The underlying concept for Third Person was born out of the phenomenon of dissociation and depersonalization, disconnect from one’s actions and identity paired with observing oneself from outside one’s own body, which I became intimately familiar with as the result of numerous traumatic sexual encounters. My brain was not able to cope with what was being done to my physical body, so my consciousness would exit the situation and completely remove any first person experience or memory. The only way I was able to endure and remember these encounters is by watching myself from a third person perspective; I had to watch and remember sex being done to my body like it was being played back on a movie screen.
Speaking about her 1943 film “Meshes of the Afternoon,” Maya Deren observed,
“Meshes [of the Afternoon] is concerned with the interior experiences of an individual. It does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons. Rather, it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret, and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience.”
Third Person functions much in the same way, utilizing the technologies of digital photography and moving images paired with analog photographs to showcase the way I have been made to view myself, to visually experience myself the way I do through the use of masking techniques that allow for multiples of one person to exist within the same frame. This series features three facets of myself; the film photographer, the model, and the unseen character documenting the interaction between the film photographer and model.
The analog film photographer first represents me in my most natural form, with identity indicators that demonstrate how I like to view and present myself: black clothing, tattoos visible, wearing glasses, and holding my favorite camera. However, the nature of this character and their action of photographing a sensuously dressed woman alludes to the male gaze, and can even question them as a perpetrator, the man more concerned with the allure of a body than the physical and mental comfort of the body’s inhabitant. Ultimately, having this character be played by myself aids in disturbing that gaze by changing the authorship of who is looking and who is taking (and taking the picture).
The model represents me in the form of the body that was left behind. When my primary consciousness exited my physical body and when I watched her (me), she was devoid of identity, and even appeared faceless at times. She took on a necessary role to fulfill the sexual desires of the partner she was with at her own expense and the removal of herself. The model character is clad in a sensuous, skin tight, silk and lace garment, heavy makeup, no tattoos, and no glasses. While the whole look is stylized, the removal of the last two is a choice made to take away key components of my identity, but also references longstanding cinematic tropes. In “Femmes Fatales, Mary Ann Doane writes,
“The woman who wears glasses constitutes one of the most intense visual clichés of the cinema. The image is a heavily marked condensation of motifs concerned with repressed sexuality, knowledge, visibility and vision, intellectuality, and desire. The woman with glasses signifies simultaneously intellectuality and undesirability; but the moment she removes her glasses, she is transformed into a spectacle, the very picture of desire.”
While at first I am intentionally playing into this trope, calling back upon catering to the male gaze as a coping mechanism, the impact starts to change when considering agency, and who exactly is taking the photograph, who is disrupting the gaze. I am choosing to photograph myself in this way (technically and conceptually), and even if the nature of the photographs means they have a possibility to cycle back around into the male gaze, I don’t necessarily mind, as long as I am the one distributing them.
Bunny Yeager, self portrait photographer and pin-up model who took a vast majority of her own photographs concurs,
“There are many girls and women who would love to have pictures of themselves in the nude or in scanty attire, but would not want to pose for a professional photographer…many women cannot bear the thought of posing au natural for the photographer or having his lab man see [these pictures]. Taking one’s own photograph solves this problem because you can take your own picture, develop it yourself, print it, and show it only to those you choose.”
Finally, the digital documentor portrays the third person objective perspective of the stationary camera with a wide angle, but because this is how I have found it necessary to both experience and remember these sexual encounters, what is often thought of as a traditionally objective camera view becomes subjective. Only this time, I have been granted access to the script I was forced to play out; I am now the director.
This collective process allows me to put myself back into the environment of the model, in this case, the person who has had sex “done” to her, and reclaim that first person perspective by confronting the camera and ultimately deciding to rewrite what it means to be watched, deciding to cast out the gaze of the “doer” and “taker” and befriend its(my)self, working in tandem with the photographer, with myself, to eagerly show off my body and look sexually enticing.