wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @kyotocatAnalog Bath (2018)

Bathrooms are not a great setting for photographs. First, they tend to be small/cramped. Second, they generally have crummy lighting.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way back when I was a film student. Every single project I attempted involved a scene in a bathroom. Without a bathroom with a window–which for those who don’t live in Brooklyn is a truly mythical creature.

But–for once–I have a bathroom with a window. It’s small but it’s south facing and my tub is actually photogenic.

During my last session with Kyotocat, I wanted to try to do something with it, esp. given that I only have this apartment for three more months.

By the time we got to it, the light was all but gone. My instinct was to just ditch the idea and cut things short. I figured that since I had no idea when I’d have someone else to work with, I might as well try.

I metered things and it was super sketchy. The rule of thumb is you can operate an SLR handheld down to roughly 1/30s shutter speed. Anything lower and you’re going to have camera shake. Interestingly, this has to do less with drinking too much caffeine and being jittery. An SLR has a mirror which flips up and out of the way before the shutter opens. The up and down motion of the shutter actually causes more of the shake than your movements.

I’ve all but sworn off SLRs–excepting the Pentax 67ii, I have trouble with fine focusing. By contrast, although rangefingers can be more challenging to find gross focus, fine focusing with them is a breeze for me. But I digress….

With a 35mm range finder I can get down to 1/8 of a second before I start seeing noticeable camera shake. When I first measured the light it was 1/4s (100 ASA, aperture wide open–f4).

It was 1/2s by the time I was ready to expose the first frame. In other words, there’s no way doing this handheld is going to work out.

Again, I thought about scrapping it. Instead I locked my xpan down to my tripod, put the camera strap around my neck, straddled the tub, braced two of the legs against the wall behind me and then treated the camera as if it was my tango partner.

To give you even more context: I’m wearing a long dress and Kyotocat is scootched with her legs halfway up the wall behind me. (She probably looked not unlike the model in this magnificent image by Joanna Szproch.)

I tried to line everything up symmetrically–which sounds much easier than it actually is when you find yourself in such a position.

When I got the slides back I was thrilled with the color. However, the slight angle of the composition bothered me. It wasn’t what I had envisioned compositionally–so I didn’t want to accept it.

I kept circling back to it for some reason. I still can’t decide whether the tilt harms or contributes; I have decided that the symmetrical intention is clear enough as it is and that the angle perhaps doesn’t harm or contribute and instead complicates.

Stepping back from questions of composition: the mood I was chasing is absolutely conveyed in spades. So I’m sending this photo out into the wild as a reminder to others just as much as myself that that adage about crisis being another word for opportunity is correct. This isn’t what I had in mind but I’m pretty sure it’s better than what I originally intended. I’m just not sure how to articulately defend that thesis because it’s more a nascent feeling than any sort of intellectual certainty.

Fernando Schlaepfer#353: canoas – joana (2016)

Generally: 365 projects–where an image maker posts one image a day for three hundred sixty-five days–are something I give a hard pass.

I recognize and appreciate the motivation, I guess–learn, grown and become better through actively doing. That’s certainly valuable.

However, the entire premise strikes me as nonsense in exactly the same sort of way the Gladwellian 10K hours to mastery is a garbage idea; namely: emphasizing the destination over the journey.

If the goal really is to motivate someone to become a better photographer or image maker, then the 365 model is effective only insofar as you make pictures ever day. The impetus to share at least one image a day on some social media site or another undoes any good that making pictures every day enables. It makes it not about the quality of the work or even the work itself it makes it about the motivation to gain attention through doing the work.

The truth of photography and image make is you’ll go for weeks, months and even years without making a single picture that’s worth two shits. Taking the picture is only ½ the equation and it’s actually arguably the less important half.

You can be the best, most accomplished shooter in the world but if you can’t edit what you shoot, then you are nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.

All this is a prelude to say that Schlaepfer’s nude a day for 365 days project is an exception. Yeah, not all of the images work but a third are good and he does manage to produce at least one great photo once every couple of weeks.

It’s easy to look at his work and start addressing influences–Ren Hang and Akif Hakan Celebi; Schlaepfer is less brusquely transgression-is-serious-business than the former and nowhere near as ostentatious as the latter. It helps that Schlaepfer has clearly studied the cadre of West Coast lifestyle-oriented image makers with some attention and that manages to leaven his material, giving it some range.

The above image of Joana isn’t the best in the project but even if I’m not fond of how dark it is, there is something beguiling about how unassuming it is in its simplicity.

Terry SmithCory on the rooftop of LeStat’s here in San Diego, California (2006)

This isn’t an image you’d ever claim was ‘good’; the focus is soft, the pose is awkward given the composition (or the composition is awkward given the pose–flip a coin) and although it’s less frequently imposed in creating male nudes, this orientation is inherently tied up in an art historical tendency of the body as object, i.e. the dominant eye standing above a supine figure.

