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Here’s something I’ve never done before: create an image intending for it to be black and white!  I have one other image that was converted for a magazine which required it to be black and white to print it.  I LOVE me some color.  I like using color strategically and thoughtfully.  But something made me think about doing this most recent image in black and white and I loved the idea.  It would be a bit of a challenge and a stretch for me and that’s a good thing.

This image came to be through two sources.  One was a way to help me deal with the grief I was still feeling.  The other was this astonishingly beautiful solo by Ricky Ubeda for the show So You Think You Can Dance, and the gorgeous music and poetic lyrics by David J. Roch.

Don’t lose your soul as your eyes roll shut
Don’t worry, it will be over

You know what’s to come to not accept this
Don’t lose your soul, you must fight for each breath
Don’t go quietly

My soul has flown and I am what is left
I am skin and bones

Who else can look exactly like a leaf being blown across the stage??

When I first watched this dance, it was on a day when I was heavily grieving and I started weeping uncontrollably as I watched it… and was still compelled to rewind the DVR and watch it over and over.  I’ve probably seen it 20 times now in about a week.  I immediately tracked the song down, downloaded it on Itunes and have been listening to it on repeat in the car since then.

I can’t quite verbalize what it is about this performance that moves me so much, which is part of why art exists; to give voice to that which we can’t say.  Though it brought so many tears out of me, there was a hopeful, soothing quality to it within the darkness.  And since I can’t tell you exactly how it makes me feel, the next best thing I could do was create a self portrait.

With Ricky’s evocative dance, David J. Roch’s sober lyrics and Andrew’s death rolling around inside my head, I shot a self portrait which was, as it usually is, very healing to do.  I felt lighter after it.

The “I am skin and bones” refrain immediately made me think of black and white; the visual equivalent of being reduced to simple skin and bones.  The door and handle are holding my body up, and my face is mostly in shadows to reflect both the dark lyrics and my dark emotional state.

I purposely left on my metal bracelet, which I wear every day.  It was made by a lovely person on Etsy who will hammer whatever phrase you’d like onto your bracelet.  Mine reads “That’s what heroes are for.”  A daily reminder to be brave, to continue striving, to be ready to sacrifice for that which is important.  And to me, it was vitally important to include it within this self portrait.  Though its meaning will only be known to me and those reading this, it is a flash of hope and strength at a time when it was most needed.

And that is all I can verbalize about the meaning of this image.  Editing in black and white definitely used different artistic muscles.  I enjoyed the change of pace, but I don’t see myself becoming solely a black and white photographer; I love color too much.

I hope you enjoy this experiment down the black and white lane!  And I also hope that you will vote for Ricky Ubeda in the upcoming weeks of So You Think You Can Dance; I already believe (and hope) he could win the whole contest!  Thank you to Ricky and David J. Roch for providing the art that I needed just when I needed it.  Full song lyrics are below the photo!

Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones

 

Skin and Bones - detail

Skin and Bones – detail

Skin and bones, by David J Roch:

Don’t lose your soul as your eyes roll shut
Don’t worry, it will be over
Hold on though, you’re alone, I am there with you
That much at least I can promise

You know what’s to come to not accept this
Don’t lose your soul, you must fight for each breath
Don’t go quietly

Don’t cry out for God
Just breathe in and out
Don’t cry out for God
Just breathe in and out

We are but lambs to the slaughter now
I have no fear of death itself
So don’t try and save me and please, God, forsake me
I’ll suffer alone, I just want to be left

My soul has flown and I am what is left
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones

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***WARNING: this post will contain spoilers for this season of True Detective.  Turn back now, ye who have not seen it.***

There.  With the formalities out of the way, we can settle in and chat 🙂

I don’t believe I have ever witnessed such a frenzied, overwhelming reaction to a television show in such a short amount of time.  True Detective was only eight episodes long.  I knew, for myself, that I was going to be completely obsessed with it by the second episode; I warned Geoff about it and that I was going to have to buy it on DVD the very moment it came out.  You all probably know by now how I tend to obsess over things.

For anyone unfamiliar with True Detective, it is an eight-episode series which recently ran on HBO.  It tells the story of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, two detectives who are partnered together to solve a serial killer murder mystery.  The show jumps around from 1995, when they believe they solved the crime, and 2012, when it rapidly becomes obvious that something is amiss; the killer was not apprehended after all.

What impressed me so much was how strongly the entire internet reacted to the show.  Within those same short, first few weeks the internet exploded with True Detective interest, and by the finale, the fervor was so high that fans streaming the episode through HBO GO crashed the network’s servers.  This is the kind of rabid loyalty that usually takes years to build up, like with Breaking Bad, for example.  Both shows completely deserved the devotion given to them, but it intrigues me that True Detective was able to accomplish this in a mere eight weeks.  What is so different about this show?

