Stopping on the way to Cotswold
So. I went to Leibovitz’s exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I was going to miss it as it was at its final weeks. Man, I never thought it was such a big deal. The exhibition started in October last year and still selling out last Saturday afternoon. I felt it was important especially for me to be inspired by the works of others and this exhibition couldn’t have lasted at any better time.
I was disappointed at first when I came out of the gallery, feeling that there were only so few great photographs exhibited that could make the other 3 boys I dragged to see the exhibition felt that their money was worth spent. For normal visitors like them, it must’ve been an uninteresting one. And I kept forgetting that the title itself says “Annie Leibovitz : A Photographer’s Life, 1990-2005”, so I should’ve expected a lot of family fun snaps from her to be exhibited, which they were. There were few famous shots of celebrities but in between that too were series of photographs documented her close friend, Susan Sontag’s journey as a breast cancer fighter, who eventually died. Also pictures of her parents, children, friends and other families going about their daily life, and occasionally her self-portraits when she was pregnant ala Demi Moore.
Those pictures were not fantastically composed or subjected, they were monochromatic silver prints and most of it seem amateurish and revealed a lot of flaws I didn’t expect from someone so celebrated as her. But that’s the essential thing. And where she had a whole wall full of pictures pinned up on a board, it was like as if looking at her contact sheets. I’ve always thought that contact sheet is the best thing to go through and understand the way you photograph and how your mind works in order to achieve a single, best shot. It explains how you see things and prioritize the important elements in your subjects. I don’t remember how Leibovitz’s is, but I could see a great deal of dramatic lighting in all her shots. Maybe that was her concern – a person as a subject is obvious, but giving the light to it is another.
Undoubtedly, I felt the urge of just taking some time off, and I know I kept saying this but never did and it breaks my heart so not being able to feel images in prints in my hands again. For now I will reminisce those feelings and hold on to it. I remember I used to be so good at it, although I don’t remember what made me so. Oftenly inspirations visit at times I was too busy with something else, which kinda sucks.
I need to revisit some old stuff buried somewhere in a stack of boxes under my bed. They’re probably dusted now, but I’ll wipe it away.
Fakhrul did me last weekend. We were talking about how lately our weekends were wasted on hanging out at the city centre, eating out, browsing shops and spending money on things we didn’t even need to begin with. I need to get on with my photography and he must find his lost stroke on drawings and paintings again. So he drew me.
When you’re being painted or photographed, there is a sense of intimacy that is uncomfortably strong. Every inch of your being, your face particularly in a portrait is being observed and analyzed. You won’t help feeling ashamed, unless you’re a really confident person. You would smile to feel normal again, but he knows you’re trying to hide your emotions. You would move your head hither and thither trying to avoid that awkward gaze but then he would ask you to stay still. You would look down and blushing, but he would need your eye contact to get into your soul. What would you do as a sitter?
So when Kikin asked me in Random whether if I would do a portrait of anyone, I couldn’t quite explain my refusal until I can tell how awkward it might be to experience an intimate moment with strangers. Maybe being unprofessional I am, I just don’t think I can bring out the best of someone that I barely know in a photograph. Portraits that I did aren’t the best you’ve seen, but I admit there was a certain level of intimacy and closeness that almost everyone can feel when looking at them. I didn’t “ambush” Tadika Tokai when I first came there. There’s a story behind the series. My mother in law owned an unoccupied house in Tokai which she rented to an ustazah and I followed her there to meet Fakhrul’s relatives when I learned about Tadika Tokai. After few more visits and getting to know the children and the ustazah, only I felt the urge to photograph them. It would be really hard not to do it by heart.
To become a sitter is one thing, but being a subject is another. In Fakhrul’s case, likeness is not the point. Since camera was invented there is no reason why you should draw somebody exactly how you see it. How you interpret someone to the paper is up to you. What is so significant about him or her? Interpreting someone who wouldn’t go out without a make up on her face by photographing her in front of a mirror, or interpreting someone who spends most of his free time sleeping by placing and photographed him under the duvet is nothing more but just simple personal opinion. The same you want to tell about somebody in a photograph by including a bit of landscape behind it, let it be a river or a kitchen, it is just another information or hints about that person. What they were doing or what they were watching won’t matter, so long the moment is right.
