“The show’s aim ultimately is to look at the couple as a catalyst for creative dialogue. What Modern Couples seems to suggest is that if love was the catalyst, it was often the photographer’s darkroom – that liminal, womb-like space – that incubated and protected creative fulfilment in its early form.” British Photography Journal
Some of you may have seen on Twitter or Exhibit A’s Sinful Sunday post last weekend that he and I went to see the Modern Couples exhibition at Barbican last weekend. Those of you who know either or both of us will undoubtedly know that photography is in the DNA of our dynamic. In fact I would say it’s the red thread. Before we’d even met he’d send me his photos for feedback or occasional editing before posting; his early Sinful Sundays are woven in my mind with memories of our earliest interactions. The first time I photographed him was only the second time we’d met.
Looking at that quote above, I would invert it for a more accurate commentary on us. Love was not a catalyst for creativity, but photography incubated and probably, at times, kept alive a friendship that over time has given way to a deep and nourishing affection. There were times in the early days of knowing each other that we didn’t always behave that well towards to each other but somehow we always stayed connected through the photography. We could sit and argue at his kitchen table in North London and 10 minutes later he’d be naked on his balcony and I’d be talking through an idea.
That I am more often than not the one behind the camera mirrors one of the objectives of the Barbican show, which is to subvert the notion that it is always the woman who is the muse. It would never have occurred to me to call Exhibit A a muse, but maybe he is. I certainly rarely think of anyone else first if I have an idea of how I would like to photograph a man, despite me shooting other partners since I started this blog. He’s a willing model if an idea seizes me and is up for many things that others wouldn’t be. A busy lido on a hot sunny day in July? Sure! I’ve messaged him on a weekday morning in February and 45 minutes later he’s been naked in his garden balancing on one leg. And when I’ve wanted him to be the one behind the camera he’s never really batted an eyelid at my rather random requests, whether that’s ‘make my belly look as fat as possible’ ‘can you make a 50 in stars on my back’ or‘I want to balance this mirror on my throat.’
Of course, he means much more to me now than just being a willing photography partner in crime. We’ve got a mutual love of the Manics and a strong Spotify and ‘one for the road’ game too! Seriously though, there’s much I don’t recognise about either of us from the early days. His circumstances were very different, while I was reactivating a long dormant sex life (I’ll write about that one day!) and primarily interested in the physical. I was deeply and vocally averse to any suggestion of a more committed connection – with anyone. Over time, and largely through this community, I have learnt how relationship structures aren’t quite as black and white as I had always thought and I have realised there’s much on the spectrum between fully blended lives and friends with benefits.
That photography is still a big part of how he and I look, despite all the ways we’ve both evolved over last five years, makes me happy. I am probably biased, but I think our photography has got better as we have got better together. And this adventure has brought photography back into my life in a more significant way than it’s been for years. In my business I lead on production and writing – it’s my business partner who’s behind the camera. For years my relationship with photography was as an exhibition goer and travel snapper rather than anything more creative or thoughtful. I love that meeting EA and setting up my blog brought this part of me back.
While the “liminal, womb-like” darkroom (oh, how I miss those days!) may have given way to computers, the intimacy of the developing process has not been superseded by tech. The joy I feel at diving into the editing process is just as it was when I passed through the light-resistant revolving door into the deep red light of the darkroom at university. Last Sunday, flicking through my camera, EA looked at the original of the image below and commented that it hadn’t worked too well. ‘It’ll be fine in the edit,’ I said, because I knew the light was falling just right for me to realise the image that was in my head. The inspiration for the photo below was one we saw at the exhibition.
Writing about Modern Couples The Art Fund talked of it “charting how the concept of a ‘couple’ has evolved, along with society’s approach to marriage, family and gender, it showcases the way in which a variety of intimate relationships – traditional, famed, short-lived and fixational – have resulted in experimentation and, at times, subversion of the status quo.” I like this. I like that the couple is in inverted commas! And I like that I was at the exhibition with Exhibit A. I like that it showcased a multitude of relationship types and celebrated those where art was the lifeblood of them, not a by-product.
Last Sunday was a good day. It was also a funny day. Will he be a Dad next time I see him or will Baby Liv-EA keep them waiting and grant me and him another (closer to home!) meet-up? Who knows! But as his Uber was on its way I said ‘I am looking forward to the next chapter of us.’ And I really am. With all the other changes that will unfold there’s one thing I am sure of – there’ll definitely be photos!