Like the very best art, it’s extremely difficult to parse out exactly what makes it so special.  True Detective was pure magic, and I don’t believe it’s something that can be distilled down to a formula and repeated endlessly.  But I’m still going to take a stab at defining what I think people, including myself, are responding to so strongly.

1.  Relateable, real, unique characters.  Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey respectively, are fascinating.  They are fully realized, flawed, broken men but they still try to do good and make a difference in the world.  Whether you’re more of a Hart or a Cohle (guess which one I am – HAH), you’ll find someone to identify with.

These men both deserve Emmys and any and all awards given out to television performances for their acting.  To be honest, I’d never really gotten Matthew McConnaughey before.  True Detective completely changed my opinion of him; I was absolutely blown away.  Woody Harrelson is, of course, spectacular as well, but I went in expecting to enjoy his work.  McConnaughey’s jaw-dropping performance in scene after scene was a revelation to me.

2.  A script which treats its audience with respect.  You will not be talked down to here.  There is no spoon-feeding of the audience.  You are expected to pay attention and remember clues dropped in one episode and discovered in another.  Nothing has been dumbed-down and it’s incredibly refreshing.  I want my shows to challenge me, to engage me, to literally take me on a journey.  True Detective does all that and more.

3.  Myth and metaphor.  If you’ve seen any of the series, you’ve probably already read about how much of it was inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 classic work The King In YellowThe King In Yellow is a collection of short stories about a fictional play within the stories by the same name.  The first act of the made-up play is safe but it lures you into reading the second act.  Anyone who reads even a few words of the second act is shown such horrific truths about the universe that they’re driven insane.  Carcosa, The Yellow King, masks (both literal and metaphoric, masking who you truly are), black stars, the sign of the Yellow King, truth about the world bringing on madness, it all stems from The King In Yellow.  This is the kind of thing that really excites me.  And yes, I did read the entire King In Yellow between episodes just enhance my viewing pleasure.  This is the kind of loyalty the show inspires.  While it is certainly possible to watch the show and enjoy it without having delved into hundred-year-old, obscure literature, you want to for True Detective.

I have always been a proponent of the power of myth and metaphor.  Its something that I try to use as often as possible in my own work.  They are an incredibly strong force, which is rarely drawn on in television; certainly not to this degree.

Take the detectives’ names.  Marty (Martin) Hart and Rust (Rustin) Cohle.  Marty; the warm, personable, passionate, fiery, family-man-with-something-on-the-side.  Martin is derived from Mars, Roman god of war and means “warring.”  “Warring,” whether against the killer he hunts or the banalities of daily life, and “heart” are two perfect words to sum Marty up.   “Rust” and “coal” are perfect expressions of Rustin Cohle; bleak, nihilistic and emotionless.  Rust only occurs on metal, an element which is the perfect metaphor for Rust, cold and strong, but wounded, and we watch him disintegrate a little bit at a time.  Coal… I can think of nothing better to describe Rust’s heart after his young daughter’s death, which sent him down this path of meaninglessness and hopelessness.  But like real coal, there is the potential to change into something utterly different and glitteringly beautiful.

The more you pay attention to the show, the more subtleties you pick up on.  Pay attention to how the color yellow is used, for example.  Scenes that have the most to do with the killer are the most yellow.  When Rust makes Marty view the VHS tape of Marie Fontenot’s murder, not only is the whole screen is saturated in yellow, it’s a clear metaphor for Marty having read the “second act.”  And after you’ve read the second act, there is no going back.  Things can never be the same.

Myth and metaphor are so cleverly and generously used, I could go on for pages about it, but you get the idea.  I think you’ll have more fun if you watch the show and try to pick out the references yourself 🙂

4.  A beautifully shot piece of art.  Not to mention interestingly shot.  Incredibly complicated, gun-fighting, fist-fighting, dozens-of-extras, police-cars-and-helicopters, lifting-the-camera-man-over-a-fence-with-a-crane, six-minute-without-a-cut scene, anyone?

I also love how the show uses classic noir and literature traits, like showing peoples’ reactions to horror instead of the horror itself.  It’s an underused and extremely effective method of story-telling, not to mention underscores the mysterious tone of the entire show.

5. Healing and redemption – and the twist-within-a-twist ending.  You expect, this being a show about two detectives solving a crime, even though by now you know you’ll see something more than that, that the show will end on a climax of Marty and Rust catching the killer.  And they do catch their killer…  who ends up being at once creepier and more ordinary than you had expected the grand Yellow King to be, which feels like a very authentic picture of actual murderers.  Twist one.  Marty and Rust catch their Yellow King about halfway through the last episode, giving them almost another 30 minutes to fill.  Why would they need the extra time, you wonder.  To finish the story.  To really finish the real story.

