Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kissing with Open Eyes

A Photographic Project

I am using photography and narrative writing to take a look at myself, to make sense of my life. I am looking backward and looking forward into my present experience. I am crafting, in this project, one chapter in a larger story.

My life today. A married gay man in his late sixties. A male body, healthy and aging. Looking closely. Studying my reflections. Observing light and shadow. Skin, body parts, eyes, mouth, ears, nose, and so on. In motion and in stillness. With humor and seriousness. A wealth of emotions. Of containment and stretching.

Edge. Center.

Queer. Ordinary.

A photographic journey as well. Picking up my camera with intention for the first time in decades. Learning how to use the created image as a tool of personal exploration. Noticing my own response to my images and those of others. Noticing the response of family, friends and strangers to what I show and what I say.

Present moments that are poignant with emotion and pregnant with possibilities. That grab attention and hold attention. Where something emerges that touches the mystery of life.

This Project: Kissing With Open Eyes

I was experimenting, making photographs with a small round mirror. A shaving mirror? A makeup mirror?

Exploring ways of relating to the mirror, to my reflected self, to the double presented to the camera or only seen in reflection. Trying different distances, in close, further away.

Bringing my face close to the mirror. The impulse to kiss the mirror. To kiss the man in the mirror. To kiss a man. To kiss myself. To kiss my other. Letting the homo out. To flirt. To be passionate. To be intimate. To be a lover. To be loved.

Larry Wolf, Kiss, 2019
In one of the images, my eyes were closed. It was an intimate moment, like an actual kiss. I was surprised by how natural it seemed, even with the artificiality of holding the mirror, kissing myself, kissing the mirror, with a camera looking on.

The camera, a voyeur and an extension of myself. Looking in the mirror. Looking at the camera.

Posed. Artificial. Candid. Natural.

Other images with eyes open. The two personas looking into each other's eyes. The moment shifts deeper. Like an actual kiss when two people open to each other.

There is a homoeroticism here - a man kissing a man. In the images where the frame of the mirror isn't seen, and even when it is, the first impression is of two men.
Larry Wolf, Kiss, 2019

The images felt compelling and filled with love, gentle, kind.

A Tale of a Kiss 

That was the Night that Larry Kramer Kissed Me
That was the Night that Larry Killian kissed me
That was the day that I took a mirror and kissed myself

That was the day I brought the images to class and our discussion about kissing, eyes open, eyes closed. That was the day I realized there was something here to explore and to share.
Larry Wolf, Kiss, 2019

The social convention of eyes closed is more intimate. The experience of eyes open, looking into the eyes of the other. Opened. Closed. Fluttering. Holding the gaze. Opening self to other.

C. P. Cavafy; Body, Remember....

Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds you lay on,
but also those desires that glowed openly
in eyes that looked at you,
trembled for you in the voices—
only some chance obstacle frustrated them.
Now that it’s all finally in the past,
it seems almost as if you gave yourself
to those desires too—how they glowed,
remember, in eyes that looked at you,
remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices. 
translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

The Man Who Kissed With Open Eyes

Larry Wolf,
Portrait of Larry Killian, 1978
I was passionately involved with this man for a few years, starting in 1976. For a short while, a few months, were were lovers. Our friendship and shared love of books lasted much longer.

He was one of the founders of Bookstacks, a book lover's book store in Burlington Vermont. We shared an intense relationship with books, with the written word and with photography books. It was not uncommon for me to walk into the bookstore and be handed a book that had been ordered for me, speculatively, without asking, because they knew my tastes in books. Often they were right. This is where I discovered Michel Foucault, where I picked up my monthly issue of Christopher Street, where I hung out with friends. This is also where I had a solo photography exhibit.

Larry Killian was a wonderful lover. Passionate. Playful. Curious about our bodies and our emotions. Willing to dive in. Larry was the person who asked me to open my eyes when we kissed. Where I discovered the depths and intensity and, yes, love, that's communicated when two people open and experience each other. See each other. Naked. Exposed. Present.

Larry eventually left Burlington, moved to Boston, took a job he loved with MIT Press. Larry Killian died from complications of AIDS in the early 1990s.

A Larger Context

There is a larger story here, perhaps a memoir. For now. a focus on this one small aspect. A moment. A series of images that hang together and tell a story, open up a part of my life, sufficient onto itself.

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