AMBER LOVE 24-MARCH-2014 It seems obvious to point out that all people in relationships can’t possibly agree on everything. I’m speaking in the “couple” binary tradition of relationships but the makeup could be anything like a polyamorous triad. One topic that has been the source of an extremely ludicrous amount of arguments for me in relationships has been photography. I don’t mean these arguments were cerebral enough to address when or if photography is an art form. No, no. Nothing that makes that much sense and could be a classroom debate. Instead, I’m talking about people who like pictures and people who despise pictures – specifically candid family/friend photos. I’m also not about to tackle the dark journalism side of photography showing tragedies; this is about the type of pics that most people consider “happy” moments.
I have no idea why but when I was a little girl, I absolutely hated having my picture taken. I would hide in almost every family photo. By adolescence I had cleverly come up with a way to be present in a photo without really being there by doing things like sticking my foot in from out of the frame. No one ever made a great effort to try and take my picture so those family holiday moments felt like a chore. Maybe it was part of my DNA. When my mother was growing up, she believed she was “fat” because she had about 15 extra pounds on her compared to her extremely thin and seven years younger sister. My mother hated her own picture and in the copies of her yearbook we found, the couple places that should have been her, she had destroyed with scribbles or cut out.
In my own teen years, I began to take a bigger interest in photography as an artform. I learned how to develop photos through the high school photography “club” which consisted of being shown once where the chemicals were and had access to the dark room. That’s where I began to appreciate black and white images. One day I even had my neighbor dress up her daughter in a pretty calico dress and we fixed her hair. I shot some pictures that were inspired by the many issues of Victoria Magazine I had looked through. From there I got into shooting videos and every present-getting holiday meant I could get another filter for my VHS camera.
Then in college I got involved in the worst relationship ever and eventually married an awful man – the one I call The Asshole. He was one of the anti-photography people. I never knew why. All I know is that one day, I had agreed to model for the local newspaper photographer who wanted to grow his portfolio for things outside of journalism. I felt extremely manipulated as he pressured me to shoot topless. I was college age, so legal age to consent. Here I was engaged to a cop who always made his hateful opinions known and I was putting myself in a position that would end up being in the Top 5 Shitty Things Wrong With Our Relationship. My first mistake was agreeing to help someone with a day job in journalism which my fiance considered the lowest form of employment (and I was a journalism student); he put lawyers and politicians above journalists. My second mistake was that he disliked this photographer on a personal level for no reasons ever given other than he didn’t like the guy. My third mistake was that I had absolutely no backbone to speak of so whenever I said “No” to somebody, I would eventually give in after several ignored refusals. This photographer kept pressuring me about what would be “sexy” and his intentions were none-too-pure. To a man like him, a clothed woman obviously wasn’t sexy enough.
Had I been single, I would not have said “No” at all. I would have been all for taking off my clothes because I grew up idolizing the women of Playboy. I wasn’t uncomfortable with my body as awkward and inexperienced as I was; I was profoundly uncomfortable and downright scared about the reaction of my uptight fiance.
The Asshole was the type that would fetishize the “sexy librarian” image. Women should be conservative in public but slutty as possible in private. So that’s what I tried to achieve during our relationship and it eventually took its toll on me. I couldn’t be both so I went from one extreme to the other as I searched for an identity. Needless to say, even though I was covered but braless in the photos and they were beautiful, there was Hell to pay. I was forced to demand the negatives from the photographer and try and get back the one print I had given a male acquaintance who requested it when I was showing them to him. I had foolishly been showing them off because I was proud of how I looked in them. As I said, there was nothing overtly visible that would be pornographic; they were more like a fashion magazine ad. Although the camera “accidentally” went off when I was moving my arm one time and my nipple was in the shadow of only one image. In the rest of them, however, I was covered by a denim jacket or shirt but in order to get changed, I had to be naked with another man who had his back turned for a couple seconds at a time. This counted as a betrayal of adulterous magnitude to my asshole betrothed. He had tried to forbid me from even having a wedding photographer because all photos were banned from the house from that point forward. I argued enough to get him to agree to use a female photographer so that’s what we did. But no holidays ever had family photos.
Fast forward to Husband No.2 who also hated photographs. He at least had created some kind of backwards excuse. He said he believed photographs made our minds weak and that we should try to remember the moments of our lives with our brains’ capacities rather than take pictures. I could not disagree more because there’s plenty of stuff I forget so my brain isn’t remembering or that I’d like to share with others who were not present at those times. He would make stupid faces in every single picture anyone would try to take. The only exception was our wedding photos. Then I slid into my grossly obese years and never ever wanted my picture taken; but during our marriage I had lost my job and eventually got thin and really involved with cosplay which meant I wanted a lot of photos again. At least he never outright banned them. He would even take the camera during comic conventions so I could pose with other cosplayers. His attitude would always cause arguments with my mother-in-law as well since she loved taking pictures of the family and friends and he gave her an equally difficult time.
After that relationship ended, I was finally feeling more like myself or rather that I figured out who myself was. I entered the worlds of cosplay modeling, adult modeling and figure modeling. With only a couple exceptions, this is the work and hobbies I loved to do. There were never enough photos. I wanted more with every new costume or new hair style I had.
