Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Second Week - Stomach Photography with Anders Peterson

It's hard for me to submit myself to reason in photographing. I want to be unprotected, with the eagerness of a child. My thoughts come before and after. - Anders Peterson

I came to Tuscany looking for inspiration and beauty. This was the week I was supposed to take a course with Antonin Kratchovil, but his wife is pregnant. So I took a course on personal research with Anders Peterson. Anders looks like a jovial, bigger version of Richard Avedon, but what a cuckoo genius Anders is. Anders' workshop is the seventh workshop I have taken in my life. This was the most challenging workshop in my life, and it was not because of the photographic technique, it was because Anders made me confront my dark side, my sexuality, life and death. I took very few pictures this week. Part of it was because Anders showed a large amount of videos, but also partly because I was frozen with fear, unable to shoot.

I have always said to people that one must live life well so that they can take photos full of life's experiences. And this has allowed to put emotions into my images. But Anders is the extreme logical conclusion of this. He is not a photographer, he lives. Photography is like a by product of living, like eating and shitting. In his first break through project, Cafe Lehmitz, he practically lived in the cafe for two and a half years. He was not an outsider taking the photographs, he was an insider, taking family portraits.

But are Anders images reality? Not at all. Reality is something that Anders is highly suspicious of. Within the frame of his image, a fantastical drama unfolds. His photography is direct, raw and brutal. He told us repeatedly that in the act of shooting, one must be horrible. A photographer has responsibilities before and after the act of taking an image, but in the act of shooting, it must be a direct animal act. His preferred medium is black and white tri-x film. He heavily manipulates the print, creating a dark, surreal world that is his own. And in spite of the blatant act of fantasy, his images are honest and authentic. His interactions with his subjects are collaborations. Within his image creations, a conversation on existence ensues. Life, death, sexuality, humanity, anger, love, all stare you in the face.

Some students grappled with interacting with strangers on the street. How we are all so polite. But approaching people on a street is not something I have problems with anymore. I grappled with my emotional fears. There was a stunningly beautiful student in another class, Marina. I have to freely admit to being attracted to her. I asked to my room to model for me. After a few normal portraits, I asked to pose topless for me. I did explain that the exercise was to show the possibilities. And she did so because she was willing to help me with the course work. Even though I have shot many nudes before, this was the first time I have done so under such circumstances. And I got much more than I imagined. You can see a little scar under her arms. She is twenty-one and she has had a life threatening disease. She was not shy of her sexuality I think, but shy of her scar. I showed Anders the image and he was not satisfied. 'This is an interesting scar,' he said. 'Was she shy?'. Anders wanted me to take a straight forward image of Marina and her scar. I had to explain this to Marina and she was so kind to allow me to shoot her scar full on, but she told me that I could only show it in class. The act of photography is brutal, but one must take care of the subject before and after the image is taken. Although this image of Marina is probably the most powerful image I have taken in my life, I am not able to show it to the world.

I also decided to explore the issue of male sexuality. Although I have friends who are gay and lesbian, male sexuality is something that I have always been uncomfortable with. I asked a German student, Benjamin to model for me. Once again, I took some normal portraits, and then I asked him to strip down to his underwear. Benjamin who is also a photography student asked why? When I explained to him the concept, he said ok, but not nude. And once again I got more than I imagined, he had scars on the side of his body. He also had a life threatening disease, where his lung was enlarged and pressing against his heart. He was operated on to release the fluids in his lungs. This was the second amazing encounter in one week.

I also took the most intimate self-portraits in my life. And last night, after the course is over and most of the students had gone home, I had one more extraordinary shoot. There were two Italian students who stayed an extra night. One of them, Peira, was doing a series of pictures of the ghost of a woman who used to stay in the monastery. Through out the week, she had been shooting ghostly images at night. And I told her that we should shoot in the cemetery at night. She had shot in the cemetery in the morning before but not at night. She was frightened. She loved Anders' work and what she had seen of mine in the slide show. I told her how can she shoot a ghost story in the monastery but not shoot in the cemetery at night. We both confronted our fears and I helped her shoot a ghostly image in the cemetery. I took her portrait nude in the cemetery.

I did not shoot many images this week. But by breaking some of my personal fears, I have managed to shoot some of the most important images in my life. I have not overcome all my fears. But Anders says that it is alright to fear. We all fear. But how do we lead a life without fear and without losing ourselves?

But Anders is not just special because he lives his life completely. He is also very intelligent and very learned. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the photographic world. He has studied what makes a photographer compelling. In the printing and taking of his images, he has very clear technique. His shooting technique avoids 'photographic' technique. His technique creates an intense interaction between photographer and subject. All his images and manipulated in the darkroom.

This work shop with Anders Peterson forces me to re question photography, fundamentally. Whether I agree or disagree, whether I am willing to continue breaking boundaries or keeping to beautiful images, the world has changed forever.

1 comment:

Geoff said...

Thanks for that heartfelt write-up...Anders sounds like an inspiration, glad to hear that his lessons really got under your skin!