Let me start off by saying I have photographed MANY couples. MANY MANY couples. And like anyone else, they all have varying degrees of comfort with each other and with the camera. Some people are more comfortable in front of a camera than others. Some people are more comfortable with each other than others. And then there are the times when both of those worlds come together, and true magic is made.
Last night we did a “BodyScapes” shoot. In which we photograph various body parts in various poses using different lighting and different focal lengths. The purpose being that the body is a beautiful thing and being able to look at it differently than we usually do brings a new perspective to the beauty that is the human body. There is intrinsic beauty to both the male and the female form, and I’m not talking about “naughty bits”. I think our society focuses so much on the taboo parts, that 1.) not much is left to the imagination, and 2.) we lose sight of the fact that there are so many beautiful aspects of the body that we often overlook. It is the hope to rediscover those other beautiful parts that got me interested in bodyscapes to begin with.
Much like the “taboo” body parts that get so much attention in our society is the idea of sex. It is sex in a relationship that often gets the press, not necessarily everything that goes into making a couple tick, or makes them cohesive, or just amazing. A sexy couple actually has very little to do with sex, and more to do with who they are together. So what does a couple have that say actors do not? They have history. True history, not a made up story, not lines to follow for a set amount of time. They have history. Love, infatuation, fights, hurt, tears, laughter, heat, passion, joy, pain, and all of these have forged them into the people that they are both individually and together. So much more goes into chemistry then just how hot a couple is in the “bedroom scene”. Now that you have all of that random background stuff from my brain…Here is where my story begins.
I met Jess last year, though it seems like we’ve known each other much longer than that. She was a dancer in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and flawlessly portrayed the personification of Queen Mab from Mercutio’s vision. Her movement was intoxicating, and her will to do just about anything was a photographer’s dream. She was and is a woman with such a strong presence. Her movements purposeful and exact, and her energy unwavering. I have seen her dance in subzero weather, crawl on the ground through rough weeds, walk through pond muck without a second thought, and virtually defy gravity. The only problem (if you can call it that) was finding a male counterpart to play opposite her that could handle that strength. A few could equal her presence, but her power still would still shine through. Even when a knight stood at her defense, sword in hand, she was not a damsel in distress, but a queen ready to take to battle if need be. All of these observations became my opinions of her within 2 months of knowing this incredible woman.
Then, and I don’t remember exactly when, I found out she was married. That her husband was not on the performance scene, that I knew of, except to support her, and sweetest thing of all, they had been high school sweethearts. Now, as an aside, I have always had a soft spot for photographing couples. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing weddings so much. There is a peek into lives that you are not a part of, an exchange of glances, a private joke shared without words, it’s a beautiful thing to behold, There is also a comfort, that this is the person you are most yourself with out of anyone in the whole world. You have bared all to them body and soul, and trusted them with the most delicate parts of who you are. To me, that is something you cannot hide, you cannot fake, it’s just something that is. Being happily married myself, I can recognize these moments, and it makes me smile. Sometimes, as a photographer though, I almost feel like perhaps I should just walk away, that this is about them, and I’m being intrusive with my lenses and flashes and directions. However, It was these strong feelings of what actual couples, especially long term couples, bring to the table that led me to invite spouses, even non-performing spouses to the next large scale concept shoot that I staged.
Jess invited Alan, her husband, and he accepted. I was thrilled. Both Alan and Jess share a love of Halloween and dressing up, so this wasn’t foreign to either of them. They showed up to the shoot, went through costume and makeup and came out to the place where we were shooting, and went through their shoot. Being that it was a subzero day we were working quickly to get our models back inside so we ran through poses and sent them on their way. Later on, as I was editing pictures, I was hit square between the eyes by something I had never realized before. Jess looked different. I clicked through a couple of other images. “What was different??” Then realization struck. They weren’t in my shoot. They were in each other’s eyes.Jess looked vulnerable, soft, and in love. Here was a man that did not take her power, but allowed her to lay it down. She was home. It almost moved me to tears. The power between them was shared, given and received, but there was no need for power. So it just laid there ready to be picked up when needed. it was a beautiful thing to witness. When later I asked Jess about it, She said “It’s just how it is, if I have to portray that kind of vulnerability with anyone else, in a play or a dance or something, I actually have to make a conscience effort, but not with Alan.”
Fast Foward. Bodyscapes. (I knew we’d come back here eventually) We had three models 2 of which had done a BodyScapes shoot before, and knew what it was about, and this time Jess brought Alan. So we began our shoot. First were some individual things, then a few tandems between two of the models, and then it was Jess and Alan. Jess being a dancer, and Alan who has taken a liking to Cross Fit, both extremely athletic and strong in their own rights. We began our shoot. And almost immediately strength and vulnerability, passion and laughter, history and future became our venue, and though we were leading a shoot, and there was lighting and flashes and talking, we were treading on something not ours. Alan framed Jess’s elegance as though it was what he was made to do. Jess melted into his gaze, and it was beautiful. The chemistry was palpable. The engineer and the dancer, the high school sweethearts, created a beautiful, honest, impassioned love story. Every image I edit speaks to what I can only speculate on. I am an outsider, a photographer, a friend, and I feel blessed to be able to catch a glimpse of their love story.