Saturday, 30 April 2011


Photographer: DG

It did not feel right to post about this yesterday when the whole world was joining in the fun of the young royals wedding day. But not all of us live a fairy tale...

This is about a young woman. I have been carrying her sorrow with me and I almost felt choked by it, every time I thought of her. For me it's a lesson in drawing boundaries.

She sent two emails earlier in the week saying she wanted to meet me to discuss her forthcoming assignment. I was miffed because by now she should have sent me a draft for feedback, the time for discussion and focusing on a topic was over. But I told her to meet me in my office at 10.30 am on thursday anyway.Her messages had been brief and courteous, I thought I should see her but be firm about requesting a draft, expecting the usual list of excuses, dog ate my notebook etc.

She was there at 10.30 on the dot, knocked on the door and came in. Petite and skinny, she was wearing shorts, her legs and arms covered in bruises. Her nose had recent scars, still in the process of healing. She sat on the chair and drew up her legs - this girl has no boundaries, I thought, she is seeing her tutor, the meeting is formal and yet she is behaving as if I was one of her pals. But I said nothing. Barely nineteen years old, she is a second year student, I am not her personal tutor, I have only taught her a module .

Photographer: Andy "Keenbeginner"
"Have you had an accident?" I could not help asking. "No, my boyfriend beat me up". I almost gasped. "it's all right" she said. "I collected all my belongings yesterday, I am seeing a counsellor, have seen my GP, am being looked after" She paused then continued "I need you to help me a bit. I want an extension of the deadline and some tutorial support. I don't want to repeat the year". I felt tears welling up and had to take a deep breath. "Sure. Have you gone to the faculty office" and I quickly tried to navigate her through the burocratic hurdles. She had done everything. I did not want to push her and ask too many questions but I had to know. As I looked at her she seemed so frail. She reminded of myself at 16. I too was skinny, I suffered from eating disorders back then, like she had, as she told me later. With very little prompting she began to tell me how after receiving one beating too many she had realised she had to leave. She went to stay with friends during the Easter break - her parents dont know anything - and only yesterday she plucked up the courage to go and pick up her things from the rented house she, this guy and other students were sharing. I did not get much information about him except that he was a student too, just a little older and he has had a troubled life. "I still love him" she said sheepishly "He just has an anger management problem and is not too good with women". "Girl,this is not the time to think of him" I nearly raised my voice. "What about you? It's time to love yourself a bit more" I had to leave it there, someone else is counselling her, such boundaries are important. If she had come to me first I would have taken a more active role, but at this point in time all I can do is help her with her assignment. We moved on to discuss it. "I really want to work on it" she said "it will help me to regain confidence in myself."

I thought she was brave. She was able to think rationally about it. Her pain must be immense, not so much the physical pain of the bruises, but the emotional one, the insults she constantly heard, being told he despises her, being told the sight of her makes him sick. She is just a girl! I hope she gets all the help she needs.

It can happen to all of us, I reflected later, after she left. My student was hit for very trivial reasons, most of the time that is the case for all such beatings. She won't press charges, she is still hoping he might see the light and become overnight the wonder she believes he is. It will take her time to wean herself from him, clearly she has connected with him at a deep level, she too has a troubled history, an unstable childhood, anorexia. Of course she believes deep down that she must have done something wrong, she must have provoked him or he would not have lashed out on her. In other words, she is taking all responsibility away from him. This will stay with her for a longtime. This girl needs to be loved and needs to love herself through another, it is this that makes her so vulnerable. She is looking for acceptance. But through therapy she will regain her strength. At least one hopes.

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti
It is most unfortunate that men - it is mostly men, but sometimes women do it too - like her boyfriend go about life believing they are the ones who have been wronged, they never feel any remorse for what they have done, they will use the 'provocation' excuse to justify their behaviour and will do it again and again. They believe it is acceptable for them to yell and show they are in charge and throw tantrums. In many ways they have to believe this or they will crumble. Unless...unless someone gets hold of them and manages to put them through counselling. Now that I am training as a therapist I know it is not a question of saying you are evil, you must be punished. It never is that, not usually. This young man who was not able to stop himself from hurting his girlfriend also needs help. Not from her, she has to be firm and avoid seeing him, until she gets stronger. But he needs to be taught how to manage his anger and  look at that anger's causes. 

He is still young and can do it. He is probably as scared as she is and unable to fully grasp the implications of what happened.

But all said and done, I can do nothing. That's why I mentioned boundaries. I dont even know him, whereas I know her. I cannot discuss this matter with her, I am not her counsellor, merely her tutor. But her pain has been with me and I have to admit I cried for her.

The flipside of being a therapist, said a therapist friend,  is that you really need to protect yourself and not take home other people's emotions and problems. You need to find a way to say 'Stop'. You need very strong boundaries. Otherwise "We will end up dead within a week of beginning to practise".

