(2002, North Berkeley; image Copyright Hamish Reid)
I wanted to do this shot for a long time. I tried it once
with Xiola, but we were too nervous with each other at that time to get what I really wanted, and I left it alone for a few more years.
The photo itself was done at the end of a long session in my (then) North Berkeley studio, and, unlike the majority of the session's shots, was done with my little 3MP Kodak DC290 snapshot camera, with some studio strobes sync'd in. This was one of those shots that as soon as I'd taken it I knew would work (I think it's one of the two or three really good shots from that evening). It's one of the very few photos I've ever staged (as opposed to just let happen). I knew exactly
what I wanted with it: the contrast between the unfamiliar rough, scarred, incomplete and discoloured mannequin, and those other smooth familiar surfaces (the fact that in this case the colours matched was a bonus). But I also wanted to let it suggest something about emotional intimacy, distance, and dependence (as Y., the woman in the image, once said about it later, "that could be half my relationships..."). Frankly, though, it was mostly an exercise in the erotics of texture and surface, all shape, implication, and suggestion -- an abstraction, an image that could stand on its own without the emotional baggage or story (I didn't want it to be too
telegraphic or hectoring).
But it's hard for me to look at this image objectively, abstractly, to see it as a bunch of shapes and surfaces, to ignore the history behind it or the women involved (both directly and indirectly), or to talk about the tangle at the heart of this image.
A photographer friend of mine, Maggie Miller, gave me the mannequin more than a dozen years ago as a jokey birthday present, and I've been entranced by it and what I could do with it photographically ever since (she'd found it in a local garbage dump; it comes with a very ... odd
... head that also sits in my studio). The mannequin's been with me continuously all this time, usually propping up one of the walls of my studio or acting as a lightstand. But Mag moved away a year or so later -- to Atlanta -- and disappeared without trace, leaving me wondering....
Xiola also moved away, across the country and back, and settled in a place I tend to think of as like Portland (Oregon) without the charm (or the rivers), or Sacramento with bricks and tornadoes. The last time I saw her she was as unsettled as ever, and seemed to be wasting away into the vast backgrounds of that city (a place that could be any one of several dozen American cities, I suspect). But she's smart and creative (she could just as easily have done the shot herself), and the image still has her in it in some strong way for me.
I'd known Y. for a year or two when I took this shot. We wanted to collaborate on some images for her, and she came up from the great Southlands to do the studio session. Towards the end of the session she saw the original Xiola image on the wall, and asked about it. I said I'd been disappointed with the results for the obvious reason; Y. took a close look at it, and ten minutes later she'd done the retake (and a few others that'll eventually emerge here, I guess). Like me, she just knew
what it needed. We've done a lot more over the years.