Today I would like to talk about the best model I have ever worked with in my favorite photo shoot ever, and why it temporarily ruined me on creating artistic photo shoots with people.
Artists and photographers often create images with messages in mind. When the artwork is displayed in a gallery or posted in social media it is often done without that specific artist’s intent written there right next to it. The viewer is then free to take in this message and process it in their own way. It gets molded to fit their own life and circumstances so they can relate to it. I always find it super interesting to talk to people who have connected with a piece of my work to hear what they have gotten out of it. Most times the meaning that others find is fairly similar to my intent. I have always been pretty literal with my work. Ever so often, though, that meaning gets lost for whatever reason. Sometimes when this happens I learn a little more about myself and my photos. Other times, however, I get a little miffed. The series of nightmare photos I created titled Killing Hollywood is one of those times.
The idea for the photo shoot came to me out of my general feeling of helplessness at times, and my fear of some crazy human monster torturing me. I love a good scary movie just like anyone else, and I can be fairly morbid. That stuff is easy, though. The most frightening things are always the ones based in the truth. As you get older and innocence fades you learn that it’s not really the boogie man that you have to be afraid of. It’s a bully at school, a family member, someone you know. I have lived through enough turmoil to know that the bad things can and will happen to anyone. At only 17 years old two people who I knew by acquaintance broke into my house while I slept, put a gun to my head, taped up me and my family, and proceeded to rob us. This is just one of the things I have survived in this life, and I will continue on. These bad things that happened to me don’t define me, but they don’t just go away. It’s like there is this dark place in my mind that hides these things, and acts as an incubator for dark ideas. My photography has always been my therapy to work through this darkness. It’s facing my fears through role play in a way where I get to control the session. It’s that sense of control that gives me the strength to face this gloom and conquer it. Sharing my work is my release from the bonds of fear. I take that dark idea out of my head so that my imagination will no longer have it for ammunition.
The idea for Killing Hollywood came about from many factors. As I said it partially came from horrible memories. A little bit of the idea was bred in my ongoing night terrors. My newly purchased house also aided in my creativity. I’ve always been into old houses, so, of course, I ended up buying one built in the 1800s with a creepy old cellar. There are even weird hooks embedded in the open floor beams overhead which were most likely used to hang curing beef or, you know, maybe a large person. It was rather apparent that I needed to do some kind of photo shoot down there the instant I set foot in that eerie dark room. A photographer friend of mine visited not long after I moved in, and immediately suggested the same thing. I was all for it, so we started planning. I asked my gorgeous friend who had been modeling if she would be interested in doing the shoot. Not only was she a beautiful model, but I wanted to work with her because she reminded me a lot of myself. She was a beautiful, powerful girl being weighed down by the shackles of evil in this world. My friend thought the idea was fantastic, and was excited to help me make my nightmare into reality. The shoot went spectacular. The photos turned out fantastic! The general reception of the photos by individuals, however, was not so great.
The finished piece consisted of all of the photos below disconnected and then put back together as one piece with hooks and rings on a large curtain rod. It spanned an entire front display window facing a busy street. Immediately after publicly displaying the photos a tense vibe emitted from one of the neighboring businesses. They were afraid it would deter customers from even walking by. The gallery stood their ground, and I was allowed to keep the display up for the rest of the month since the month just happened to be October. It wasn’t until a long while later when I posted the shots to my online gallery that the onslaught of drastic misinterpretation from the general public began. The concepts of fear and death were not just abandoned, they were not even explored. The consensus was that my work exemplified bondage. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and my good intentions turned into high-octane gas. The responses ranged from “Kinda kinky, don’t you think?” to the even more outlandish “You should have given her a ball gag too! How come she’s wearing clothes?” I was mortified!