I guess I need to do more modelling. That's a way to switch off.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Friday, 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti
I was not particularly interested in  the Royal Wedding. I am happy for Wills and Kate, now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, they are young and in love, and I wish them well just as I would any other  couple on their wedding day. Weddings are joyous occasions and I generally like them.  However, unintentionally,  the Royal Wedding ended up playing a big part in my day.
I have a placement at a hospital where I follow a group of clients doing therapy with a qualified DMP and I normally have a session on a Friday morning. Royal Wedding day and Bank Holiday it was but hospitals are open 24/7 and the therapy session was still on.
So I had to get up at  five  in order to reach the hospital to avoid getting caught in the crowds gathering at Westminster  and on the Buckingham Palace Road - my route involved cutting through central London, there really was no other way of getting to the hospital. I was very tired because yesterday evening I came back home late, I was involved in the Tree of Hope fundraising catwalk show - I was modelling cashmere outfits, so very hot it was too, but fun. I was so shattered last night  that I ended up sleeping with my hair all pinned up, I could not be bothered to undo the French pleat. So at five in the morning my alarm clock went off and I jumped out of bed, wondering why my head felt so heavy. I remembered. We had champagne to celebrate the end of the show and I dont do too well if I drink champagne.
Anyway I removed the pins,  got ready and got out to catch my train.

Photographer: Andy "Keenbeginner"
When I arrived at the hospital wing where we do our session there was hardly anyone. It turned out everyone was in the TV room, and the session started late.  The patients had to be called in to attend one by one, some did not want to be in the session at all but wanted to follow the build up to the wedding - it was only nine, the wedding did not start till eleven but they still wanted to watch.  Some hospital staff members were also in the TV room - Royal Wedding fever had caught up with everyone.
We did the session of course, there was no question of skipping it. At the end of every session which normally goes on for one hour and a bit I  hang around for another hour to write my notes and wait for my supervision, which is the time when  I can discuss what happened in session and can ask various questions . I usually do this in the large waiting room by reception, because it is quiet, it overlooks the beautiful grounds and I can sit on a plush sofa and have some coffee. As I made my way to reception from the therapy room I went past the TV room and everyone was back in there! At that point Miss Middleton was just stepping out of her car and everyone gasped when THE DRESS was revealed. "So Grace Kellyesque" said the BBC commentator. That did it for me, I had to sit and watch too, scribbling some bullet points in my notebook for my supervision to follow, as I was watching and sipping coffee at the same time.

Photographer: Mark Cadogan 

Some patients had a small TV set in their rooms and were watching in private, but several of them  were happy to sit in the large TV room, to chat and comment aloud.  By then all the other therapy sessions had been moved to the afternoon, for some mysterious reason. Hospital staff were also in there, moving in and out, as they also had to attend to other matters. So the TV room saw a constant flow of people who would come in briefly, catch up with the ceremony, exchange a few comments and then out again on their business.
I did the same. I went for supervision when the time came, got ready to leave the hospital as soon as supervision was over, but again went past the TV room. By then the wedding ceremony  had ended but everyone was gearing up to watch the young royals coming out on the balcony to wave to the  crowds - and a delicious cake was being passed on in the TV room to everyone. I dont know where that cake came from but it really was mouthwatering. So I stayed, ate my cake slice, watched the newly weds wave and kiss and finally headed for home.

I dont have much to add to what has already been said about the Royal Wedding. There are plenty of features written by experts on how significant this day has been for the British monarchy. The wedding was watched globally by two billion people, a staggering figure, and we are being told by various commentators how this wedding was symbolically a wedding of the British monarchy to the public.
Hmm. Some of us are not so convinced by this gloss and are instead considering the impact of this event on  the tax payers and the fact it happens right at the time of the AV referendum . Coincidence?
But...we got an extra holiday, great weather and the newly weds truly are a lovely couple. Nothing like a wedding, and a royal one at that, to cheer you up on a beautiful spring day.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Location, location,location

Not too long ago I wrote a blog for one the deviantArt groups of which I am moderator. It was about the nude in the landscape and in it I traced the history of the genre and gathered thumbnails of photographs that best exemplified it.
Location work is part and parcel of what an art nude model does.  Models and photographers are often busy researching nature spots for a shoot. Some feel that once they discover a place they should keep it rather hushed up.  Indeed in one of my earlier posts I remarked on how irritating it can be for a photographer to see a picture of a model they have worked with taken at the location they knew about by another photographer. Or is it?

