June 17, 2008

The Woman Behind the Mask

The Woman Behind the Mask
People who read my writing or look at my paintings sometimes conjure up images of what I might look and behave like. One person who read my essays for a mosaic magazine told me that she was shocked when she met me in person because she had envisioned a dowdy old woman who shuffled along in enormous orthopedic shoes and wore her grey hair twisted into a bun. Actual photographs didn’t help dispel such visions, however. I would try to dress decently and look alert for a photograph but invariably I would end up looking somewhat haggard and without a substantial amount of mental acuity. Part of the problem was that I am a person of perpetual motion and attempts to sit or stand still were awkward at best. Photographs froze my discomfort like an insect in amber - only the insect was better looking. Indeed, this is probably why I had always hidden behind my artwork.

So when an article appearing in a national newsletter required the dreaded portrait photograph - I was hoping to get by with just the photographs of my paintings - I asked various friends to please take a photograph of me, lamely handing them my digital camera. After viewing the results I thought that I would try working with a creative, professional photographer. Working with Rachel Bair Ficek from Bair Prints studio changed everything. The first improvement was the change of environment - I was photographed working in my studio. Someone like Rachel who clearly understood how to pose people in various settings was a big step towards getting decent shots. Then we got creative. I mentioned to Rachel that in my interview I referred to some of the dance and yoga exercises I do to counteract all the time I spend in stillness at the computer or at the work bench. So we did some shots of yoga poses outdoors. Then we did a series of art photographs which were essentially various permutations of my becoming one with the art work. We started with my wearing one of my mosaic masks and doing dance steps and contortions with it. Then we moved on to my storage area where I cartwheeled around the room - obviously seeking to dispel the woman in the orthopedic shoes myth.

I learned a lot about the aesthetics of photography from Rachel this week. I noticed that she did not adjust photographs for lens distortion but retained the bent walls and even celebrated them as part of the reality of looking at the world through the fish eye. It gave me the impression of seeing things from the bottom of a lake. Rachel was also extremely clever at lining up shapes to create lively compositions. Some of this I am certain was a result of a good photography education. The rest was what we all envy - a talent!

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