What has pissed me off to no end is that Ex-husband No.2 immediately began posting tons of photos of himself and his new girlfriend. Clearly he had gotten over his hatred of photography. Back when he used to respond to my lengthy, mentally unstable emails, I demanded to know what the deal was that he suddenly loved having photos with his new woman but gave me years of grief when I wanted pictures. All he could say was something along the lines of: “Guess I got over some things and see how they can be important to people now.” Fuck you, dearest love of my life. You gave me a ton of shit about wanting pictures of our life together.
When I had entered the cosplay scene that gave me a ton of connections to fans and creators in the early days of social media. Myspace, anyone? Comicspace? LiveJournal! I was forever spending time in Yahoo! Groups and making friends all over the world. One of these Myspace friends was a writer who hated photos. I’m not kidding. I must be some kind of weird magnet for people who hate photos. After I failed another long term relationship or two, this friend and I took our status to an intimate level. To no surprise, he would put up a gigantic fight when we were together and I wanted photos of us. Then he surprised the Hell out of me and asked a stranger in a parking lot to take some for us. Clearly he couldn’t stand to be photographed with me inside the convention but he acquiesced to this candid parking lot scene where I had no makeup on anymore and was completely a disheveled post-con mess. I was thrilled though. I had photos where he looked great as always and I looked like roadkill but I had something! And the deal was, I couldn’t post them anywhere. (This is where I get that head tilted to one side expression saying WTF?).
During that relationship and after it ended, I’d end up catching many posts by other people where they had photos of Writer Boy. Needless to say, our arguments over Facebook photos and statuses were greater in number than any other topic we ever fought about. Naturally in this day of easy stalking, I will check back and see what he’s up to. Oh look, more pictures! Oh a video even! No shit. How about that! And Instagram and Tumblr accounts now? Really. Ok, I see you made some kind of peace about photographs that was clearly something you could never ever possibly find when we were together. How dandy for you! So all of the exhausting arguments about how much he not only hated photographs but hated every bit of social media came to these moments where he was on the largest social platforms for sharing images: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
The problem must be me. What else could it be? His argument was that posing for pictures was part of “the job” of writing books you need to sell but he hated it. Well, it’s part of “the job” of being in a relationship too.
A few months ago, I was asked to cosplay and model for a comic book series. I have no idea what the plans are for the pictures but I hope they end up becoming a variant cover at some point. I was nervous throughout the entire thing because I was in a genre where I am not comfortable and I was filled with anxiety that I’d let everyone else down. I’m used to smiling and laughing which were not appropriate for this shoot. Emotionally, I was inspired. The fact that I was asked to be included was completely foreign after all these relationships where photography was evil and the only way I’d get pictures was if I sought out the opportunities. I felt strange being asked by someone I admired to model on a book’s project that I loved. Things were surreal. If not for the behind-the-scenes pictures I had someone take, I think I imagined the whole thing. I recapped my experience about that moment in my Virginia Comic Con post-con update.
It seems a lot of people who replied to my general question about whether they like themselves or family in photos have the same feeling. People see the joy pictures give to others but they aren’t exactly excited about how they look and would avoid it if possible. Yet, we live in the Age of the Selfie. I cringe at how annoying and trite the word sounds but I love the process. You and a camera, maybe a couple friends and a really ugly drunk face then in seconds you can share it with the world. You’re sharing a split second of your life with all those people who can’t be there. Most pictures are not going to be “for you” exclusively. They are to share. You might hate how you look but the people who see them are simply happy to see that you existed.
What’s evolved for me is that the selfie has also become its own style of relationship. I don’t know why half the folks reading this would deny it but we all do it. Like masturbating, we have this shame and embarrassment in admitting we are sexting. You may be the one sending the pictures or the one receiving or if you are lucky, both. You know you’ve done it. It’s odd because this is an area where I believe most couples do not communicate with each other regarding boundaries and definitions of cheating. You need to have that discussion! You need to let your partner know if it is not okay for them to be sharing naked pictures even if they never have any intention of having sex with someone else IRL.
The cock shot and tit pic are now part of mainstream dating and relationships. Hell, some people use them as their profile avatars (*cough*). What’s been pretty nice is that the ones I receive are from men who have asked permission from me. They took the moment for courtesy to see if I wanted pics of their naughty bits normally reserved for their wives. Sure, I said, why not? I’m not going to post them on the internet nor run to their wives with all the evidence. If someone is being polite to me, I’ll be polite back. There are plenty of moments when these pictures do nothing for me. Either my stress or depression is too deep or my mind, quite honestly, has been on someone else in particular and he’s not the one sending me pictures.
It’s a new realm of photography and modeling intended for only a limited audience. Should I ever end up in a “real” relationship, I would also have to have this discussion. Is it a violation of my partner’s expectations if I don’t put an end to men sending me naked pictures? It takes a secure partner to say they don’t mind as long as they don’t have it thrown in their face and they know for absolute certain no actions will come of it unless prior open/honest arrangements have been discussed.
What’s also funny is how even the photography-haters seem to like the notion that they are getting unique photos sent only to them. Somehow then photography takes on a special meaning with heartwarming emotion. Personally I find that hypocritical.