 Locations, unless privately owned, are open to everyone and everyone has a different style of photography. Season, day and time also contribute to make a shoot uniquely different. On monday I went for an early shoot to Richmond Park with photographer Mark Cadogan. I had not met him before but happened to reply to his last minute casting call on 24th night about a very early morning shoot at Isabella plantation, Richmond. It is right in the midst of a known Royal Park, famous for its wildlife,  one of 'green lungs' of London, with specially bred parakeets and deers. On the way there we had an interesting conversation about the location. Mark was very laid back and insisted he would not be worried at all if other photographers went to the plantation to shoot. 'It is one of those places where you truly find so much, it is unlikely people will come away with the same result. I am confident in the way I take photos, and I know that my photos are distinctly mine'. How refreshing,  I thought.
So we got there and were able to shoot undisturbed for a good couple of hours. It was muddy and I got quite filthy, wet and managed to get a few scratches but the flowers were in full bloom and the light was fantastic.

We took some good pictures, could have done more but come nine am everyone was flooding in and it was getting a little difficult to continue with nude photography.  Bank Holiday Monday and a wonderful weather meant that people were keen to get out of their homes and go for a picnic. And why not?
The experience made me reflect further on the 'location' concept. I used to believe that you had to go to some fantastic, exotic and highly secluded place to get good shots. That's not at all the case. You simply need good light,  a great deal of imagination, a good photographic technique and a model who does not mind getting her feet dirty at the very least. Often your very own back garden will do. Or a public park. Or the city where you live in the very early hours of the morning. Photography is really about the moment and being in the moment, whenever and wherever you are.

(All photos modelled by Alex B and taken by Mark Cadogan. You can see the entire set on Tumblr)

Friday, 22 April 2011

A mature model

My birthday is on Sunday, which also happens to be Easter Day. Easter marks a time of renewal, so I take this to be the meaning of my birthday this year:  a new beginning. My friend Heloisa, tarot reader, is always going on about new beginnings, so she will be pleased to hear it.
This  is an in-between birthday, not one of those that mark the end of a decade and the beginning of another, it does not even mark half a decade. Still, I am making a big fuss over it, because my last two birthdays were filled with deep sorrow - I even got a birthday wish last year which said  'I hope you die in your sleep'. At the time it felt like receiving a kick in the stomach, I had never been the target of so much hatred.
So this birthday has got to be without tears, at least this is what I am aiming for.
I got  a cake, a vegan cake in fact, even though I am not a vegan, but I know a wonderful woman who makes special chocolate with organic ingredients and no sugar and I asked her to bake  me a cake. I just brought it home, it will be in the fridge for a day and it is absolutely mouthwatering. I have not had a birthday cake in years and my son was amazed and teased me about it and was even more amazed when I told him the cake was flourless and sugarless. Still, he has agreed to eat it and will even bring his girlfriend along to taste it - a lovely girl that looks uncannily like him (and I am not the only one that has noticed it!). The weather being so good, I can throw a small party in my nearest park and have asked a few friends to come along - those who have not left the country for a longish holiday that is, given that we are having a spate of Bank Holidays, four in less than two weeks, thanks to the Royal Wedding.

I will be taking portraits of my guests with my Bronica - at last I shall put it to good use. Before you ask, no nudes on this occasion.
Even though it is a small party it does take some effort to get it going and this is what I have been busying myself with the whole week, while also attending to other matters, like drafting my essay, doing my weekly DMP session at the hospital where I am doing my internship, marking papers, tidying up my bedroom and doing photo shoots - I hope you have noticed the new photos here and on deviantArt. A busy week indeed.
In the midst of all this, I got a call from a model agent I had not spoken with in a long time - we had some misunderstanding in the past. "We need a mature model" she says. "It's for a charity fashion show, you are the first person I thought of.  The show is on thursday next week. Will you do it?If so we need you for rehearsals and fittings asap". This needs some translating of course. She is desperate, cannot find anyone, the show is in a few days, everyone is away, I am the last person she would have contacted but beggars can't be choosers. For a moment I hesitated then I thought, why not, it is for charity, so yes, I will do it. Great, she says, my PA will liaise with you. Meaning: we dont have to talk to each other, someone else will do the needful. I find it amusing when people act this way. Normally she liaises with the models herself, I know that from experience, but clearly she is still hurt and can't bear to talk to me. It really must have been a huge effort for her to call me up.

Well, I am intrigued now by this label 'mature model'. With another birthday coming up to mark my moving further away from youth, I can't help wanting to stop for a moment to think about it. What is this maturity? I feel neither young nor old, I just feel myself. I feel renewed in the face of all the difficulties I have had to deal with until this point in my life. I feel empowered by my new career choice and the possibilities it has afforded me for my personal growth. Therapy has put me in touch with people who are truly in pain and it's wonderful to know I can make some difference to their lives. Whereas for the agent that phoned me mature model simply means "older", to me being mature means a lot more. Like being able to put to one side any personal animosity and agree to be part of a charity show which will raise money for a good cause.  Or being able to let go of grudges, because life is a precious gift that can be taken away from us any time, so why fill it with sorrow?

