am also practising editing with various editing softwares. Editing or postprocessing are an essential part of photography. It is the thing over which I have always longed to have control because sometimes I disagree with the editing choices of the photographers I work with. It is something I really want to master.

And it is something I truly find immensely relaxing. These days, I often pull out a photograph while having a break from other work and immediately begin to edit. I am fortunate to have loads of unedited pictures from shoots I did and am using them to practise. By this time next year...

Note - I may not be so regular in writing this blog as I have a few deadlines coming up. But keep on checking

Saturday, 15 January 2011

To be exhibited in Detroit

 Photographer: Michael Culhane. Models: myself and Mike Cooney

Back in October Unbearable -Lightness had a short piece in her blog about S.W.E.A.T and their call for female visual artists to submit work for an exhibition at a well known gallery in Detroit,Michigan, USA. 

What is S.W.E.A.T? Here is how they describe themselves:

"The Society for Women in Erotic Art Today (S.W.E.A.T.) brings together female visual and performing artists to provide an information network and a network of opportunities to promote women in erotic art. S.W.E.A.T. is a network for photographers, fine artists, models, make up artists, wardobe designers and performance artists in the erotic / boudoir / burlesque field"

I made enquiries about their forthcoming exhibition proposals. Even though they wanted self-portraits they also accepted collaborative work between a model and a photographer. I joined the group and asked them to choose any work in my deviantArt gallery which they deemed to be suitable for any show they were putting together.

Then I completely forgot about it, as one does.

When I got back home today, tired after a long day's work , I logged on to check my emails, my iPhone's battery had gone dead and I had been off line for some hours.  I read a message from Lisolette Gilcrest from S.W.E.A.T saying that "Our sacred bodies 1" and "Our sacred bodies 2" have been selected  to be featured at The Dirty Show which  will be taking place in Detroit, from February 11th - 19th 2011. S.W.E.A.T entered the two photographs as part of their proposal.

I immediately contacted Michael Culhane to tell him about it, we share this honour and of course Mike Cooney too, without him there would be no pictures!

 Whether we participate or not is for Michael to decide, but being selected is already a big recognition and I am very happy about it.

The work I did with the two Michaels was amazing, I regard that photoshoot as the best so far in my art nude modelling career. I could not repeat what we did that day with anyone else, Mike Cooney was an amazing partner, so considerate, responsive and so very professional. Being lovers for the camera and being able to make it look real is not easy to accomplish without a sense of propriety and respect for the other. Mike was perfect. 

If you are close to Detroit, please go and see the show when it opens, it is quite an extraordinary event. I wish I could!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Rewriting the past

 Photographer: Terri Lee-Shield

I came across a great blog today by Si Dawson, EFT practitioner (please look up EFT, I am totally new to this, as I understand it it's a simple do it yourself therapy based on Chinese meridians but without having to use needles).

An older entry in Si's blog, dated 19th December 2008, struck me as truly inspiring. According to Si - he really sounds like a great guy - we can rewrite our past.  How? We carry memories with us. They are imperfect, we all know it, it is always difficult to recall the past in every detail, it is always only from our own perspective.

Ever had an argument with someone about what happened between the two of you? We say "You did this". He says "You did that".  And we think "God this person is lying. I never said anything of the sort. He is doing it to hurt me".  And later, when we think of what happened, it will be our own version of the events that we will recall, words that were uttered and which were painful to hear, our feelings of hurt and anger.  "These are the memories that we torture ourselves with. Regret over things done or not done. Disappointment at other people & ourselves. Perceived failures & missed opportunities" writes Si.

Photographer: Talkingdrum

We can change all that. We can revisit those negative memories and substitute them with positive ones. Your former lover insulted you? Turn that into a memory of a sincere compliment he/ she paid you.

"Your life is nothing but the sum of your memories" says Si. "Why not start a new life, right now? Just start with whatever pops in your head. Recreate your memories, making them as awesome as you possibly can. As Orwell famously said "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Well you control the present".

I love this idea.  I dont particularly want to engage in lying to myself, I am not going to pretend I went to a different school, I had different parents or anything of the sort. The way I understand this is that I can replace the negative feeling with a positive one.

Does it work? Why not? When you do this you change your attitude to yourself and your energy changes. You become more accepting of yourself and more outgoing. It's the kind of thing that basically allows you to let go of grudges and helps you to move on.  True, we have heard about self-acceptance before, who has'nt? Self-acceptance can often be hard work. But Si's suggestion is fun and immediate.
 Photographer: Pascal Renoux

" Make your (remembered) life as beautiful, poetic & magical as you like!"

Thanks, Si Dawson!

Sunday, 2 January 2011


 Photographer: David Gibson

I started art nude modelling in 2008, I have written in an earlier post how I came to it.  I enjoyed it and still do. I was amazed at the many different interpretations of me that could be seen through the photographs. My first shoot astounded me, my second disappointed me a little, my third one elated me.

There are  photographs in which I am clearly acting out a character and then those which according to the photographers that took them reveal a bit of me, what I offered them - what they saw, I'd say. Not necessarily an untruth, only a momentary truth. I usually enjoy seeing others' perception of me, sometimes I find it disturbing, sometimes abhorrent. What I see in the mirror is not me, what I see in photographs is rarely me as I know myself and yet it is. When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you really see? When you look at images of yourself, what do they tell you about yourself, if anything?

One of my favourite models is Cindy Sherman. I should say artist because she  models for herself, in other words she takes self portraits - it's interesting, is it not, that when you take self portraits you are an artist, when you model you are not quite an artist. But hers are self portraits with a difference. She interprets characters for herself but her portraits are never personal, they are conceptual theatrical performances for her own camera.

Photographer: Mark Varley

The photographic self portrait has an illustrious tradition inherited from the figurative arts.  From Renaissance to contemporary times painters have attempted a representation of themselves in a series of very complex modes of self portraiture, of which art historians have developed a whole taxonomy.
Women artists such as Frida Kahlo in the 20th century invested  their self portraiture with their own psychological and physical suffering and took it to a different level.

Photographers started to take their own portraits as soon as photography began.  All the famous names in photography at some point did it, Newton, Avedon, Warhol and so on.

Sherman, now 56,  began when she was still a student and became famous when still young. She explained to the New York Times in 1990, "I feel I'm anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren't self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear."

 Photographer: Gregory Brown

This absolutely intrigues me and fascinates me. In May 2009 I acquired a Nikon D70 which was about to be discarded by its owner. Last February I got hold of a Bronica GS-1.  I am about to make a transition from modelling for others to modelling for myself. I am excited. I want to use the camera in ways that noone can do for me, as a way to probe the depths of my soul. I will be the many different 'me-s'  who are the very women I encounter in my own life everyday. I have been experimenting but my technique is still quite poor.

But I have plenty of time ahead of me to accomplish my goal. I hope to find, as I embark on this journey, a few like minded travellers willing to share tips.

* Title borrowed from Amelia G. Jones' book published by Routledge in 2006.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)