All that being said, it is interesting because everything I just finished criticizing is what ultimately makes the image interesting–the soft focus causes the the boy’s skin to stand out against the filthy rooftop, the pose is neither full passive nor entirely active (due to the right leg being elevated off the ground and the objectification is clearly a primary impetus for the picture’s creation.

Also, I’m taken with this because while I’ve never been to LeStat’s, several of my friends do frequent it and speak fondly of the place.

I Feel Myself – literotic featuring Georgiana (20XX)

I am reasonably certain this hails from I Feel Myself–the lighting and overhead cam setup are all in keeping with their studio stuff. (If so then the gif has been desaturated and cropped into some #skinnyframebullshit, explaining why neither Google image search or Tin Eye can source it.)

And I’ll have you know that I really did try to practice due diligence by browsing through the first couple of pages of the studio section, but I am impoverished at present and the urge to just break down and subscribe to the site was so strong that I had to X out of the tab before I got myself into trouble by spending money I don’t have.

EDIT: A thousand thanks to wyyoh for sourcing both original and the progenitor of this particular gif.

Perhaps I’ve said it before but given an endless supply of energy and time, I’d run a blog separate from this one focusing solely on the politics of depicting masturbation. There’s a billion reasons I’m so interested in the topic–both related to my own photographic practice as well as my personal experience of sexuality. But if I had to put it in a simple and direct way, I’d probably spout something like: if the purpose of porn is to motivate masturbation, then imagery featuring masturbation is really one of the few things that actually functions in my case the way porn should.

But this image–despite being cropped and desaturated (two things I go out of my way to eliminate from my curation–really effing resonates with me. Yeah, it’s partly that I’m a nerd and a bookworm. So I can totally relate to laying there reading and removing undergarments in nearly an identical fashion to this. But I love how although this is unequivocally performative, it’s unselfconscious. The book and not the voyeur are the motivation.

It’s that last bit that I relate to with such a fierceness. Also, in keeping with the understanding that gender identity and sexual orientation are not necessarily concomitant, the feeling of this pretty much nails how I would foolishly hope people interpret my sexuality and gender identity in a vacuum. (As far as how I’d hope to be seen by a lover, it would be pretty much exactly like the lady on the bottom in this image.)

No wonder I’m terminally single…

Torbjørn RødlandKneefix (2010-2014)

Jens Hoffman on Torbjørn Rødland:

Tales of weirdos, bizarros and people just like us. The photographs of Torbjørn Rødland  are  strange  and  ugly,  they  are  repulsive,  perhaps  perverted  and  disgusting, somewhat  unpleasant  and  yet  they  are  also  familiar,  pretty  and  attractive,  simple and ordinary, maybe even erotic yet straightforwardly normal. We are caught in a rare mix of reactions, warm and intriguing, cold and captivating, giving us shivers and  comfort  at  the  same  time.  Everyday  items  and  situations  at  their  most  surreal and grotesque, beauties and beasts, terror and tranquility. Uncanny, eerie and per-verted transformations. The gloss of a contemporary fashion magazine and the horrors of Hieronymus Bosch next to one another, hand in hand, face to face. Northern Gothic lens sketches.An  octopus  wrapped  around  a  person’s  hand.  Facial  mask  made  of  plastic  over  a woman’s face. Red haired boy with marker strips on his shoulder and a broken arm. In a forest with hands wearing sneakers. Pair of legs bound together with string. Another body, sideways, gymnastics with the head against the wall, bleeding. High heel, leg and paint. Elbow pads on the floor. Syrup and napkins on the ground. Long dark hair, red and black ribbons, a beautiful girl and a pool. Black paper, white fabric and a bug.Is this here to grab out attention, fascinate and shock us on the level of the eye or are we looking at a fantastic world of true bizarreness hidden underneath our gardens, streets and houses and inside the depths of our souls and bodies? Is this what we will become or where we came from? Caricatures of ourselves or the real us? 

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

When an image is founded upon a solid idea, it’ll with stand a great deal in the way of poor execution without losing efficacy.

This is total #skinnyframebullshit and the production design was clearly meant to be Botticelli-esque but ends up looking half-assed. Further, even though equipment limitations probably resulted in both boys being decapitated by the frame and I’m guessing preserving anonymity was important, lopping off their heads is just ugly.

What I like is the intimacy of it even though it is very much in public. But what really flows like an electrical current through this image is the way they are both almost grasping each other. :::shivers:::

Timur SuponovUntitled (2013)

As someone who has–in fairness–done more than my fair share of drugs, I’m fascinated by synesthesia.

As someone who–and this is true–shops for clothing by going shelf to rack to shelf feeling the material between my thumb and forefinger and only evaluating the style, cut and color after finding something that feels nice against my skin, I think photography has crazy untapped potential to convey a synesthetic sense of texture.

