All week I have been working in hot dusty villages and factories. It has been 35 – 40 degrees and sticky humid. In other words, weather for floaty dresses and spaghetti straps. Except here I have to wear the shalwar kameez. The shalwar (pantaloons) hide the shape of my legs, the kameez (body shirt) must be long to ensure I am not seen to be flashing my genitals, and the orna scarf is an extra layer to ensure the shape of my breasts is not visible. When I get back to my air conditioned room in the city all I want to do is strip off and leap onto the cool white sheets with abandon!
Last night I went to bed with my head swimming with images of me lying in the snow in my garden, dark underwear against my white skin and the whiter snow. Close ups of my bare feet dancing in the snow. Snowy nipples. Thankfully the snow wasn’t deep enough this morning for me to realise my daft creative whims.
I actually bloody hate snow. Yes, it’s pretty to look at but an accident on ice that left me with two metal plates and 12 screws in my left ankle means any activity that involves going out in it fills me with fear. And my garden has about 20 steps up to it!
On days like this I would much rather be at my favourite hotel, where the bedding is like snow drifts, than cavorting in the actual snow…
This post is the first of new ‘series’ that has bugger all to do with being 40 or body positivity, but that’s the problem with F Dot Leonora – her enthusiasm and ‘gentle’ encouragement can get you wrapped up in all sorts of new endeavours. I tweet a lot about hotels, they’ve provided the location for a few of my Sinful Sunday photos and F Dot has used two of my hotel photos to illustrate posts. Every so often I’ll share a little gallery of images and some stories from my travels and if anyone ever wants to use them to illustrate a post, be my guest…
Sleeping With the Books
There’s a Library Hotel in Saigon. Yes, you did read that. A hotel in a library! And a free minibar in every room. This might just be the most perfect concept for a hotel, ever! I stepped into the lobby four days after running a marathon and off the back of a 21 hour journey, muscles screaming with the double fatigue of distance endured, first on my feet and then cramped on a plane. The calming effect of being met by a wall of books was instantaneous.
Of course nothing is quite what it first seems and the free minibar was actually a few soft drinks and one can of beer a day, and I didn’t read anything from the library, travelling as I was with my own little library. But I fell for the marketing and I’m very glad I did. With its comfy sofas, sultry rooftop bar, huge beds, giant shower cubicles, and cheeky alcoves, it would have been the perfect location for a holiday romance or sexual adventure. It was also perfect for rest, recuperation and reflection. It was the start of three weeks just for me, where I can count on one hand the number of conversations I had that extended beyond pleasantries.
I briefly toyed with the idea of setting up a shot of the kind The Other Livvy did such a good job of a few weeks back, but I didn’t really trust the strength of that ladder and the library was off the 24-hour reception. Plus, at the time, my occasional self-portraits only had an audience of one and I couldn’t really be bothered with the effort. Had I know this blog would be born 10 months later I may have tried a little harder. But I quite like these stark shots; naked images of places that are usually peopled can beg your imagination to fill in the missing pieces of a story. What would you have happen on those winding stairs?
I am blaming F Dot Leonora entirely for this offshoot of Exposing 40. I travel frequently for work (and fun!) and anyone who follows me on Twitter is likely to have seen me tweeting about hotels at some point. Rooms have been used as locations for my own self-portraits, and F Dot Leonora has featured my images, some of which include me, some of which don’t.
I have lots of stories from hotels. From sleeping amongst books in a library hotel in Saigon to sharing my bed with cockroaches (and that’s not an insult, I mean the creepy crawly kind!) in an old convent in Uganda; from acting the voyeur and photographing a naked woman stood in a window opposite my room, to laughing hysterically as I and a couple checked into a hotel to discover the double bed was two singles pushed together; waking up to the never-ending horizon of the sea, a mountain panorama or a glittering cityscape…
And of course, as well as the stories there are hundreds of photographs – of beautiful rooms, of quirky features, of me, and of lovers. I’ll share some of the photos and anecdotes here and anyone who wants to use any of my images to illustrate stories as my lovely friend F Dot Leonora has, is more than welcome to – just let me know.
I will be collating all hotel-related posts and images here.
I’m a sucker for a cute circular story and I find it very hard to resist telling them when they occur.
Last Sunday I wrote about influence. Later in the day Maria Opens Up posted Glimpse. Now, I don’t mind admitting I’ve had a crush on Maria’s work since Pencil Skirt when she not only quoted the mighty Pulp but also managed to channel a great Boudin image.
