'I am your Mirror'
I met Robert, the Christian
Robert is the third “stranger” I met for my photography project titled “ I am your mirror”. I call him the Christian”.
My first idea was to photograph myself and twelve strangers that I would find through the Internet.
These strangers, unpaid, 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.
Then, I asked to write down a few words, something that could represent them.
The picture of "Robert, the Christian" gave me a honourable mention with Monovisions Photography Awards, an international black and white photography contest, in the section single picture/conceptual ( 2017) © 2014
Robert answered to my advert on gumtree.com saying that he was pleased to take part of my photography project and that it was fascinated by the title.
His idea was to pose nude in a forest.
He is married, with 3 children, and he didn’t want to use his house in Sussex (that was my suggestion. I always loved to photograph people in their houses) even if his wife would have knew that he was doing a naked photo session with me.
By emails, we agreed to meet up straight away outside Epping underground station, the same day of the photo session, without knowing each other.
For few months Epping forest was my personal photography studio, during the Summer. It was amazing!
Robert, my stranger, loves nature.
Epping Forest was the perfect spot for his pictures. He wanted to be represented like an animal, naked with his face covered.
That day, I brought with me few masks, I wasn't sure if he wanted to use them.
A week before, I asked my niece Erica, to draw and send me a couple of masks.
She is 6 years old and she lives in Italy. She made for me a colourful rainbow fish and a bear. I like the simplicity of her drawings and that was what I was looking for.
I brought them with me and two more masks, a pig and a bull, that I bought in a party cakes shop in Dalston, London. I found them funny.
He said that he is Christian and that he goes to church with his family, every Sunday.
He is part of a community and he doesn’t want be seen by the people in the church, because they will not be able to understand him and mis-interpret all.
I went to Epping.
I arrived 10 minutes earlier.
I am always punctual, I learned this from my previous paparazzi/press job and I waited outside the station impatiently.
I didn’t know him, he didn’t send me any of his pictures so I didn't know his face, but he knew me. After 5 minutes waiting outside the station, he called me on the phone asking me to walk up the street and reach him, as he was waiting for me inside his car.
I followed his instruction and began walking up the street, I couldn't wait to see my third subject.
Then, at some point, I saw someone walking towards me smiling and introduce himself.
Hello I am Robert, how was your trip to Epping?
He sounds gentle.
I said that it was good and that I was happy to meet him.
I jumped in his car, I was beginning to feel comfortable meeting strangers randomly in that way, and while he was driving to the forest to find a place where to park his car, we talked about who he is, his past when he was bullied, his family, his wife, his job and his children.
Then, he parked his car. He said he knew the forest very well.
For me it was the first time.....
Earlier this summer, the Guardian revealed that car parks and wooded areas in Epping, Waltham Abbey, Chigwell and Abridge were being advertised on web sites as meeting places for sex between strangers, an activity known as "dogging".
I asked him if actually Epping forest is used for sex between strangers.
He confirmed, saying that few times in the woods, he saw people having sex.
I was utterly fascinated by the place, so immense, magnificent, theatrical and so obscure.
He suggested to go and walk deeper inside the woodland, he didn’t want to be seen naked by those people that were walking around Epping Forest.
My stranger didn't want to be seen.
I agreed, and we moved looking around for some interesting spots and light.
Are you not afraid to walk with a stranger? He asked me.
No I am not, why do you ask? I answered.
You must be very brave for doing this. You know many things can happen in life. Are you a criminal or do you have a gun hidden somewhere?
That sentence made me laugh.
Do I look dangerous? I asked.
Yes , he answered.
Maybe I am..I said.
'My stranger' was feeling a bit afraid of me. Well it is rare to see women embracing these kind of experiences.
Truly, in these situations, all can be possible. However, I was trusting in my gut feeling, I was connected immediately with them, I was feeling safe.
I, always liked, when people open up to me, I feel like they can trust me. It is a good feeling.
There was an emotional exchange, they were talking with me and I was talking with them about myself and my life, like we knew each other for year.