I had been trying to share my fears and make peace with a painful past. Instead I found myself at the center of unintended never-ending perversion. I wanted to run to my beautiful friend and apologize. At the same time I wanted to crawl into a cave and hide. I didn’t even know where to begin, so I didn’t. I didn’t do or say anything. I discreetly pulled the images from my website and social media. I moved onto some nice calm nature work hoping it would be forgotten. I couldn’t figure out how to explain myself and make it right. I wish I had known then what I know now. I had to explain myself so that I could even try to make it right. I waited far too long. Now is past time to take a good look at the Killing Hollywood series and elucidate. Take a minute and soak in these photos, and then answer a couple of questions for me…
The series is supposed to depict a strong woman clinging to life, broken slowly until the final demise. Did the images show her fear? Could you see the terror in her eyes as she nears death? If the answer is no, and you are suddenly turned on then YOU are part of the problem in this world. YOU are the reason that people everywhere are afraid to express their pain. YOU are the reason that women AND men everywhere are afraid to look too good when they go out at night. You are the reason I’ve slept with a baseball bat next to my bed for 20 years. YOU are a creep.
Every time a model dons chains or something of the like it does not mean they are auditioning for the latest movie in the 50 Shades of Grey series. Just because a model allows a photographer to create a scene, whether it be fantasy or torture, doesn’t mean that it’s what he or she is “into”. This beautiful girl helped me to let out my fears, only to end up being tortured for real by a multitude of immature oafs purchasing prints for masturbation fodder. It was all my fault. I know I can’t undo the damage, but I hope I can correct it by this opening of my mouth now. These scenes I created were to personify vulnerability, and what it’s like to lose control of your life no matter how strong you are. The fear in her eyes is the fear that lives inside me, inside a lot of us.
Every person on this earth views thing in a different way, so I understand a little bit of the misconceptions about my photo series. I won’t play innocent and pretend I’m the most chaste. I can be as big of a pervert as Ron Jeremy, heck I even met the guy. I never condone ignorance, though. Yes, maybe artists and photogs have confused things a little by blurring the line between art and pornography. Even some in the pornography industry try to smear that line like Hugh Hefner for example. That’s why I’ve always had more respect for Larry Flynt. My biggest fault has always been being to frank. My artwork has always been more literal. My photograph titled “Powder Coated Death” is a girl dead on a mirror from a cocaine overdose. It means I don’t like cocaine. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. If I had been trying to make a provocative image there would have been no question. It wouldn’t have looked at all like a woman being tortured until dead. It wouldn’t have even been satin sheets and pearls like Playboy. It would have been a naked chick spread eagle holding a banana, and it could pass for a centerfold in Hustler. I’m that literal.
When I create I put my heart and soul into everything I do. I’m still incredibly disappointed that I ever even needed to explain myself. A little part of me feels as though I’ve failed miserably as an artist. I haven’t worked with any models to create a fantasy scene like this one since it happened in 2009. In fact my soul snatching has dwindled down to people at events or concerts I am hired to do. The girl in the photo is still beautiful, and ended up being very forgiving despite my silence, and the fact that I haven’t forgiven myself. This Behind the Art story is kind of a gift to her. I figured if I’m going to deliver such a belated apology it better be more than two words. Maybe it’s a little gift for me as well. Now that I’ve let these words out of my head I can shut off the computer and move on. I have a million ideas for a million models so I know one day I’ll get back on that horse and ride. Until then I’ll be sharing this story with all that will listen. I want people everywhere to know they don’t have to be afraid to express themselves. It’s ok to speak out in your own way. Communication makes the world go round, and had I spoke up sooner I might have been able to move mountains. Don’t make the mistake I did. Always say what you feel because believe it or not the old saying is true. The truth shall set us all free.
I had forgotten when I originally wrote this that I had actually done one other photo shoot with a model immediately after the Killing Hollywood shoot. I replicated the exact same nightmare series with a male model, and titled .it Niebma. Here are some of the shots from that shoot:
As of the writing of this post there have been no negative, nor really positive comments made about the male version of Killing Hollywood. Niebma was shown in equally as many art shows if not more. The biggest reaction I had was when the gentleman’s aunt saw it at one of my shows, and bought it to give to the male model as a Christmas gift. Just some food for thought.
Lastly, and then I swear no more edits, for anyone wondering what happened to the above artwork it has all mostly sold. I donated the artwork in a charity auction I hosted for Hunger Inc, and happily they were some of the peices that received bids. All proceeds were donated, and the artwork is safely somewhere in a happy beautifully morbid home like mine. The end. 🙂