I got asked recently on Instagram about how I make my self-portraits.
There are some technicalities, which have relied on me using a series of props to focus on, along with knotted string stretching between camera and backdrop. It means I can make a fairly good assessment of focus looking through at the knots and using the distance gauge on the lens because I can – quite literally – measure it.
It is a bit like a basic TV set where everything has to be marked out for lights and angles….It’s just that I do it all myself: – set up, focus on knot / prop, use self timer and cable release when standing in place of said prop.
After many expensive mistakes I got frustrated wanting it to be super sharp on something very small. I tried an assistant a couple of times but it wasn’t easy to convey anything of the technicality I’m after with the body itself. It made me feel awkward having someone else there… something happened to my mouth that I didn’t like. What I make is so much about vulnerability…. Having someone in the same room … it becomes awkward. Even having my portrait made by other people is strange – I feel a bit like a plank of wood. I have to practice. Which is weird, considering what I do the rest of the time.
And one day I asked my Beloved – who just so happens to now be a physiotherapist and acupuncturist – if he could help me in the studio.
I said we needed to go early in the morning – because the light then is good.. when it is very flat – my favourite. I took coffee but he still complained, perching awkwardly on my windowsill to peer through the viewfinder and tell me if what he could see – what I had staged – was sharp….
I ask him things like – can you see the edge of the fabric? Or….Is my hand fully above my head?
He has helped me quite often now. He doesn’t like doing it. But he’s the only person who understands what it is that I’m trying to get to without too many words.
Before retraining in physio and acupuncture he was a professional climbing instructor. I tried climbing a bit as a way of quieting my busy mind but to be truthful it is not really my thing – I never got very good at it. He, however, is excellent. On rare co-adventures we have been tied together with rope. He once rescued me from a mountain he thought would be within my ability to ascend. I screamed a lot on that one.
We now both have practices rooted in a constantly evolving understanding of the body. We come at it from completely different perspectives, even if we are travelling along in the same direction.
Our story has merged through needles, pins, ropes, tethers, mountains, mothers, rhymes and reasons.
And that is how I do what I do.