Animus Rising

 

It’s been more than three years since I shot a session with a female model. The reasons are many, but the main ones are these: Fine Art photography is rife with female imagery. It is the dominant aesthetic. The focus is usually on hair, dresses, tired cliches of gothic damsels on the moors, countless riffs on Ophelia, and, for the most part, the woman, as depicted in this little niche of conceptual or surrealist imagery seems, at least to me, to perpetuate the stereotype of the woman as victim or passive. I mean, Ophelia is not a kick ass role model - not that everything has to be.

The other reason is that I do try to inject myself - or at least my thoughts, into the images. These models tend to represent me, and I suppose, by default, my point of view is decidedly male. What story can I tell with the female model? What do I have to say about it? What do I know about being a woman? Sure, there are things in life that are universal, free of the parameters of culture or gender, but those tend to be broad concepts and hard to distill into an image.

And so, I shot exclusively with male models for three years.

I think it did help me distinguish my work visually from the rest of the pack - there are so few that use males, and I was content to swim against that tide. This year though, I wanted to break that constant, and try working with a female model again. I thought, after so many images using the male, it would be an instant and strong contrast in my portfolio, and give me a badly needed sense of freshness as I worked the images into something.

This was the first setup or shot with Kate, the model shown here. She literally came in, met me and Ben (the other model in the shot) and fifteen minutes later, Ben was manhandling her and yanking on her hair (by my request!). Seems to fall right into the whole victim thing, yes? True, this can certainly be interpreted as a predator attacking a young woman, but these were never meant to be literal characters for this image.

What they are supposed to represent is archetypes, the animus rising in the woman, the male energy or aggression overtaking her. I knew what it meant, but the image wasn’t really conveying that. Despite the vaguely seductive look on her face, she did seem to be undergoing some sort of assault. Once I added that glowing animal eye she instantly ceased to be the victim. Now there was some sort of connection to the shadowy man behind her. He is overtaking her, yes, or guiding her. He is muzzling her, or perhaps they don’t need words.

He is her shadow, her male energy lurking in her unconscious.

And this is how I found a way to shoot with female models - to explore characters, to go from without, rather than within, for concepts. I can look for stories or characters in literature, and, being careful not to literally recreate a literal interpretation of what has come before, I can create something that references the source of inspiration but also has its own identity and a personal stamp on it.

Certainly a source of recent and ongoing inspiration for my images, Joni Mitchell’s songs and writings, her very being in fact, are replete with intelligent analysis and colorful characters to draw from. One of her more vague lyrics, this song, “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey,” seems to me to reference the aggressive, the wild, lurking inside her titular character. I think there is also a familiarity to using the wolf here, as the Red Riding Hood story is often very open to psychological interpretation and metaphorical roles. The Wolf in that story could be her Animus - her sexuality, her inner maleness if you will.

Much more interesting, in my opinion, than sad old Ophelia laying dead in a pool of water.

April 10, 2016
Michael Bilotta