What’s the real story?  As Rust says, it’s the oldest story, of light verses darkness.  Not just in the grander sense of of Marty and Rust catching their man, but of them facing the darknesses within their own lives.  For Marty, this means seeing the family he destroyed years ago with his multiple affairs.  And while things are far from all forgiven and forgotten, the show makes it clear that the fact that his ex-wife and daughters are even in the same room with him is a huge hurdle to have crossed.  Marty is not ok.  His family is not ok.  But now, finally, things can begin to heal and just maybe, they will be ok some day.

And then there’s Rust.  Rust, who began to withdraw from the world years and years ago when his young daughter was suddenly killed.  Rust, who wants to hurry up and catch their man because his entire life has been “a circle of violence and degradation as long as I can remember” and he wants to end it as soon as his work is done.  You can’t blame him for feeling that way.  I think he expected he would die in the final confrontation with the killer, which very nearly did happen, but he finds himself alive still at the other end, after awakening from the coma his wounds put him in.  What’s left for our nihilistic, philosophical, misanthropic hero?

A lot, it turns out.  Our emotionless, cerebral, steely man, who I can remember smiling only once during the whole series, breaks down sobbing.  In his coma, he had a vision of the afterlife where he encountered his father’s and daughter’s spirits, and moreover, he encountered their love.  Love which continued beyond death.  Which wiped away any disappointments his father may have had for him in life, any guilt he may have felt over his daughter’s death.  He was wrapped in pure love, something he had never experienced before.

It profoundly effected him.  When Marty, looking up at the night sky observes that the dark seems to have a lot more territory, Rust responds with “Yeah, you’re right about that… But you’re looking at it wrong… Once, there was only dark.  If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

Twist two.  The entire show wasn’t about them catching the Yellow King.  The entire thing led up to this moment, when Marty and Rust are reconciled, the healing has begun, and Rust has his first moment of optimism.  Healing and redemption.  Light verses dark.  That’s what we’d been watching this whole time.

 

So how does my self portrait tie in?  In a lot of ways actually.  Most obviously, it’s a reference to the starry night Marty and Rust philosophize under, the hope and beauty they were able to find.  The yellow is obvious as well, and since purple is yellow’s complimentary color, that seemed like a good direction to go in.  What’s hard to see in the shrunken, internet-appropriate version of the image is how the yellow fabric is sliding off my face; the mask is coming off.  And most importantly,  I wanted to portray the optimism Rust found there at the very end.  Maybe life isn’t all shit and misery.  Maybe it’s full of beauty and wonder too.  I’ll do my part to try and make that second part more and more true.

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning

 

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning - detail

The Light Is Winning – detail

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My dear friend and frequent collaborator Katie Johnson has recently started a new video series which profiles the artists she works with frequently.  I was honored to be featured in the first of her videos!  She put a great piece together which includes an interview with me and lots of behind-the-scenes peeks into how we work.

Take a look!

I often think of lines from the song the princess sings in Peter S. Beagle’s legendary work The Last Unicorn:

Oh, I am a king’s daughter
And I grow old within
The prison of my person
The shackles of my skin

And I would run away
And beg from door to door
Just to see your shadow
Just once and nevermore

The prison of my person, the shackles of my skin” perfectly describes how I feel about my physical body most days.  Though I doubt Mr. Beagle had ME in mind when he wrote it, it resonates so strongly with me.  And I’m sure people with other chronic illnesses will be able to identify with it; it’s a pretty universal problem across the chronically ill spectrum.

Feeling so trapped has always made me instantly know something of what Amalthea felt at finding herself in human form.  I imagine it was even harder for her though.  The disharmony we chronically ill feel with our body was something I’d wanted to express in my Enchanted Sleep series for quite a while and I was glad to finally bring the image to life!

There’s something more visceral about images than you often can’t replicate with words.  Words are powerful, they can build and tear down mountains, but the visual world offers the same information in a different form.  One that, if used well, can strike like a snake and bring instantaneous understanding.  That’s my hope with this series; to illustrate the life of a person with myalgic encephalomyelitis in a way that reaches where words cannot.

I will admit… I’d beg from door to door just to catch a glimpse of a unicorn’s shadow too 🙂

Here’s a look at the final image from our shoot:

Inside Looking Out

Inside Looking Out

And a detail shot:

Inside Looking Out - detail

Inside Looking Out – detail

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