(All photos modelled by Alex B. and taken by Marcello Pozzetti)

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Bitten by a spider...

 All of a sudden the other day I got the idea of  changing the position of my bed - it was facing East but I read somewhere in an article about Feng Shui that according to my kua number  it really should be facing West.  Anyway, I was itching to get more space and throw a few things away and so I did move my bed to the West. There was so much dust and dirt in my bedroom, I am not a very house proud person, moreover I live in a tiny apartment and space is scarce. You can guess what's coming next. I admit to shoving everything under my bed, usually papers, books and anything that I cannot fit anywhere else. Then I simply forget about the stuff and never do any dusting, occasionally I might vacuum the areas just around my bed, never under it.
But shifting the bed's position meant I had to take everything out and clean the room, which I did. I got rid of loads of unnecessary stuff, moved the bed by the wall next to the window and suddenly my room looked bigger. I was immensely pleased with myself, it took a good couple of hours to complete the job, I was totally filthy after doing it and even managed to break an old book shelf, now confined to the dustbin.
But wait.

 Partly because of the warm weather, partly because I disturbed them, all the spiders that had lived in my bedroom suddenly came out and last night I was mercilessly bitten. I am not happy at all, as you can imagine, I have visible bites all over and feel very itchy. At least I think they were spiders, I did clear some cobwebs and this must have caused havoc.  I spent the morning spraying insecticide and airing the room. I put on my bites an Indonesian oil called minyak gosok which has great healing properties but has a revolting smell. And then I remembered the old folk tale.
I come from the south of Italy and we have a folk dance which is known as the pizzica or the spider dance or dance of the tarantula (taranta) , hence the name tarantella, though the latter is a choreographed version of it.

According to the myth, the taranta bites people, especially women, and then  takes possession of their bodies. A group of musicians with tambourines comes along for an exorcism and the person who has been bitten and possessed by the spider (identified with evil forces) begins a frenetic dance. It goes on for hours, even days, it is a true ecstatic dance. The percussion used for the pizzica keeps on changing and nowadays it comprises North Africans drums to honour the fact that in the South of Italy there is a good ethnic mix. Pizzica rhythms are compelling and the dancing can be very wild indeed. Its purpose is therapeutic.
I dont know whether dancing the Pizzica will help me to get rid of the spider's bites. But I could always try...
Check out this video.

(Photo of  Alex B. and taken by Keenbeginner 1234)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Attachment and rejection

One of my online friends is having a terrible time. I did not quite grasp the whole situation, it has been going on for some time and I have not followed it through all the stages of its development.  What seems to be truly vexing her is rejection. As I understand it, she desperately wants someone's friendship and the other person does not want her and feels no doubt even less inclined to be her friend simply because she is asking to be accepted (there is always in such instances a bit of power play). It's all being played out on the megasite where I have an account. The girl is distraught and writes heart rending journals in which she now threatens suicide, now begs for this person's friendship, always ending with a cry for help.
I am deeply disturbed by this reaction. There is no question that my online friend is genuinely distressed and needs a helping hand, maybe seeing a counsellor could assist  her in  tackling the root of the problem.  Inveighing against her as the other party and friends seem to be doing is not conducive to healing, nor are the endless comments flippantly left by people that by and large are not interested in her, do not know her and are simply enjoying the opportunity to vent their opinions or their own frustration.  As this is happening online and there is considerable physical distance, I am powerless, there is little I can do for her apart from sending her one or two comforting notes.
Learning about rejection and how we handle it is part of my psychotherapy training and it is therefore something I have been reflecting upon, an interest rekindled by reading about this distressing situation.  Who has not been through rejection? It is part of the human experience and one needs to look at one's childhood  in order to understand how each of us learns to cope with it.  Some of us have had painful experiences as children, not necessarily deeply traumatic ones, but nevertheless experiences that have left their mark and this may have fostered in us a deep fear of being rejected, which in turn can put a strain on our adult relationships.

One of the theories that has had a great impact in understanding child development and later adult interrelationships is that of attachment, formulated by English psychiatrist and psychoanalyst J. Bowlby. Although it was initially not well received by the psychoanalytic community because it seemed to counter some of the basic tenets of psychoanalysis, attachment theory has long been accepted in mainstream psychology and is one of the core theories informing a number of therapies.
What is attachment? In a nutshell, it is an affectional bond between an individual and an attachment figure - in relationships, attachment and the emotions associated with it form a motivating force.  In attachment theory there is no such a thing as complete independence from others, there is only effective and ineffective dependency. Secure dependency fosters autonomy, the more securely connected we are the more autonomous and independent we will be. This means that what we achieve in well adjusted relationships (or aim to achieve) is interdependence rather than self sufficiency and separateness.
In observing children and their relationship with their principal carer - usually but not exclusively the biological mother - Bowlby noted that the physical presence of the carer was not in itself indicative of  a secure attachment bond. Indifference and unresponsiveness to the child's emotional needs can be communicated to the child even whilst physically present, with devastating effects on the child's development.