I’m not very good with people and I’m easily misunderstood. Only those who know me well can be comfortable enough to become my sitter. I guess I have to get to know you first. So, maybe we can start with hello.
I suddenly got very emotional when I read this entry about closing up my Fotopages. I remembered that day when I unpublished all my old works, all those years of pages and at the end making only one page visible – the goodbye page. I had a time of my life and I’m so glad I let everyone in. I let you watched me play, travelled, studied, created, laughed, smiled, blew my 23rd, 24th and 25th birthday candles, married my man, held his hands, kissed him on the cheek and many, many more of things that I did in that period. Some left, some kept coming back. Some left words I treasure forever in my heart, some were silent viewers and readers. Some emailed, some bumped to me at the mall and said hello.
Wow, it was a real pleasure. I am sorry if I didn’t respond enough. If I didn’t reply or forgot to thank you. But know this – I am truly grateful. Especially to those who kept coming back to this nothingness of myself. To this mundane words and somewhat amateurish photographs. To just another girl in this world trying to live her life to the fullest. To me who tries to pursue every passion I have. For listening to my troubles and joy. For sharing my memories of the faces that matter to me the most, places I had been and everything else that I don’t want to forget. For being around, without being here. For being loyal and faithful. For everything.
I will try to keep having words, hold to my camera and grow up a good long life, insyAllah. Although I do all this only for myself, without nothing to prove, nothing to gain and nothing to lose, your motivation is the most vital. I wouldn’t know I am any good or any bad at anything without you telling me so. In this virtual world where I write and photograph, only you know.
So if you are not here, know that your presence will be truly missed. If you don’t write back, I don’t know who am I writing to. If you choose to leave, I don’t know who to share this to. So thank you for being there, being here and hopefully, being in the future.
I think I’m closing up my Fotopages.
Because I have this other website which I think present my works better.
I don’t think it’ll be the same with Fotopages. Anywhere else, you won’t get the feedback that you were used to. That’s what had been keeping you alive.
Maybe that phase is over. Do I still need the feedback?
Well, you ask yourself that.
That’s the thing I love about Fakhrul. He always make me think. I guess he doesn’t want to get the blame when I regret my decision if he gives me a straight answer.
Well, I have been thinking about shutting it down. It’s a photo blog, so I always feel pressurize to update it. Like there’s an obligation to put new works, when currently I have none. The only work in my life at the moment is my marriage and architecture. I’d love to include photography, but I just can’t pursue it the same way I did. My life’s a routine, it’s not a drama anymore. I feel dry up, emotionally. I can’t take my time anymore. One time I’ll come home with photos and it’ll be left off for months until I can get back to it. By that time, there are new photos, and then I’m confused on which I should finish first.
I wish I could be disrespectful and put any crap on it and write something to help it look good, when it’s just an empty picture, that doesn’t tell anything, that doesn’t recall any memories, that doesn’t have any significance to it, that doesn’t speak and bleak.
What is the purpose of photography, if not to capture a memory? Places, people, fleeting moments – they all alter significance as time passes. And now all my photos that once had a meaning get boxed up and pushed to the back of the cupboard or under the bed.
Fotopages is another thing. I feel like people took advantage of its existence and popularity and made it a free billboard for advert of their businesses, and my comments section became the same. I hated it, a place where once respectful artists made their names and acquaintances of same interest has long gone, and what’s left seems to me like a mediocre spot for gossip columns and where people sell stuff.
Well good for them. But long enough time passed, I found another place where I can group my works, put a title to it – sort of like my personal best. Recollection of memories, events of my life, places I’d been to and people I made friends with. Every photo made me say, “This is when…” And I love it. Am proud of it.
I think my Fotopages won’t be long. I already know what to write on my final entry in it. We’ll just wait and see.