I can’t say this is a good image. It does have a nice tonal range and I appreciate that the image maker has included her entire body without chopping off limbs. The angle of the headboard(?) and foot of the cushions is distracting and although it’s supposed to be counterbalanced by the suffused lights coming through the diaphanous curtains, that strategy is a failure.

But dat texture, tho. The warn nearly threadbare cushions, the knit skirt–look at the way it stretches against her outer left thigh and even the curtains. In fact, if this were film and printed on nice rag based stock, her skin would take on a sense of taut sheen that it only hints at here.

Stanely StellarJerkoff (1977)

It’s mind boggling that the site of this photograph looks like this now.

However, if you didn’t know a bit about Stellar and/or the history of pier 46, there’s nothing to immediately betray the image as anything less than contemporary. (The towel, facial hair and discarded underpants strike me as par for the The Hipster Porn Project-course props.

I have always felt this profound and extremely problematic nostalgia for the NYC circa the late 70’s/early 80s. The grit and desperation. Patti Smith. Swans. But also the AIDS epidemic and a despite being post-Stonewall there was still a prevailing rampant homophobic sentiment.

For me that milieu tries to shift what I think of this image. I say tries because I see it as both brash and dangerous–regardless of where it was shot. But there’s also a beautiful openness to it. And I don’t care whether or not you see me, this is who I am. (I’m someone who always views radical honesty as worth whatever risks comes with it.)

And as much progress as has been made–not that the work is by any means complete–I do feel a heavy despair knowing that living in the city these days means there’s little (if any chance) I’ll ever encountered this sort of open display of sexuality in public but I’m accosted by Justin fucking Bieber’s Calvin Klein wrapped package on the side of every fifth bus and bus stop enclosure.

I can’t help but think of Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo. In the same year, Stellar made this image, Shamloo left Iran to protest the Shah’s regime. He traveled around the US lecturing at various colleges.

I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal but apparently a number of people were rather surprised when he chose to return to Iran. On being asked why he claimed that at least in Iran the mechanism of state control and oppression were clearly visible. He said that the reason America worked is because they had grown so adept at hiding the very same mechanism.

(As an aside: I can’t help making a rather obvious correlation between this image and Stranger by the Lake– it’s streaming on Netflix, you have no excuse. It doesn’t escape my notice that Stellar is essentially filling the role of the skeevy guy who stands around awkwardly masturbating while folks he’s attracted to hook up.)

Source unknown – Title unknown (20XX)

Images like this give me a feeling like maybe I’m not irrevocably broken.

I’m not sure I can explain why and I’m even less certain such feelings are a good thing…

Touch is such a goddamn minefield for me. Generally, if I don’t know someone and they touch me–something as little as their coat brushing against me as they walk by me on a subway platform can be downright unnerving. Extroverted people who throw their hands about when they laugh to collide and rest briefly on my shoulder, arm or thigh make me shudder and have brought on full blown panic attacks.

I’m split as far as how to respond to such incidents–half the time I snarl get the fuck off me, the other half I bite down hard and try to swallow the discomfort.

When it comes to acquaintances and friends, I try–and admittedly fail more than I succeed–to follow the other persons lead. Any contact will make me uncomfortable but it feels like that’s just the price of admission.

The weird thing I’ve found is that closeness isn’t prescriptive when it comes to touch. I know people who’ve insisted on hugging me upon our first introduction and I’ve been fine. Whereas, it makes me feel all squirmy inside when one of my oldest friends wraps her arms around me by way of greeting.

And here’s the rub of it: those people who can touch me with a seeming impunity to negative reaction–to a one, I would sleep with them without so much as a second thought if there was a mutual desire and clearly articulated consent.

The decision to do so would be based less on desperation (even though I have been sexually inactive for 5.5 years at this point) and more motivated by curiosity.

I don’t for a second believe I am entitled to sexual gratification from anyone simply because a random, proverbial dice throw by the universe reconciled my instinctive response their body. But I do feel–and much more often than I am willing to openly admit–that there is a disconnect between the frequency with which I experience attraction and the infrequency with which I express to those for whom I feel it.

People just don’t respond well to such admissions (from me). I just wish things in my life could be more like two of my close friends in college–both female and straight–who after a wild night woke up in bed together and although hungover one admitted to being extremely horny and the other admitted to always wanting to go down on her.

After neither was embarrassed or ashamed and they are still dear friends to this day.

To me this image not only conveys an intoxicating post-coital afterglow, it also resonates with the calmness of knowing how to ask a question so that it is not only heard but in no way presupposes any sort of response. (And I believe the entirety of my sexuality is encapsulated within that sentiment.)

Lastly, it must be noted that no matter how much this image resonates with me, it is textbook #skinnyframebullshit.