Saturday, 14 February 2015

FAITH by Alison Bettles

FAITH by Alison Bettles
At four o'clock in the afternoon on 12th November 2014, I walked into The Basket Makers pub in Brighton and bought a pint of beer and sat down at a table near the wall. The pub was dark and comfortable, the barmaid's welcome had been pleasant and well meaning and there was a lazy hum of conversation in the air. I took off my coat and took a sip from my glass. The door opened and Alison stepped into the bar and looked over to me and smiled. It was a confident smile of recognition, of delight, of expectation. I knew from that moment that our collaboration would work well. We talked for a long time and, during the conversation, she said that she would like to use Lucien Freud's paintings as a reference for the shoot. I was beginning to be seduced, not by Alison but by her ideas. I wrote a rambling email to her the next day with vague ideas about brush strokes on the body but, as we had discussed at our meeting, these were really just notes and thoughts which would never be likely to end up in the final images but might influence how the shoot would progress. She replied with some examples of early Victorian nude photography and gradually we were creeping towards the unravelling of the feeling of total abandon which I was able to express at the shoot.

We agreed to meet at the gallery where the shoot was to take place and she showed me this enormous space and described how she intended to set up the shot in the middle maybe with a sheet for me to sit and lie on. It was now coming together in our minds and the anticipation was growing. The shoot itself took place on St. Valentine's Day 2015. That morning, I had shown my family the Valentine's Day film I had made and I felt very much connected and in love with them all and so, it was with a song in my heart that I set off for the shoot. 

Alison welcomed me with a quiet warmth that spoke of a recognition of a short-lived but trusting friendship. We had a cup of tea and I was introduced to a few of her colleagues as they left to go home and then we made our way into our temporary studio. Everything was ready - Alison had created a bed covered by a crumpled sheet and had had the forethought to place a soft mattress underneath. She showed me some of Freud's paintings and then we got started. After about half an hour, I took a break and we looked at the photographs she had already taken but I knew that we had not yet achieved what we were looking for - or rather, that of which I was capable. I owed her more than this. I returned to the sheets with renewed intent and I went for it. I opened myself up and almost forgot that Alison was there but she was there clicking away as I twisted myself into shapes and spasms of emotion and passion, all the while aware of Freud's own intensity and lush strokes of the pink and brown of flesh and skin.

Alison's recent work had been still life pictures of piles of books and jugs and glasses - domestic, normal household objects which spoke of the people who used them, rubbed their hands on them and picked them up and put them down. I had thought that photographing me was a departure but it was more an extension, a viewing of the body as yet another object which can inhabit a home space like any other. A rude, ruddy shape of bone and muscle. 

This photograph was taken in this second session and speaks of the communion of artist and subject, each with total faith in the other's ability to capture the beautiful baseness of humanity and hold it aloft and let it crumble and fall where it will, to be sucked into the earth, to feed and nourish, to regrow, to live and die. I love this photograph.

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