According to psychotherapist Pedro Campiao:
"If attachment behaviours fail to evoke comforting responsiveness and contact from attachment figures, a prototypical process of angry protest, clinging, depression and despair occurs, culminating eventually in detachment. Depression is a natural response to loss of connection. Bowlby viewed anger in close relationships as often being an attempt to make contact with an inaccessible attachment figure and distinguished between anger of hope and the anger of despair, which becomes desperate and coercive".
I do not mean to offer any online psychotherapy advice to my friend, not knowing her circumstances in full. My psychotherapy specialty involves working through issues through movement and metaphors, so it could not be done online not even if I were fully qualified to practise (and I am not quite there). All I am trying to do is gather some thoughts about attachment and rejection, as I am preparing to write an essay. Attachment theory has to some extent helped me to understand  my own dramas and the sense of utter doom they contributed to, as well as the memory of past traumas they triggered off. 

I do feel for my online friend. Ephemeral though they may be, online friendships are increasingly playing a significant role in our lives. Sometimes for someone so distressed online contact is the only one  possible. All I can say to her is please speak with a qualified counsellor. And remember that by working on yourself you will eventually be able to achieve healthy friendships/relationships.
Attachment and rejection: no one put it more succinctly than John Lennon, below.

(All photos by Marcello Pozzetti and modelled by Alex B.)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

It must be irritating...

It must be irritating for a photographer to source a location, take the model there, get some good shots, pay her more or less generously for her time, and then a couple of days later the model goes back there in exactly the same spot with another photographer and does something that is a bit more imaginative perhaps but  still in the same style! Before you ask, I am not guilty of anything of the sort. But while checking out a photographer's credentials on a model/photographer site I saw an image that was taken at the very same location as another image that was recently uploaded  on an art megasite by a highly respected photographer. The location is unmistakable and the model is the same. The images are in exactly the same style, both b/w, except that one is analogue, the other is digital, but any one image could have been taken by photographer number 1 (or indeed photographer number 2) as part of his shoot - analogue and digital mean nothing when viewed online, they are both exactly the same.

I could give links to  the  images in question to show what I mean but I will refrain - I dont want to make enemies, I have plenty of them already. But this whole matter begs the question of originality. What is it and does it matter?

That the work of art should be original was one of the tenets of modernism. By modernism I mean the artistic movement that swept Europe and America, indeed the entire world, from about 1850 to the 1960s. A long time indeed.  The Artist (always with a capital A) was unaccountable to society but only to Art, everything had to be new and never seen before, original, different. 
It was postmodernism that brought back the idea of  'so what if it has been seen before? that's not the point. The point is to subvert it and make fun of it, to reinterpret it'. Pastiche was a favourite among postmodern artists, the mixing of things, the double coding. It  usually was something deployed when dealing with  "great works of art" of the past. 

In our case neither photographers nor the model are great and/or exemplary, so the whole thing smacks of ...being copy cats?Or maybe in this particular case the model may have felt frustrated at not being able to use the location as she would have liked and so went back there with another photographer and finally achieved what she desired. Who is to say?

(All photos modelled by Alex B. and taken by Marcello Pozzetti)

Friday, 15 April 2011

Bipolar disorder and the stigma of mental illness

It's in the news and it even managed to upstage Cameron's speech on immigration  - that will be another post, by the way. I am talking about Catherine Zeta -Jones' admission of suffering from bipolar disorder and now receiving treatment for it.
It will make people more accepting of mental illness say various commentators and spokespeople for mental health organisations, the point being that when a celebrity endorses a cause  or speaks out the general public listens. When the late Princess of Wales owned up to having been bulimic people began to recognise bulimia as a serious eating disorder, an illness that could be cured.
Mental illness is stigmatised. Mentally ill people are shunned and misunderstood. Depression is still seen by some as an aberration. On one hand there's the throng of people who will say "Pull yourself together, there is nothing wrong with you, you are a weakling/a spoilt person unable to get on with life's challenges" and deem you to be an attention seeker. Then there are those who conclude that if you suffer from depression you are completely incompetent and unworthy of any  respect. That you should be pumped up with medication and kept away from 'normal' people - another post of mine will be on the abuse of psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants, we are making pharmaceutical companies' profits soar by being persuaded that there is the magic pill that can cure a 'chemical imbalance' and worse, that everything is due to a chemical imbalance in our brain. Buy Prozac and everything will be well !

