05 Mar 2020


Isabel. 11×15″ handmade Platinum/Palladium print on Hannemuhle cotton rag paper. 

Isabel and I got in touch while I was looking for contemporary dancers to help me create fine art work. While discussing the concept and showing some prints, we got to realise that not only her background and experience was an excellent match, but how we were both approaching a like minded space from different directions. I have been thinking about how this gives further layers of meaning to consider in the making of the work.

To provide some context to the situation: at the beginning, when I’m sitting with someone and trying to convey some idea or a concept, there’s implicitly an significant amount of trust that needs to built up in order for us to be comfortable entering a situation where the outcome is -hopefully- beautiful work, but is by no means guaranteed. Communication is key, as we line up expectations (sometimes lack thereof) and establish us both being okay with vulnerability. On my side I deal with massive amounts of impostor syndrome; I worry that I won’t be able to identify what is it that I seek and crave for, in the making of this body of work; that the beauty and strength I see in my subject won’t perhaps make it into the images. I worry about the long shadow that the so-called Male Gaze casts, and how it can taint and overtake what others see. I worry that I won’t be able to convey that which only exists in my mind before the job is done, and I’ll often make up for it by info-dumping on my poor subjects about the process, the tools and other irrelevant details. 

Isabel Phua, by Jose Esteve Photography

And along the way I’m asking someone to see with me, to work with me towards something that is not yet, to pitch in, and pose -often naked and unguarded- in front of my lens, in the search for what (what?) makes the image work and click. I am hyper-aware as well that this is an act of immense courage which I would not be able to perform myself, and how ironic is that? But then again, there are countless other things, beautiful things, that I couldn’t do myself, and this takes away from their value. I’ve learnt to be okay with this hypocrisy. 

Isabel added to this a spin of her own, when she told me about her journey. She pointed out how this is not just about me coming at the stage with aims of capturing beauty; just as much, the process is about the person being represented. It takes at times, learning the ability to see past one’s perception (a little fogged, a little warped, and cracked) of the Self, and take in the images. An act of trust and acceptance, of letting go control and allowing someone else to depict a version of you which might be just as truthful (or incomplete, depending on your point of view) as any other. I was made aware once more that there are no absolute truths in here, and our definition of worthiness can have vastly different meanings; one can be as objectively perfect as it gets in the eyes of the crowd, and still struggle with it. This makes the whole endeavour even more difficult, more meaningful. 

Maybe one day I’ll figure out what I’m doing, after all. 

Isabel Phua, by Jose Esteve Photography

So here’s me coming at you with some thoughts and insecurities to adorn my post. I’ve also gotten permission from Isabel to write about this, and I do so surrounded by portraits of other beautiful people -inside and out- who have helped me create images that I love and keep me motivated to continue working.

If you have made it all the way here, thank you for giving me and my rants more than the customary 5 second attention share on social media! Hope there’s something to mull over for you here. 


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