07 September 2011
Aquaman 1/Photo & Acrylics, August, 2011
I'm thrilled to share a brief report on a recent "total immersion" in photography of figures submerged under water. This rough draft of a possible preface to a book will suffice.
I'm including five of the photos (of a total of 2,000!) by Ernestine Ruben... and five recent paintings I did in acrylic paint. These are my maiden voyage into the realm of painting, and I'm hooked! I was able to re-experience the hallucinatory wonder of moving under water... and the retained images swirling about in my head long afterwards.
The human body is composed of currents that flow according to ancient laws bred into the blood, bone, sinew and breath. This I know partly as a dancer, musician and artist. If we carry this idea of composition a bit further, we can imagine the body as a symphony composed of many interweaving streams of vibratory matter, sound, light, energy… We are solitary forms born into a single lifetime and members of a grand orchestra, participating in an ever-evolving experiment in form and function. And if we zoom back another step, we marvel at how the human race is but one staff or track in a cosmic symphony. Where is this complex system going? When does it ever end? How does it phrase itself, ebb and flow? Where or when did it begin? How do I recognize certain profound chords, those modulations that awaken a cellular memory? Who composed this gargantuan sweep and turbulence of cosmic sound? Surely no singular being, no great Beethoven in the sky… It becomes too grandiose in scale to imagine. But occasionally, we are given privileged glimpses, moments when the body is so swept up in the motion of the spheres that we are both humbled and reassured of our place and that we belong, that we can yield to currents equally strong and gentle, firm and delicate, violent and peaceful. I feel this often when I dance, or paint, or write, or listen to music. Sometimes, I can bring myself into this space simply by sitting still. It takes practice, patience, and a willingness to give up, give in, and let go.
Many such moments came to me over the past three days as I floated naked in a pool of 96° water, supported in the outrageously expansive arms of Dave Towe, master practitioner and teacher of a form of water shiatsu, or Watzu. Dave towers over most of the rest of us at 6’4”, and meeting him for the first time can be overwhelming. He exudes a command and power that comes from holding a vision and fully embodying it with every ounce of physical and spiritual commitment. We were brought together by a mutual friend, Ernie Ruben, who, in her infinite wisdom and vitality, is known for instinctively reaching out to those who speak to her energy, who awaken her curiosity and spark her creative currents. She brought us together at her lovely home in Princeton to play in her pool… so that she could photograph us in action and compose within her camera frame visual poems or odes to the cosmic symphony. As Dave and I improvised solos and duets in the water, guided in large part by his Watsu practice and my dancing experience, Ernie snapped away, following the instincts and accumulated wisdom of a world-renowned photographer whose subject and inspiration has always been the subtle geography of the human form. Ernie invited photographer Peter Cook to join us for one of our night shoots, and the next morning, he shared with us his extraordinary images.
For three days and nights, we worked to establish a shared rhythm, to combine our inner and outer eyes by immersing ourselves in sessions at the pool then excitedly walking across the sloping back yard to her studio to peer at the results on the large computer screen. What we saw began to direct us towards a shared goal: to produce a book of photographs that best evoked the spirit and ecstatic energy of male bodies finding freedom and flow, together or apart, in water. We found that the less recognizable as a human form the image appeared in the frame, the closer it came to evoking the sheer sensation and exhilaration of our endeavor. We came to recognize abstraction of form made by bodies with light and water as something very real, and this became our guiding principle or theme. Yes, we loved appreciating our own human forms, but we were more than willing to relinquish hold on them in order to evolve towards a truer representation of the experience itself.
We agreed to compose our little symphony of images, then, as a diptych, distinguishing day from night. The body immersed in blue and under the rays of daylight looks and feels different than while bathed in a black void shot through by beams of artificial light. It is as different a night and day, or as performing in an outdoor amphitheater and in a darkened theater under bright lights. We envisioned a progression of little galaxies of motion, water, light and human effort in our collective endeavor to paint metaphors of something beyond, yet something deep within our bodies and souls. I liken the pictures to phantoms swimming in the deep pools of our skulls. Like the images sent back from the Hubble Space Telescope, ours stir up a photographic alchemy fabricated of and by the elements—but in a Princeton back yard pool over three days in August! With this book, we say: this is what happened. This is what we felt. This is what we saw.
August 11, 2011