Extract from 'I am your Mirror' photography book ...
Then I met Stephen. I called him the Carpenter.
Steven is my ninth stranger. I met him online. He lives in London, not far away from where I live, in Stoke Newington.
One evening I received his mail saying:
it sounds like an interesting project, and I would be very happy to help if I am suitable to you. I live in N16 - local. I am mature and I have hair on my chest. But androgynous - I'm nor sure, nor indeed how a mature man would look androgynous. I would attach a photo but I can't see how to do it with Gumtree. Let me know how I can send you a photo.
Even if I am of no use to you, I am also looking for someone to take a few photos of me for my own use. So since you are local, and if you need a bit of money, then there is that possibility.'
I replayed back, saying that I would be happy to meet him for a chat.
My first idea was to photograph myself and twelve strangers that I would find through the Internet.
These strangers, would be free to choose a time and place to be photographed. They could express themselves as they wished, and could be anonymous, or not. I asked the strangers to look at the camera as if a mirror.
Steven is almost 60 years old, he has a degree in Psychology, he works as a carpenter in London and surroundings, he likes his job very much.
He is a pleasant person, well educated, quite curious about life and meaning of life.
He grows tobacco on his terrace, and he likes living by himself.
We decided to meet in his place and have a chat. He gave me his address and I went to visit him.
I remember, It was a weekday, in the afternoon. He came back home from work, everyday after 3pm. He gave me his phone number, telling me he was waiting impatiently for me.
When I arrived I called him on the phone.
He gently answered telling me to give him 5 minutes to get down. He said that the stairs were a bit difficult to deal with.
I waited for him outside, then after a while he opened the door.
'Good afternoon' he said, 'nice meeting you Loredana'
'The pleasure is all mine,' I answered, 'happy to be here.'
'Would you like to come up?' He said..
'Yes of course' I answered.
I followed him.
Now I understood why the stairs were difficult to get on and off.
Because Stephen worked as a carpenter, he had accumulated all his tools around the stairs. Everything was piled up and there was no space to move. There were tools everywhere, bricks, and concrete pieces, all around.
The staircase was a spiral and I was following him climbing the stairs with difficulty.
Once up the stairs, there was another door to get in his house.
Then a small corridor and after that we went straight away in the kitchen.
There was a big table in the middle of the room, with four chairs, two big windows, a single bed, a red carpet and cushions on the floor, a guitar in the corner, some coats hanged on his guardrobe and lot’s of newspapers cuts on the wall, behind his bed, with pictures and sentences/words taken from pages of magazine, newspapers etc.
I liked his place, it looked like a movie film set. I went around looking curiously.
On the shelves near a fireplace, there were small car's miniatures and few artworks framed.
He asked me if I wanted a nice coffee, and I said yes.
We started to talk, he asked me many questions about my life, where I come from, why I am in London, why I was doing the project, what my father's job was, he asked me if I had a boyfriend and so on.
At that time I was in a relationship with a man older 11 years than me, who was creating me a lot of annoyance. He was always blaming me for his unhappiness and I do not know why I talked about it openly to Stephen.
He was listening to me with interest, asking me more questions, and it was funny because looking at myself from outside, I found myself comfortably sat on a chair, placed in the middle of his room, while he was preparing coffee.
I felt like I was with a psychologist.
Then, I remembered that he studied psychology.
The situation made me laugh, it was nice to see someone interested in who I am.
He was asking me questions and more questions when I stopped to talk and I said:
'Stephen, I know you like listening to my stories but actually I am here to know a bit about you and how you wanted to be re-presented in my project. Do you remember my photography project?' I said.
'Oh yes I remember your project.' He said.
'You have to forgive me, but it has been a long time that I have been living by himself, and sometimes when I have guests, I like to talk with them. You are a guest today aren’t you?
You are not a photographer.'
Thinking about those words, that was true. I wasn't a photographer. I went there to visit him.
'Yes Stephen', I said , 'You are right, I am not a photographer today, I came to meet you.'
'That’s right' he answered, giving me a cup of coffee.
'Here we are, your coffee' he said.
'You know, my life is boring! Nothing happens in my life. It is always the same.
I thought about why and I think that the main reason is because I am a old man, I am getting old and it is difficult to find someone to share my life with.
