the Paradise Trap

It's a logic breakdown, it's irrational, and, as told in the Bible, the story of Creation in the book of Genesis is the story of an omnipotent and highly dangerous prankster known as God. Here it is in a nutshell:

God creates the universe, including the world. God populates the world with flora and fauna, air and water, all that. God creates his ultimate creation, Man, in his own image, whatever that means. God gives him paradise to live in, and plants a tree right in the middle of it that he tells the man not to touch. God creates Woman as a companion for Man. God, presumably Creator of all, also created Satan, or the Devil. The Devil tempts the Woman to take from the tree the fruit and eat it, telling her that it will give her knowledge because, well, he was right - God said this was the Tree of Knowledge. Man and Woman, desiring knowledge, eat the fruit. God gets angry. God makes them mortal with all the suffering that implies, and expels them from Paradise. As an added bonus, he condemns this act for all eternity and creates the concept of Original Sin, which basically translates to punishing the child for the sins of the father - for all eternity. For eating an apple. Off of a tree that you put there. Knowing that they would be tempted, knowing human nature, which, again, he created. And, when Satan, Eve and Adam all do what they were created to do, all according to his design, he throws a fit and gets vengeful and completely irrational in terms of forgiveness.

That's the story of Creation in a decidedly sardonic delivery, but the contents are the contents, no matter my tone. And no matter how resolute, devout or deluded you are, you have to admit, God, in this case, in this story, is kind of an asshole. The good news is that Genesis, the Story of Adam and Eve, all that, is not real. It is allegory, or more specifically, a parable. It is a simple story illustrating a subtext, a metaphor for the human condition, for the nature of mankind. It is a parable about temptation and entrapment, and about actions and consequences. It is no more real to me than the story of Medusa, Perseus, or Odin.

In my image, which I fancied a sort of sequel to Genesis, we have a modern man instead of naked Adam. He seems a little to-the-manner-born, a little less gullible, than poor Adam having just lost his rib. My man seems to be looking up at God saying, "are you kidding me?" Do you really think I am going to fall for this again?" He is wise to the trap, and he doesn't need the knowledge that eating it would gain him. He is not going to be tolerant of any of this "look but don't touch, touch but don't taste" foolery. He knows his nature, and he doesn't need old fire and brimstone on high to teach him any longer.

Regarding the creation of this image now, I wanted to talk a little about happy accidents that combine to create something, and lastly, about the negative influence of critics and why it is important to be confident in your work. It's odd what motivations can conspire to create something. This image, for example, was improvised with the model on the day we shot, and while I have used this table before, and while I have used a green apple once before, I decided to put him at this table with this apple for unknown reasons, and I remember shooting it and thinking, "what the hell am I doing with this?" Adding to the mystery, I had him looking up, away from the apple because of a lighting issue. So, not looking at the object in front of him, which is clearly important in the frame, is, well, odd.

The reason he was looking up and away is not mystical though, it was practical; my favorite light to use, a large beauty dish, happens to look fantastic as an overhead light, but, that does require all models to use a raised eye line if their face is to be illuminated at all.

Last night I was combing through all the shots from the session, looking for a good candidate to use as a basis for something new, and I saw this one. I loved the reflections on the table, I loved his expression, as enigmatic as it was, and I liked his hands in the shot. What I did not like was the awful, bright blue chair he was sitting on though.

I have used it before, and it fits for me because it reads as Victorian, but the color really is atrocious. Something about the green apple though…green is arguably my favorite color, and yet I have been steering clear of it in my pieces for quite some time now, working with a lot of blues and magentas. My earlier work was very much a green paradise, but there is one thing about using a green overlay on a human that is less than desirable - it tends to turn the skin a sickly green as well. In any event, I decided to change the color of the chair to match the apple, and immediately I liked this image a lot. Once I put the blue tones in, I had one of my favorite color palettes - blues and greens are what I consider paradise, even if the overall tone of this piece is cool and perhaps a little cold blue, there is nothing more comparable to life itself than blues and greens together.

Maybe it was the apple, the "paradise" of green and blue, but the word "paradise" was starting to stick. Add to that, the man was looking up, and often, I regard that pose as looking at heaven or a deity in the sky. This image, to me, was complete with the addition of a little burst of light above the man, and nothing else. I loved how ambiguous it was, even though it was clear to me. I loved how uncluttered and simple it was, and I loved the lines of it. Unfortunately, after almost three years of criticism from social media sites and so-called photography experts reciting rules as critiques, ugly voices in my head began clamoring for context to be literal. I have been told this so often - you MUST show the viewer what the subject is looking at.

Well, guess what? NO, YOU DON'T. It's called imagination, it's called ambiguity, it's breathable this way, it is flexible. Those with a Judeo-Christian background will likely know what this piece implies from the limited clues in it, and the rest, well, if someone sees something different or regards it as meaning something else, then I am thrilled. I want that to be the case. Art is not a diagram, art is not an instruction manual. If you can't figure it out and you are annoyed by it then go look at photos of sunsets. It is my own insecurities to blame, but these echoes of critiques past had me spending hours putting trees and snakes on the top of the frame, and I just didn't need them. I didn't want them.

Though some may find it lacking, some may regard it as incomplete or "breaking rules" I really like this piece, for all it is saying and how simply it is doing so. The composition demanded simplicity and I embraced it eventually, and shut the voices out.

Once I do that, I can live with the inevitable critics that will find fault with it, because I got to a place with it that I am happy, and that level of surety is ironclad, and nothing can change my opinion now on this one. By providing trees and snakes I am sticking this image firmly in the book of Genesis, and while that is the meaning, TO ME, it would be sad if that was the only one possible. That is a mantra I may take away from this one, this learning experience I call "the Paradise Trap." It does not need to be literal, It does not need to be literal, It does not need to be literal…

Michael Bilotta

04/30/2014