Here’s the article, written by Debra Yeo, Toronto newspaper editor, whom I first met in 2002 when she wrote about my fine art nude photography business and who’s become a friend and muse for my personal project over the years.
HUNTINGTON, N.Y.—The elegant woman in the grey curls and silver dress is examining the portrait of me on the wall of Ripe Art Gallery.
“I like it when older women take their clothes off,” she says.
That’s fair. I was 47 when the photo was taken in 2009 and semidressed, in only a tank top and underpants (I believe I had socks on as well, but you can’t see those in the picture).
The gallery is on an agricultural property in this town in Long Island, but the space is very cosmopolitan this Saturday evening, chockful of people in everything from jeans to cocktail dresses nibbling cheese and crackers, and sipping wine or beer while music pumps from a DJ booth and a food truck parked outside dispenses baked goods.
My portrait is in heady photographic company, with works by famous names such as Amy Elkins, Oliver Wasow, Nan Goldin, Aline Smithson, Ryan McGinley, Jack Pierson and Marina Abramovic among others. There are even a few photos of celebrities on display: Jackie Kennedy Onassis, actor Michael McKean, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell.
So what is a decidedly non-famous newspaper editor from Toronto doing on a New York gallery wall?
Well, when one of your best friends is a photographer, you tend to share poses as well as confidences.
My friend, Daphne Chan, was living in Jersey City, N.J., when she photographed me in her loft one lazy morning as part of her “Isolation/Identity” project, a series of portraits she’d been shooting around the world since 2006 in which the subjects were asked to contemplate an aspect of their identity that made them feel isolated from others.
(To be frank, I don’t remember what I contemplated that day.)
Chan, a graduate of New York’s International Center of Photography and the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, France, is now based in Vancouver. But on a recent professional trip to New York, she was encouraged to submit work to exhibits there, including this one, titled What Is a Portrait?
My photo was one of three Chan submitted to curator Ruben Natal-San Miguel, an accomplished photographer in his own right, as well as an architect, collector and consultant described by Slate as “a fixture in the art world.”
Chan offered my photo because it was “relatable” (hey, we all walk around the house in our underwear, don’t we?). Natal-San Miguel says he chose it because he liked the light, which slants across the wall, my exposed right wrist and upper thighs, and because it was “very personal.”
“The best word for it is lovely,” he said. “It’s clean, clean portraiture, just clean, honest, not overdone. It’s just right.”
Natal-San Miguel put the show together with Cherie Via Rexer, the owner of Ripe. Her husband, Robert Rexer, built the gallery from a pre-existing barn that once housed a chicken coop and nurseries. The three-acre farm it sits on is still used to grow organic vegetables and also includes a framing business and gift shop.
Thanks to Natal-San Miguel’s renown in the New York photographic community, Via Rexer says What Is a Portrait? was able to reach beyond Long Island’s borders to include national and international artists.
Some 1,200 submissions were whittled down to 64 finalists and 113 pictures, including some from Natal-San Miguel’s private collection.
His aim, he says, was to include photos that pushed boundaries: one portrait is of a mattress, for instance, and the winning submissions depict figures obscured by checkerboard patterns and wavy lines.
“I wanted to . . . make people think about what a portrait really should be,” he said.
He also wanted to show the work of unknown artists because these days “the industry is catering to big names and big labels and big money.”
“To me it’s more about celebrating photography and recognizing what has the potential to become something.”
Chan’s print of me, at 10 by 10 inches, is one of the smallest in What Is a Portrait? This is not a bad thing. When strangers are looking at you in your underwear, just how big do you want the photo to be?
(I am thankful it is not one of the nudes I have posed for. In another shoot, Chan wrapped me snugly from breast to upper thigh in sewing tape and photographed me from the neck down for a project called “My Body Is a Cage.”)
The size of the print means people don’t recognize me as the subject as I hover, hoping to catch random comments.
If they are told, their first reaction is to take a picture of me with the picture. In the case of burlesque performer Betsy Propane, who lives behind the gallery with her sideshow performer boyfriend Trick, the Bastard, we take two pictures: one with my print, one with a photo of her eating fire by Shannon Clyne.
When Chan took my picture, I didn’t dwell on its significance as a potential art object. I was used to posing without thinking about who else’s eyes would see the finished product.
What is a portrait? Natal-San Miguel asks.
In my case, I think it’s a measure of trust between friends.
What Is a Portrait? is on at Ripe Art Gallery, 1028 Park Ave. in Huntington, until Jan. 17. Chan moves back to New York in the spring to work full-time on “Transparency: The Gender Identity Project” about the LGBT and “genderqueer” community of New York. Go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/transparency-the-gender-identity-project