That is why, I want to take part in your project. It looks interesting and for me it sounds as a very new experience, I can have fun.'
He said smiling.
'I can learn something of myself. I would like to be re-presented naked. I want to have some naked pictures of myself. Artistic nude. Do you think are you able to make me look handsome?'
'And then, he continued, 'I wasn’t expecting a female photographer as you didn’t put any website on gumtree. So I am lucky that you are a woman, I can be more myself.
Sometimes I had males photographers when I was younger but I wasn’t feeling very comfortable.
What do you think? Can you make me appear more handsome?'....he said
'I don’t know if I can do that, as you are who you are and I like grotesque beauty, so I don’t know if I am the right photographer for you, but we can try and see what comes out and see what your images look like.' Is that ok?' I said.
During this project called ‘I am your mirror’ few men got naked in front of my camera. Some of my friends called me a 'perverted photographer' because they saw the strangers naked, some of them with erection.
I did not feel like a perverted photographer, though.
I felt like a woman who was documenting the purest form of being, without judging anything or anyone, and I was about to photograph that, without perverse thinking and perversion.
When I photographed them, in their homes,I did not see them naked, I did not notice their erections, I was so busy keeping the energy high that I forgot everything else.
When I went back home and developed the negatives, looking at the pictures, I realised everything else, their nudity.
'I don’t get naked since long time ' he said. 'So I am a bit shy.'
'Worrying doesn't change the situation', I answered. 'Think about it and let me know. I will use your pictures publicly so think about that.' I said.
I finish to drink my cup of coffee and I left.
Before leaving his flat. I was at the door and he said.
'Lore, if you want you could comeback another day but it must be an afternoon after 3pm', which for me was really good.
It was Summer, so the sun was high till late.
I told him that I would have coming back the week after, buying some films and that I would have taken 20 pictures of him. He agreed.
And then I would have taken different pictures with my digital camera another day, so he could have two different sets of pictures, not just that one of “I am your mirror’.
He smiled at me and said 'Bye'.
A week passed quickly. I called him on the phone asking if he was free on Wednesday afternoon.
He said 'yes come' and I went again to visit him, this time I was the photographer.
I rang the bell. He opened the door from downstairs. I went upstairs with him.
Went to the kitchen, I took my tripod out, put some film in the camera.
He said, 'would you like a coffee?..'.
I said that I was fine, and that he would have been better to start soon as I was using natural light and the sun would disappeared at some point so I wanted to exploit the light situation as much as I could, which it was one of the best I had so far.
I started to take some pictures of him standing next to the window, and then I asked him to sat on the chair with his clothes on.
I was talking with him and he was smiling at me, he was a bit embarrassed.
I could feel that he wasn’t feeling comfortable in front of my camera.
I had one lens, so I had not much choice for composition, so I thought to use his bed as the main prop.
'So Steven', I said, do you want to show yourself naked, do you want to pose naked in front of my camera?'
'Yes,' he said...
'Ok then, if you like we can begin with you with the underwear and then when you feel comfortable you can take them off. What do you think?' I said.
'I am comfortable even now' he said
'Ok get undressed then… I am ready'I said with decision.
So he took off the underwear and I realised that he shaved himself. He was tender.
I asked him to pose like a Venus on the bed.
He said that I was mad. I said that for me was beautiful instead.
Slowly, slowly.... he started to gain more confidence in himself and he was looking more relaxed.
Then he took a wig and put on hid head. He said that sometimes he uses that wig to play with women.
I moved with my tripod and my camera, then he looked at me and I took a shot. That picture made me gain a honourable mention in an international black and white photography contest called Monochrome in 2014.
Then he said that he likes grow up vegetables on his terrace and tobacco, that he had some tobacco on his terrace, and he asked me if I wanted to see them, and he had some other stuff as well.
'I am curious to know what you have', I said.
'Come with me!' He said excitedly.
So I took my camera in my hands and I follow him ...
A layout of the book is ready (256 pgg, text & black and white pictures). Hopefully the book will soon be available. Limited Edition. I am looking for funding.
'How I met my strangers', I am your Mirror' photography project.
©Loredana Denicola 2017/2018, All right reserved.
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