Depression (bipolar disorder being a type of depression)  is just an illness. If you have bronchitis no one will treat you badly because you have bronchitis, no one will stigmatise you, no one will actually go round saying that  you are at fault for having bronchitis. If you suffer from bipolar disorder you should not be stigmatised either. Unfortunately it does not work like that.
I too have suffered from severe depression,  triggered off by some traumatic events in my life - trauma should not be understood to be something of epic proportion, it is basically a deeply disturbing and distressing experience, our threshold for enduring distress varies. A number of setbacks caused me to plunge into a debilitating depression, which came and never fully went away because I suppressed it and then came back until I finally realised it was an illness and could do something about it. I was pretty much alone at the time, my friends were uncomfortable around me and oddly, even withdrew their support, as if my nervous breakdown and resulting depression were a permanent character fault of mine.

Some treated me so unkindly, I was vulnerable at the time and it had a devastating effect. It was my depression which ultimately led me to retrain as a psychotherapist, so in hindsight I regard it as a blessing in disguise.  It made me stronger, it made me feel more attuned to people's vulnerability and able to confront my own. It made me discover the prejudices people hold about mental illness in general -  bigoted, even cruel,  opinions voiced by otherwise intelligent and educated men and women. It made me aware of the lack of good treatment available to those who cannot afford it, a situation that will be worsened by the changes to the NHS planned by the current government, which will place the have-nots in a dire position, unable to make informed choices.

So rather than ranting, as some have, that Catherine Zeta-Jones' illness should not be talked about, what is this obsession with celebrities, I too join the ranks of those who believe it is good she made a public statement - she did not have to say anything, but she did, knowing it might make a difference to others. It might just help some people to admit they are suffering from depression and seek help, because anyone can have it at some point in their life and no one is a lesser human being because of it.

(All photos modelled by Alex B. and taken by Steven Beard)

Monday, 11 April 2011

The royal road to the unconscious

I have always had great trouble remembering my dreams. I know I do dream because when I wake up in the morning I remember something but it all vanishes within seconds. 
I have often tried to keep a journal of my dreams but it just does not work, I never manage to write it consistently. Yet something of my forgotten dreams stays on, I know, because I occasionally have a deja vu and then I know that I have seen it in a dream.
The best moment is when I am about to fall asleep and I am still awake but I am suddenly aware of being about to dream - images blur, I hear people speaking but I know they are not there: it's dreamtime.
I have two different takes on dreams. One is psychoanalytic and right now I am fascinated by Freud even more than Jung. Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious said Sigmund. Indeed they are: this is how we reconnect with it.

The other take is quasi mystical. My godmother claimed to be a clairvoyant, she read tarot cards and interpreted dreams. For her, dreams were the vehicle through which the spirits came to us and we could converse with the departed. They sometimes appeared in our dreams to tell us about something that was about to happen and usually it was some major catastrophe. My little sister claimed for years to be receiving nocturnal visitations from my departed grandfather and would tell my mother her dream in the morning, which then my mother and godmother would analyse in great detail, whilst my godmother prepared cups of Turkish coffee, so that she would then scrutinise the patterns left by the coffee in the tiny cup.  

Photographer: Vijay Jethwa

I never had such dreams and was incredibly jealous of my sister and the attention she received. She was a 'sensitive'. Wow. That meant she was very special. This is how sibling rivalry leaves a mark. Then by the time she was fourteen or fifteen she lost this ability to connect - I suspect she got fed up with being asked all the time. By then I was eighteen and ready to condemn this whole practice as humbug - I had acquired a very down to earth, very rational outlook on life, besides I was keen to be perceived as very different from my mother. Spirits? Do me a favour, I'd say. They don't exist. But deep down I continued to have a secret belief in the unknown spirit world  and wanted to explore it, through dreams. Within me there is a strong mystical dimension that longs for a higher and more transpersonal meaning in my life and I have often found that no matter how much I want to forget it it resurfaces when I least expect it..
Not long ago someone told me that DMP is the western equivalent of shamanism. I kind of like this idea, definitely something to explore further. If only to feel reintegrated, in a manner of speaking.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Muse

As I interviewed Berlin based photographer Jo Schwab for the deviantArt group fineart-photography, he said something about his wife Minon being his muse. Do you photograph her all the time, I asked. No, I rarely do (she is an acclaimed self-portraitist ), but I discuss with her everything to do with my artistic vision.  

Minon by Minon

This is a different take on the idea of a muse but indeed a very powerful interpretation of the concept. The beautiful Minon has a role to fulfill as an artist in her own right. But she is also her partner's inspiration, the one who can discuss ideas with him and give suggestions. Presumably he does the same for her. This is a 21st century muse. The relationship is egalitarian.
I was more familiar with the idea of the muse as the one who is drawn, photographed, written and sung about (think of Patty Boyd, who had Eric Clapton and George Harrison writing songs about her which immortalised her)  often with her being completely overshadowed by the artist's intellectual weight - in this more standard conceptualisation of the muse she is but an object, a mirror of his soul reflecting back to the artist, but like a mirror, totally devoid of self.

