Self Portrait, Claude Cahun, 1927
The two color images above are a few of the images that I shot early in the morning last week near Maroon Lake in Aspen, Colorado. The black and white “Buddha” image of French artist Claude Cahun’s (1894-1954) is one of my favorite images and I would like to recreate this image sometime. I have been carrying this silver fabric around and last week I found this beautiful grey rock that called to me like a Buddha rock or enlightenment rock.
I was attending a photography workshop at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Colorado taught by the remarkable photographer and artist Jess Dugan. The course was titled “The Intimate Portrait.” I decided to take this class to push myself to learn to take pictures of myself / self images / self-portraits. I have very little training in photography, so this is a big challenge for me.
I had asked my dear friend and fabulous artist and photographer Sama Alshaibi for advice on equipment and I bought a camera and lens that I can use primarily to take images and portraits of myself. I purchased a Sony a7iii mirrorless camera and a Zeiss F1.8 lens. The technology of this camera is a bit overwhelming and last week I just plunged forward with lots of support from Jess and my classmates at Anderson Ranch.
One piece of advice that Jess repeated to all of us was to just slow down and work whatever situation you have set-up for yourself and your subject (my subject being me). On the first day I chose the horizontal wood wall under the porch on the back side of the main building at Anderson Ranch to shoot myself in front of.
These seem like very simple images, but learning to manage the tripod, the auto-focus, depth of field, self-timer, the remote and also just getting comfortable with my face, my gaze, gesture—this has been no easy task for me. I also shot myself over and over in my hotel room.
I modeled for one of the talented photographers/ artists in the workshop, Kevin Gochez. Kevin asked me if I would model nude in my hotel room for them. They are working on a series of portraits in hotel rooms with various people. The image below is one of the several beautiful images that Kevin took. I am in awe and I want to learn about light next . . . Kevin and I traded prints—they gave me this print below and I gave them the print of my face coming out of the Buddha/enlightenment rock.
I have recently become aware of American photographer Anne Noggle’s work (1922 – 2005). Her frank, funny, sad, joyful black and white portraits and portrayals of herself and her own aging process, as well as her portraits of other older women, are remarkable. I decided to try to reproduce one of Noggle’s self-portraits “A Rose is A Rose is A Rose.” It was a humbling exercise for me that I consciously chose. The technicalities of this kind of close up image were difficult for me. It was also an exploration of vanity and beauty —exposing my skin, my wrinkles . . . Obviously this is part of the process of self-imaging a 65-year-old woman. What am I willing to reveal, what am I not willing to reveal? Noggle was 63 when she took this image.
This was a life and art altering week for me. I have been in a bit of a creative lull since the completion of the book and the exhibition THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. Jess Dugan is an amazing teacher as well as artist and human being. They create a learning atmosphere that brings out the best in everyone. I have been trying to get going on to the next major body of work. I want to research and embody all of Claude Cahun’s Heroines (there are 14 in Cahun’s text including: Eve, Judith, Salome, Sappho, Cinderella . . . ). This will be a continuation of my research into feminist history, representation and identity. My collaborator for the last several years, photographer Luis Branco, is in Portugal and we do plan on working together this fall at the OBRAS Artist Residency on multiple projects. We have a large show of our collaborative work “The Mirror Between Us” rescheduled because of the pandemic for the spring of 2022 in Evora, Portugal. I love working with Luis and I want to continue to work in Europe. Jess suggested that a personal practice of self-portraiture could run parallel to my more long-term conceptual and collaborative projects. I am really excited, I love my new camera and I want to get more proficient with it. And I can learn to take pictures of my selves in whatever forms / identities / personas I wish to try in my studio in my home in the yard – wherever.
This last image of Anne Noggle’s is titled “Stellar by Starlight No. 2” and it expresses something that I feel; a sense of joy, of humour, a freedom, a challenge to image and imagine my/our many selves and indentities… and I must get a tiara soon!! Happy Summer Solstice!!