Unblinking Eye


Part Two:  Emotion in Photographs:
The Landscape Nude


by Norm La Coe

Faery Face - Copyright Norm La CoeWho are you?  Is anyone there?  Does anyone care?  Behind your functions, your papers and credit cards and vita, your skills and bank account, what are you?  Who are you?  Are you more than the sum of your parts?   Or no one at all?

To photograph you, to be photographed:  What do we see?  Learned motions, like a dance?  Clothing from Gap or Dior?  Body piercings by a local mechanic?  Is that who we are when we photograph?  Metal, piercings, clothing and perms?  Are we merely mannequins?

When someone looks at us, WHO do they see?

Am I unique, a person?

Lake Flower - Copyright Norm La CoeOr a programmed, mass-produced consumer? Interchangeable as credit card receipts?

Inside our designer clothes and painted skin, do we exist as individuals at all, with values and integrity?  Or are we invisible?

Our world is full of man-made noise, man-made visuals, man-made motion.  Cars, TVs, radios, traffic lights, an endless number of doors , flipping video images.  What are we doing?  More important, if we stop doing it, is anything left.  Are we nothing more than the sum of our things, our movements and our noise?

Do we hunger for affirmation?  Recognition?  Intimacy?

At Old Trees - Copyright Norm La CoeAre we really each one forever alone?

Do we photograph each other so we can share, so we will not be alone?

I am a man who photographs.  A witness with a camera.  So I say to a woman, in her jewels and her body paint, her piercings and tattoos, her Guess jeans and Gucci sunglasses, I say to her:  “I want to photograph you.  Show me who you are.”

What does she say?

One says, smiling, “you pervert, who I am is none of your business.”

Katie's Window - Copyright Norm La CoeThat’s okay.  She knows who she is.  She knows she is complete, and not the sum of the sights and sounds that surround her.  She doesn’t need a witness with a camera to mirror her spirit. 

Another is afraid.  For her, clothes and paint and sounds are her fortress of masks and shields.  She hides behind them, trying to be safe.

When I say, “show me who you are,” she thinks, “I can’t.  You won’t like me.”

She is afraid.  She dares not let anyone know who she is.

To trust is to be used, plundered, betrayed and abandoned.  To not trust is to be alone, forever alone.  Two choices only, and both are terrible.

Summer Light - Copyright Norm La CoeDare she trust this man with a camera?  Dare she show herself, her true feelings?
No, because he may betray her, his camera will penetrate her fortress, will show everyone the truth:  she really is unloveable?

No, I will never show you who I am.  You will not like me.

So if she photographs, she hides inside her Levi denim and Estee Lauder, gyrating like she saw in music video, wearing the plastic smile she learned from Cosmo covers.

There is a third kind of woman.  She moves through the noise, waits at traffic lights, goes in and out the countless doors, checks her mail and throws out the junk, checks her email and erases 21 daily porn spams, watches TV while eating yogurt.  And sometimes wonders:  Is this all there is?  Isn’t there anything more?

Seize the Day - Copyright Norm La CoeThen a photographer says to her, “show me who you are.”  She barely hesitates, then answers, “Yes.”

Or perhaps she is the victim: corrupted by incest, corruption, self-hatred and guilt, taught as a child she is born to lure men to their ruin.  An Eve, a Bethsheba, a Lilith, a Salome, or daughter of Lot.  A woman who looks in the mirror and sees evil carved into her forehead.  A woman who has been taught by men she trusted she is born bad.  Jezebel.  Possessed by Satan.

And she wonders, as she has wondered a million times before:   Why me?  Why was I born bad?  How do I stop being bad?  Does everyone know? What do I look like to other people?  What if I were not a victim?  What if I hadn’t been born bad?  Who would I be?

Is it better to be born bad, or be nobody?  Is it time to find my peace in oblivion?
If I hadn’t been born bad, who would I be?

Summer Girl - Copyright Norm La CoeSo now we come together:  a woman in search of herself, and a witness with a camera to make a record.  Show me who you are.  We go away, to where the only sounds are wind and water, the only light is sun, the only smells are grass and flowers, and the sea.

It’s hard for her.  She surrenders up her everyday identity, her clothes.  She gives up her everyday talismans, her jewelry. Why can’t I even wear my ring?

Now she stands, wearing nothing but the light.  She asks,  “what do you want me to do.”  She wants to be told how to pose.

The man with the camera won’t tell her.  He confuses her by saying:  “show me who you are.  Show me what you feel.”

And she says, “help me.  Tell me what to do.”

And he says, “no.  I won’t tell you how to imitate what someone else has done.  You are unique.  Show me who you were ten thousand years ago, when there was no other world than grass and trees, wind and light, and you.”

Girl on a Beach - Copyright Norm La CoeNot all women are comfortable being nude.  No woman should do what is not comfortable for her.  I ask her to reveal her body – and far more important, her spirit; – but not beyond the point where “more” would be too much.

I call this “the threshold of intimacy,” because at this point, she is most aware of her body as part of her personhood.  She expresses her feelings through her body.  At the threshold  of intimacy, the feelings she expresses are real.  Beyond that threshold, she conceals her feelings, plays a dehumanized plastic role.  We see a body, but no one is home.

This woman should be precisely as bare as feels right to her, to make the most powerful image.  Reveal more, she becomes uncomfortable and represses feelings.  Reveal less, and she remains hidden.  It doesn’t matter if she hasn’t take off her shirt, if she’s at the threshold of intimacy for herself.  An image of one woman with an unbuttoned shirt can be more powerful than one of another woman fully nude.  Some women, even fully nude, do not reveal feelings that communicate real truth.

Mellow Morning - Copyright Norm La CoeRevealed feelings, not skin.  That’s what it’s all about.

Every woman is unique in her feelings about her body.

It need not be said, I’ll say it anyhow.  When she’s at her threshold of intimacy with her feelings open, you never hassle her about anything.  And you protect her with your life.

And so begins the ecstasy and the exquisite agony of her revelation.  And her discovery of self, and freedom.  Unfolding....

He is my witness.  He will make a record with his camera, to prove this all is real.

Cherokee - Copyright Norm La CoeI am real.

He will share these images with others, and everyone will know
this all is real.  That I am real. 

I am a woman.  I am whole.  I am wonderful.  I am strong.  I am beautiful.  I am free.  I belong to me.

I am a daughter of God and the universe, and I have an absolute right to my place on this earth.

Look at me!  THIS  is who I am.

The Landscape Nude Part One
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