I was open
I never felt in danger during the process of meeting strangers wherever they wanted to meet me, and I was pleased to have conversations with them.
I was experiencing a sort of healing process deeply inside me.
I needed to face myself, my weaknesses, my fears, and I was seeing myself through them.
I wanted to become more confident with who I was and what I was doing.
I felt always open minded, and willing to be a "friend" rather than a stranger
I felt a privileged person, to be chosen by them and have the chance to get in their inner secret places, in their mind, in a frame of life of sharing emotions.
I was curious to know how they could express themselves in front of my camera.
Now, I don't know how to thank them.
They were giving me something profound and beautiful, almost sacred, themselves, their dreams, their soul and actually I wanted to be there completely. I felt extremely lucky.
Find yourself somewhere photographing naked strangers was something new for me at that time
..but I loved those unexpected situations, that process of creation that happens "in the moment", without any planned structure in mind, losing control of the technical aspect of photography and being there completely, to catch that marvellous and unique moment.
We stopped, at some point , there was silence around us, we were surrounded by beautiful green trees everywhere.
It was 2 30pm in the afternoon, it was getting a bit dark already, only some light could seep from the top of the foliage of the trees.
When he got naked, I discovered some signs on his body. He had a cross on his left shoulder, another on his foot, a tattoo 'Peter' on his right arm, I assume it was the name of his son and a little bird, symbol of freedom, next to his penis.
Robert, the Christian © 2013/14 - 'I am your mirror' photography project
I found him beautiful, almost grotesque, his body was big, he said he had few operations in the past.
For me the grotesque is necessary to understand beauty, beauty is everywhere
This picture above, that I like very much, was a mistake occurred while I was processing the film with chemicals; strangely the chemicals did't reach the film at the top, three frames were half exposed, but in a certain way artistically beautiful, for me.
Working with film is always a big risk.
Sometimes it happens, that you can lose present moments like this one, that would never happen again.
I don't like to stage pictures. That is not my style.
But I find fabulous working in the darkness, there is a sort of magic in it.
At the beginning I was a bit angry at myself to have made these mistakes, as I took only 20 pictures each. But then, I accepted myself.
After our meeting, I requested him to write down something that he could re-present him or something he wanted to get rid off. We were co-operating in the creation of something unique, art.
He wrote me this:
"As you can see I haven't got the perfect body. When I was 12 years old, I had to be circumcised for medical reasons, which led me to be severely bullied by the people in my class at school.
My form tutor was a refugee who had escaped from Nazi Germany just before the war started and yet she never even noticed the bullying going on and the harm being done to someone in her charge.
It was mainly the girls, in the class who did the bullying just at the time that I was starting to notice girls. This led me to think that I was no good and too ugly to have a girlfriend.
Thankfully I now I have a lovely wife, who reassures me. I was bullied at University by a bunch of idiots, and then later by a succession of bosses who were far less talented than me.
Recently I decided I needed to do something radical, to tell the memories of those times when I was bullied where to go. Posing naked. You can like me or hate me.
I am Christian, I believe in God, and it is good to see the human form as God made us, and as a piece of Art."
There was a peaceful aura around him and I felt very comfortable with him. I met him few times afterwards, after the photoshoot for a drink in a pub, always in Epping and we talked about life and love.
Then he sent me an email...
'You are so beautiful. In a platonic way. And do take me up on the offer of photographing you, but only if you want.
Even just your face would be good. I have gained so much confidence from you,
I feel more powerful now. Thank you.
Do you need to discover the powerfully vibrant sexy woman you are (platonic)? I mean this with utmost respect.
God bless Mate'.
I was happy to hear that throughout a photography project, I empowered a stranger to be more confident about himself and the healing process intrinsic in 'I am your mirror" photography project, was working for both of us, for me and for them.
Maybe there will be a future photography project where I will be photographed by strangers.
And him will be one of my photographers.
Thank you Robert for sharing your story ....
I felt honoured.
Written by Loredana Denicola, 'How I met my strangers, I am your Mirror' photography project .
©Loredana Denicola 2013/2014