Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Unfurled From the Neck Down

I'm reading John Banville's The Infinities, which is light but very entertaining: bawdy, thoughtful, sweet, smirking.  One passage brought back memories.

Some years ago, I did a little photography. One of my series was odalisques, taken of female friends. I can't say it was an artistic triumph, but it was good fun for photographer and models alike.

Part of the fun was the design and dress: rich silk scarves, over-decorated throws, stacked fruit on wine tables, copper coffee pots, and so on.  Play-acting decadence.

But I also enjoyed the surprise of new bodies - friends, given fresh embodiment.  The genre is obviously erotic, but this wasn't seduction, or a turn-on for either party.  This was about novelty: of uncovered flesh, wrapped around a familiar psyche.  A new way to see old friends. (There are still plans for me to pose.)

I'd never seen this expressed in literature, until I came across Banville's passage, from Old Adam, on his deathbed, reflecting on the joy of seduction.  He notes that this wasn't simply about sex - it was the strange pleasure of encountering someone anew:
That was a phenomenon I could never get enough of; it was always a surprise, always left me breathless how magical it was, how enchanting, when the head I had been talking to in the street, or on the bus, or in the midst of a room full of people, suddenly... unfurled from the neck down this pale, glimmering extension of itself, this body which, naked, was utterly other than what it had been when clothed.  And not just the body, but the sensibility, too--a new person on the spot, candid, desirous, intimate, vulnerable.


nicky said...

Oh what a gorgeous phrase!
As one of your models for that series - but one of the only I think who was also a professional life model - I had a kind of inverted experience. After years of 'unfurling' for strangers for whom my personality as well as my body were unfamiliar, I felt surprisingly revealed modeling for someone who already knows me so well.
Go figure. (ha!)

Damon Young said...

Yes, I remember. I was surprised.

Banville's description still fits my recollection, though. Despite being familiar with your body, the shoot felt novel: age, time and new relationships changed the mood.

Looking back, a couple of the shots are OK.

Worst pun ever. (And by 'worst', I of course mean best.)