I did some reading about muses. When did this concept of the muse become popular? The muses are of course of old lineage, being goddesses in the ancient Greek pantheon invoked by the artist, especially the poet, to come and give him inspiration.  The nine muses figure prominently in literature. In the 19th century the muse was exalted by the Romantics, especially the Pre-Raphaelite painters, but with a strange twist. She was a better muse if dead! 
The most interesting muse of the 20th century has to be Lou Andreas-Salomé, muse to Nietzche, Rilke and Freud, all three of them  more or less simultaneously. Says Francine Prose, in her biography of nine inspirational women: 

"Both Nietzsche and Rilke, it will be noted, commenced their most creative and important work in the period immediately following their separation from Lou. Perhaps it was just coincidence, and yet it seems clear that Lou (whom Freud would later refer to as “the great understander”) offered both men a generous, deceptively unlimited abundance of understanding, admiration, encouragement, a sense of common mission, a vision of the future, and the explicit or implicit promise that they would enter that future together. The abrupt and shocking retraction of that promise was (as much as Lou herself) the muse that inspired them to seek out the consolations and distractions of work, and to re-create, alone and for themselves, some version of what they had counted on sharing with Lou. When Lou ceased understanding, it was necessary for them both to make the world understand, in her place"

Photographer: Vijay Jethwa

Intriguing. These days 'muse' is a word thrown about by many artists, to denote a 'favourite model'. Nothing as dramatic as Lou. Nothing as inspiring as Minon.

(All photos modelled by Alex B, unless otherwise stated)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A model's staying power

Photographer: Michael Culhane

One of my students came for a one to one tutorial and non-chalantly asked me whether I knew  photographer XY  - and before you ask, no, it is not THAT ONE, but another one whom I did some very nice work with. I knew at once she had seen my nude pictures, so I admitted I modelled but, I said,  it was not something I would discuss in college. I must say that for a moment I felt a little uncomfortable on being found out, but I need not have been. "Tanya" told me she also modelled (Tanya is not her real name, not even her modelling name) and she was complimentary about my work, which apparently she knows from deviantArt, where she has an account, and from other model/photographers sites.  For all I know she also reads this blog, so hello Tanya. It's the situation I am interested in discussing, not yourself, so I am not disclosing who you are. I know you will not object (and do comment if you see this post, it would be lovely to hear from you, just write as Anonymous).
Tanya told me she had started modelling at 16 non nude and then went into nude modelling at 18 though in fact she had had a go at nude modelling long before her 18th birthday - there are apparently foolish  photographers out there who do not insist on seeing an ID when photographing young models, or worse, are not aware that nude photography of people below the age of 18 is illegal.  Tanya was just too keen to try and happy to disregard the law. I told her off for that, after all I am her tutor. She is now 21, about to graduate. She said she had noticed that she was no longer in demand as a model. When she started everyone was all over her, a new face, a new body, then they got less and less interested. What shall I do, she asked, to get back the buzz of my first years of modelling and the cash?

What you mention is a common problem, Tanya, and one which you will see debated in many forums on model sites. Let's see.  In fashion you can get burnt out very easily, you might appear for a couple of seasons in major catwalk shows, do a few ads, some editorials and then you will be on an agency book for three or four years and increasingly discover that the plum jobs no longer come to you. Competition is really fierce and there are more and more teenagers to pluck and turn into models, all with the look of the moment. If you do not have the physique required by a fashion model agency - and  in your case you do not , you are unlikely to fit into samples which tend to be in the smallest possible sizes  - your best chance is to be a commercial model or continue to be an independent model if you want to do nude, fetish and glamour. But again  the problem of getting burnt out  continues, you are a case in point.
As a commercial model you have a chance of staying on but you need to be aware that commercial work   is unglamorous - no fab clothes there, but some good money, though not so regular. There is a lot of competition from actors, who can project their voice, but as you are dance trained you could try doing music video routines.  As a glamour model you will have to compete fiercely with the hot young things and on the basis of your cup size - you might end up considering having implants, most glamour models have them as a matter of course. As an art nude model you will not earn much and you will soon find out that a great many photographers are quite happy to do a couple of  shoots with you then it is "goodbye, you are no longer interesting, I have got as much as I wanted out of you, next please". As a fetish model, it is a similar story though it depends on how good you are at not faking it in a very obvious way. So how do you develop staying power?

Photographer: Samuel Pidgen

I  was recently interviewed by semi234 on behalf of the deviantArt group Nude-Form. I enjoyed putting my views across, I am not a shrinking violet, so doing the interview was a pleasant task.
One of the questions was about sharing tips with wannabe models.  I said  the following:  
"Ask for feedback on your performance, especially if you are working with a good photographer. Make note of your shortcomings but also review your strengths. Make sure you come across as uniquely different. There will always be thousands of beautiful girls. Just be you, believe in yourself and that will take you far. Be prepared to work hard. And most importantly: if you don’t feel comfortable say no!"
So, back to staying power. I will just expand a little on what I said in the interview. It's all to do with learning from your mistakes and believing, truly believing in your uniqueness. Never bitch about anyone, always have something nice to say about other models and photographers you have worked with, even if you think they are not worth investing your time in. Keep your portfolio up to date, even if this means not getting paid for all the shoots.  Learn as much as you can about photography, it will help you to understand what is required of you.

