I might be a little late to the party, talking about this (I believe this exhibition was in 2010) – but I just saw this clip for the first time recently via Twitter. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.
Before I go on, here it is:
Watching this affected me enough that I went to the effort of looking up more information about it – and discovered (sadly!) that, in spite of what the intro to the video says, this was NOT in fact the very first time Marina Abramovic and Ulay saw each other since they walked the Great Wall of China. They had in fact seen each other on the exhibit’s opening morning, and at least one time prior.
I admit I was disappointed to read that (I might have preferred ignorance in this instance!) But I found, to my slight surprise, that I actually didn’t find the video less powerful, having this information.
I think it’s because, while the drama factor might have been higher if what the video captured had in fact been their first meeting in all those years, still their meeting eyes in that space and just sitting there, holding the other’s gaze, was plenty powerful. Marina Abramovic looks pretty affected in the video – and I really think it was sincere emotion, not put on for the audience. Ulay too looks like he’s got a lot going on behind his eyes. Just watching them watch each other says a great deal about their prior connection and history. There’s a world of silent communication going on between them. You don’t even need the backstory to sense something of it. You don’t need words.
I’m fascinated by this.
I’m feeling myself increasingly drawn to portraiture as a photographer – and I think it’s for the same reason that I’m drawn to this video of Marina Abramovic and Ulay. Portraiture, for me, is about stopping and looking and seeing – getting a glimpse of all the history and dreams and desires that live behind someone’s eyes, beneath the veneer they display to the world.
I came across an article recently that speaks really well to that idea of looking deeply.
And let me just interject to say that no: I was not in fact reading this article because I was trying to figure out how to find my “soul mate”! Appearances notwithstanding.
I actually don’t remember what I was looking up when I landed on this (but it wasn’t that!!!) But somehow I ended up there. And once I started scanning it through, this part I’m quoting below caught my eye – and I actually did go back then and read the entire article.
Spells and soulmates aside, there’s some good sense here for anybody, I think, as far as how to approach finding quality love relationships. (Like, for example, the idea of working to complete yourself rather than trying to find somebody else to complete you. The author makes a big deal of that…and it’s a great point.)
But anyway, the part of the article that’s pertinent to my discussion here are these lines:
“Consider the faces of strangers and of friends in a deeper way. Discern the color of everyone’s eyes, are those eyes lit with light, are they wise eyes, are they flat, uninspired eyes, are they warm, inviting eyes, are they interesting, stimulating eyes?”
As I said, I actually read the entire article (and bookmarked it too) for the sake of these lines. I was really struck by them – because really, how often do I do what this is suggesting? How often do I look into somebody’s eyes this way? How often do I get outside of myself long enough to take the time?
The answer would be: not very often. Not a stranger’s eyes. Rarely even friends and family’s.
I might look into my kids’ eyes this way. And I suppose I’ve looked this way at people I was romantically interested in – though probably in those situations I was, more often than not, negating the effect by wearing sappy, rose-colored glasses.
So really, it’s just my kids.
And isn’t that a shame?? How much insight am I missing by not bothering to look like that? By not compelling myself to really see? How much understanding of another person am I missing? How many chances at connection have I squandered?
At the very least, how much more interesting would every interaction be if I actually utilized the eyes in my head? Every one would be fuller….every single one. They’d have to be.
It makes me think of the Wizard of Oz – the original movie, with Judy Garland. The way it starts out in a rather dull black-and-white and then goes to vibrant technicolor when she gets to Oz…and it’s startlingly rich and full.
What if all of my personal interactions could be like that? Technicolor interactions.
I actually think it’s possible. I think it’s in my power…in anyone’s power. I think it just circles back to cultivating mindfulness. It requires centering enough to shake off self-consciousness and distraction and focus on the moment at hand.
The longer I think about this sort of thing, the more it’s clear to me that mindfulness is the key to pretty much everything. It’s crazy.
But I was just really blown away when I read those lines and started consciously observing how I interact. I’ve been trying since to make changes – and it’s been challenging. My gut reflex is to be sort of hyper-aware of my own self and the impression I may or may not be making on whoever I’m talking to. And you do that at the expense of giving your full attention to the person you’re interacting with. It’s a waste.
That needs to change – for my own personal development as well as for enhancing my visual skills as a photographer. I have to get out of myself more, or I’ll just block myself from what I could achieve (again, personally as well as artistically.) I feel that.
So as far as portraiture goes: I find that I’m not really interested in standard, portrait-studio-type portraiture. Not that I’d be against doing that as a day job. But artistically-speaking, what really appeals to me is the kind of portraiture that peels back those layers. The kind that requires looking deeply and capturing what you see.
For example, here’s a shot I took last weekend of my kids at Shenandoah National Park. (More Shenandoah shots here.)
It’s an okay shot. I had the aperture open too far, so the lighting is way off, the sky all blown out. But if you can ignore that, it’s not bad. The kids look pretty cute here (if I do say so myself!) And they’re posed nicely (I actually didn’t pose them. They’re getting pretty good at posing themselves anymore…good little models!)
But yet (lighting aside), I find this just a very so-so image. It’s…flat or something. It’s like a school picture in a way: it shows me what they look like, but it doesn’t tell me anything about who they are.
Now contrast that with this one:
As opposed to the one of the two kids, I like this shot so much better! It’s because it makes me feel. It may be in black-and-white, but yet it’s a “technicolor interaction” (to borrow my phrase from above.) It tells something about my daughter, a sense at least of what kind of person she is, and of where she is in life – despite the fact that you can’t see her eyes. Her posture and the landscape, and even the monochromatic character of the whole, all speak for her somehow.
Maybe it’s just me?? But for me, as a photographer, an artist, this second picture achieves something that the first absolutely lacks.
Maybe it’s that it reminds me a little bit of the work of portraitist Elizabeth Gadd, who I found via Instagram and LOVE. (And please don’t think I’m in any way holding myself up as an equal to her!! I have a very long way to go before I can in any way touch her level of skill. As you will see if you click over to her work. Which you should!) Her portrait work is amazing – and the way she uses landscape as a metaphor is really inspiring to me.
As far as portraits that primarily utilize a person (not, say, person+landscape, as with Elizabeth Gadd), I find that I’m a little obsessed lately with the work of Alessio Albi (who I found thanks to following 500px on Twitter.) His work is so gorgeous – and has really gotten under my skin and into my photographic psyche in a powerful way. (If you’ve read this far down this post of mine, you must check out his stuff!)
I have such a long way to go, to get to where I want to be as a photographer. But boy…do I know the road I want to follow now. And I’m getting a sense of the skills I need to get there – personal as well as photographic.
Knowing those things is a start, at least.