In Glimpse, Maria referenced her own influence – a poster she had seen in Amsterdam many years ago. She spoke of an image “filled with pink and violet flowers except for a woman’s breast and part of her face.” One of her own photographs revealed a tantalising glimpse of leg from beneath her covers.
Well there’s no face, but two images came to mind: one from a shoot a while back that also gave me my profile images, and another, taken on the same morning as my own Boudin-influenced image, used last week.
So here they are: influence and inspiration at play again, right here in our own community.
I have regressed 20 years. In the best possible way.
1995: Photography students, assessed on our production logs as well as our final images. A tutor presses us to think and write about how the work of others is influencing our own. We try to resist of course, believing it to be a waste of time, distracting us from the importance of our own burgeoning portfolios. The arrogance of youth. I pulled that production log out of a cupboard recently and smiled at crispy ticket stubs, quotes scribbled from commentary on gallery walls, clippings from magazines.
2015: In the middle of life and no real attention has been paid to my own photography in twenty years. Travel photography I am proud of and better-than-average snaps of life events, but no real thought about influence or a bigger narrative. Until now. Suddenly I find myself scouring Pinterest for ideas, popping into the Photographer’s Gallery between work meetings, handwriting ideas as neatly as possible in a beautiful notebook.
And through the lenses of others I start to rethink myself. Those beautiful Brandt nudes? Wonky boobs and flat nipples abound. Breathtakingly beautiful? Hell yes! So many photographers around the world today mounting their own inspiring projects celebrating myriad shapes and sizes. A wealth of ideas informing how I will photograph friends who’ve asked to participate in this project once summer comes and I am working less.
This week’s photo was meant to be a take on the Guy Bourdin shot above, but the hands and I were 40 minutes late checking out of a hotel and I couldn’t find the image online quickly enough! It’s not exactly what I had in mind because the idea was to frame and focus on an aspect of myself I care less about, but actually they ended up being covered up anyway. My body-negative evil twin says I win there! But I think I might prefer it this way anyway: I love the photo and ‘influenced by…’ is so much more thoughtful than ‘a copy of…’
I drafted this post on Wednesday evening while a little bit hungover and as a result it’s probably a bit wordy for a Sinful Sunday post – sorry! – but I still wanted to post it!
I was reminded this week of a conversation I had with a friend the day before I first posted to this blog. I’d just shared with her my idea of turning my anonymous involvement in Sinful Sunday into more of an adventure for friends; how I was excited by the prospect they could get as much out of this as I had.
“I am a bit worried about the flowers,” I said, referring to the header on my site, “I am not sure if it’s sexy enough.” “No,” she said, “they’re perfect, they stop it being too intimidating.”
I know what she meant. It can feel intimidating posting revealing photos of yourself online. For some of us there’s a vulnerability in exposing ourselves, whether we point the lens towards our insecurities, our fantasies, or our intimate moments. For most of us, I expect, that vulnerability diminishes quickly in the face of the wonderfully supportive Sinful Sunday community who each week take the time and care to respond to each other’s posts with thoughtful words of encouragement, celebration or a simple ‘fuck, that’s hot’!
Which is why it is so sad when an individual is intimidated not by their own insecurities but by spiteful people who have nothing better to do than gossip, judge and be mean. Busy thumbs spewing out a trail of nasty tweets can quickly undo what weeks of participating in this meme have done to build body confidence. That happened to @charlieinthepool last week.
Elsewhere there’s been much international coverage for the #freethenipple campaign after an Icelandic MP posted a picture of her breasts to Twitter. She, along with thousands of other women and men who took the same action, was standing up in support of a 17-year-old who was subject to online bullying as a result of posting a picture of her chest in protest against social media censorship of women’s bodies.
It saddens me that acts of courage, whether at a very personal level or as a bolder statement against corporate censorship, are ‘rewarded’ with hate. Kindness and empathy are the greatest human qualities, offline and online. The words of support for Charlie from the Sinful Sunday community last weekend showed that kindness does thrive online, as have the actions of those who rallied behind the young woman from Iceland.
Bullies, try as hard as you want but we’ll just carry on, getting out our ‘offensive’ tits, cunts, cocks, bellies, bums, thighs and whatever the hell else we want to, whether it’s to make a political statement, as a body positive expression, or for the pure exhibitionist thrill of it.