Photographer: Samuel Pidgen
But at the end of the day much is also down to serendipity, as veteran model Twiggy says. In 2005 she certainly was not thinking of modelling, not anymore. Then she went to a country pub for lunch with her husband, wearing an anorak and not exactly looking glam. Marks and Spencer's marketing director was there. Next, Twiggy found herself resuming a modelling career she had given up at the end of the 1960s.
It helped that she had been an icon, but not all icons are asked to come back.
Let life take its course, that's my advice.

(All photos modelled by Alex B)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Tall and beautiful?

Unbearable Lightness posted on being petite a couple of days ago. I commented on her blog and she suggested I should also post on this topic, it is something I have much to say about, as the issue of height has always fascinated me. I am the shortest of my siblings and when I was younger,  I irrationally felt mildly resentful about it.
But height is a relative concept. We know that there has been a tendency for young people to grow taller than their parents. If we compare height over the decades we will find that people have grown much taller at an alarmingly fast rate over the past  three or four decades. To give you an example: I am slightly over 5'7'', which I round up as 5'8". I used to be regarded as a tall girl in Southern Italy, which is where I come from, but I remember that even in London, when I first arrived in the late 1970s, I was also regarded as tallish - British women on average tend to be shorter than their American cousins and shorter than the Dutch or the Germans. But these days I am just medium height.
I still remember that in my native Southern Italy the average height of women until at least twenty-five years ago was 5'3 or 5'4. In more recent years I have seen several girls in my home town who are about 5'10'' or 5'11''. I would not say they are the norm, but they are not so unusual either. I read somewhere that young people today are  much taller  everywhere, including countries where on average people have always been much shorter than Europeans and Americans. This is  because of the highly processed red meat they eat, so full of hormones. It is something to think about. If this is true it goes to show that this fast growth rate is not at all natural.

Photographer: Neil Huxtable. Postprocessing mine

The idea that as mankind evolves it grows taller is somewhat dubious. It is a concept that formed the basis of the belief in the Aryan super-race and it needs to be taken with a very, very large pinch of salt.  In Africa the Masai and the Pygmies have been around for a long time, more or less coexisting (though not necessarily peacefully as many African tribes regard the Pygmies as sub-human and kill them as a sport). Whereas the Masai average height is something close to 7' (for both men and women) the Pygmies barely reach 4.5  feet. It is definitely not the case that the Pygmies evolved into Masai, they are simply different. In fact,  just like the Pygmies and the bushmen of South Africa are ancient ethnic types, so are the Chad giants, such as the Watusi, averaging 8'  - and equally in danger of disappearing.
In fashion it is now the norm that female models should be over 5'9" for catwalk work (and ideally skeletal). This is a relatively recent convention. But shorter models do exist and they do catwalk work, quite happily and as competently as their taller counterpart.  Even in fashion being over 6 foot is not so good, that's why girls who exceed 6' tend to put on their model card 5'11, according to an interview given by a famous model agent.

In dance being very tall is still regarded as a disadvantage for women, especially  ballet dancers. With their block shoes they will tower over the male partner and in traditional classical ballet that does not look very good. Imagine a Giselle that is considerably taller than Albrecht! Their pas de deux will lose its pathos, so will ballet purists say. What helps dancers is having long legs, longer than their torso - and this is irrespective of height. Applicants to the Royal Ballet school are screened on the basis of their proportions - they are actually measured to determine how they will develop as adolescents!

Is being tall a sign of beauty? Not really. It is a matter of taste. Would you say that being pale skinned is a sign of beauty? People used to say so until it was realised it was a racist belief.  The belief that height is synonymous with beauty is also a construct permeated by invisible racism because it  excludes from this notion of beauty people who belong to ethnic groups other than the Caucasians  and who tend to be shorter than Caucasians. And even the very tall Africans are not regarded as  beautiful, despite their height - and this is because they are  not Caucasian.

Personally, and this is simply my own taste,  I have always wanted to be either really petite or very tall - I like extremes. Unfortunately, I am stuck with being in the middle, tallish but not tall. This is just a personal preference and one which figured strongly in my earlier make up, when I was much younger. In reality it is absolutely fine to be of any height and to accept one's height just as one accepts one's eye colour or skin shade. What matters is to keep oneself healthy and look after one's bone and muscle structure through regular exercise.

(All photos modelled by Alex B.)