Thursday, August 19, 2010

from Apostrophe, an excerpt, Zones 6 and 7

As a photographer and son of a sculptor, I've devoted my entire life to "seeing with intent," an act absorbed first at Pop's knee and in all my subsequent studies. It is an engaged process that informs my work and is a link to my departed father. I guess you can say it's in my genes and in my blood. Recently I read this piece at The Erotic Literary Salon which I wrote about four years ago. It is an excerpt from Apostrophe, part of the first chapter, inspired by Ansell Adams' Zone System.  The Zone System demands intense, intimate observation and decisions made by the photographer based on what light reveals and conceals.  But for me, it is more. It is meditation, metaphor and birthright. It is how I express my love for and admiration of the wonders of the female form. Let the words wash over you.

I prayed to have some response to the things that were so clearly beautiful to me.
Leonard Cohen
Zone 6 Shadows on landscape
In the streets and studios on the campus and the city, desire, age and experience had honed this most talented eye. The photographer takes her in so quickly and discretely that he knows her most intimate details before she knows she’s revealed anything. Most men, heterosexual or not, do this or a form of it but to call his lifelong pursuit “girl-watching” insinuates a certain passive amateurism for this most professional and most practiced of investigators. 

Oh you women!  That you collude in and encourage this is not in dispute, is it? Seduction is your palette, the razor’s edge between the revealed and the concealed. As he sets and lights his studio for his first shoot, he envisions his glamorous subject at the start of her day, naked, freshly dried and powdered from her bath as she dips into the dresser, selects bra and panties, ah but which? Virtuous white cottons, sinful black lace sheers or luxurious pastel silks?  Like an actor in the wings or a soldier before battle, poised before open closets, she performs a dozen breathless calculations as she reaches for each article. Off the shoulder, scoop, A-line, or bateau. Short skirt, long skirt or slacks --- skin-tight for drama or loose for freedom. Her ensemble, no matter how much or how little she wears, always reveals more than it conceals. That is her inventory. His continues.

What’s her approach? Steel–gazed and confident, or clouded and demur? Does she strut, swish, shamble or shuffle; is her movement more invitation than locomotion, hips tick tocking that celestial clockwork that tells everybody around her the time? Does she slouch or shrink or preen or flare her feathers in a flash of misdirection?

As she bends, see how the curve of a breast blooms as the neckline falls away, gravity unveiling curves where the presence or absence of the tiniest dot of fabric or flesh is the difference between modesty and exhibitionism. Nipples beg attention through thin fabric, whether small or large, flat or knobby, pink or brown, puffy or beestung, perking when touched and complaining when cold and sore and needing to be warmed. Breasts revel in their innate concentricity, whether heavy like overripe fruit or pert like the closed fist of a rose.

Hips tip the scale between chastest virtue and depravity.
Bellies, from the palest white to café au lait to shiny black--all quiver like plucked strings in anticipation of touch.

The drawn bow, the plucked chord, worked clay, wood, fabric or stone, all worship, all retrace the fertile crescent a million times over, the outer curve of hips to the inner curve within, delta of Venus, the divinest of ratios, curves within curves, as she turns to reveals the most perfect of forms, the female bottom, flared hips framing every signpost, fashionable and anatomical, sculpted, boyish cheeks, or golden apple mounds. At the center, he fancies that he can “tell” … for this heart unlike the other, reveals all, and when well and truly loved, retains the memory of intimate intrusion.

Like all inverse relationships, the tighter a form is held, the more it begs for release – grateful for freedom from tight jeans or short skirts, the sliding off, up or down, what’s underneath thickly carpeted, downy, shaved, trimmed, or baby girl smooth, blooming all coral pink or rose red, rimmed with darker accents, dry or with a hint of dew, lips tight like a bud or open in a florid riot of petals, sealed at first, all modesty and virtue contained within the place we always leave too soon as lips swell to fullness, lips fall back at the touch, lips, the folded gate between the vee of two fingers and silk darkness.

All signposts, fashionable and anatomical direct this most practiced eye down every dip and swell, the practiced look, the imagined touch, how it feels to slide down, around, then in, oh he sighs, she sighs, the wondrous spot that weeps the more it is loved, this landmark where no adornment is ever necessary recent trends notwithstanding.  It doesn’t matter what she wears or doesn’t, whether she dresses the tart or in the stern regimentals of business. Form follows function as the eye travels the well-lit path of desire a hundred times a day. The careful and discrete observer can almost always catch the real show.

Woman's rebellious heart I have supported
ready to pay the price - content to die
if love should slay me, for I am love's champion
and if I ceased, then I would not be I.

Nizar Qabbani
Zone 7 Shadows in snow
His best photographs are unsettling.  Some viewers claim the subjects seem objectified or eroticized, even when fully dressed. He wouldn’t disagree.  For proof that we live in unhappy times, as if more is needed, a small army of pinched, dysphoric souls once picketed outside a gallery he was showing in, denouncing his works perverse and misogynistic. He was stunned. Where he portrayed adoration, they saw fear and loathing.  What he calls devotion, they termed addiction.

He fills several notebook pages with his silent rage. What the hell is sex addiction anyway? God, if the pursuit of beauty is addiction, then he wants no part of a cure. Lust is a gift he is grateful for, the frequently recurring itch no more unbidden than his own racing pulse, final proof not just of life, but of life’s grand and glorious design.  If this is misogyny then sex itself is debased and the procreation of life is itself a sin. Now original sin is a concept that he, with his spotty Roman Catholic upbringing, never embraced. Not even later when he understood that debasement for some, is a cherished ritual. 

The fleeting exchanges between object of desire and desirer are the most basic, the oldest of human dialogues. In shy displays, gestures and touches, heat, moisture and scents, he finds the artist’s love of form, the writer’s love of language and the lover’s love of love.  He believes he has finally come to see what his father saw, that the appreciation and depiction of female form is the most sublime expression of beauty.  Every culture in its flower employs its highest arts to express its highest feminine ideals.  Is not the worship of beauty through look and touch and imagination the prelude if not the very expression of love? And when requited … when Venus smiles, is not the anticipation of her blessing to be coveted above all other experiences?

There is evidence everywhere, in the faces and forms of fashion models, actresses, office girls and gum-popping toll operators. In every city he’s visited and those he hasn’t, in a small world full of large cities, half a block ahead, despair and desire, side by side, tap out a stiletto tattoo, a code older than speech, smarter than science and holier than religion. Even in societies grown putrid on patriarchal vomit, where only poets have the balls to speak the truth, there is no denying or suppressing it for long. Even when the last poet is caught and stoned into silenced, even when haters whip and rape and imprisons women’s glorious forms into formless sacks, men will always be men and women, women. No social order founded on inequality can long endure because the true weight of the world extends beyond possession to pure longing and the irresistible human morphonomy to love and prize the beloved not as much as, but above oneself.


  1. I heard you read this at the Salon. I loved it then. I love again as I re-read it. But actually hearing you read is better - something in your delivery, the quality of your voice - an almost matter-of-factness that somehow serves to heighten the effect of the words in counterpoise to their meaning. I am very much looking forward to exploring the rest of your site. What I have sampled so far is quite, quite delicious.

  2. Thanks Anon:
    I write first and foremost to be read and it always surprises me when the work comes alive through my oral delivery. Several people have asked if I'm planning any podcasts. Guess I'll have to get on it. Thanks for your gracious feedback on my read and what you've read.