Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Feather in My Cap

(All pics. snapped on 1/10/12)

Believe it or not, I'm still 40,000 files away from having all of my data returned to my Mac. I had no clue going in, that this process would take place at such a snail's pace...but even if a whole month passes before I get everything back - I would never even think of complaining. I'll be too bloody relieved to have the precious, irreplaceable images of my kids and my friends, as well as the spoils of my (near) two-year stint as a self-portrait artist, back in my hot, little hands - to ever utter a single cross word about the glitch. 

In the meantime though, the truly good news is - last night, I was finally able to get my newest self-pics. uploaded onto my kids' computer...including a nice, big bunch that I snapped just yesterday, along with these pics. that I staged about two weeks ago...which means - no more lackluster, pictureless Big Ugly posts! YAY!

Some of you might remember The "Lizzie Borden" entry that I posted in November of last year, yeah? Well, the pictures in that post were taken at the very same farm as the one providing the backdrop seen here. But I wonder how many of you have been visiting The Big Ugly long enough to also recognize this as the setting for the "milkmaid" self-portraits that I wrote about, in this entry - from way back when my blog was in its infancy...

If you think about it - that makes three sets of photos, featured in three separate entries - all devoted to the same piece of property, right? So, what is it about this place that makes it so seemingly irresistible to me? Well, for one thing - aesthetically it boasts many of the qualities that commonly attract me to a venue: unsurpassed, pastoral beauty...interesting, abandoned structures...a water feature...and livestock milling about. Furthermore, it is a super convenient location for a shoot - as it sits just a few minutes up the street from my house. All that considered, I still kinda doubt that I would've bothered with this last group of pics. (since I try to avoid recycling any one place too, too many times) had I not recently discovered perhaps the very best thing about this fabulous farm - that the farmer who rents it is an acquaintance of mine, but better still...he's a much cooler guy than I'd realized.

One night not long ago, at a local watering hole - the farmer approached me, wearing what appeared to be a warm and friendly smile. He threw me for a loop though, when (referring to the "Lizzie Borden" post) he said, "I like the pictures you took inside my barn."............I'm not gonna lie, a momentary wave of fear ripped right up through my middle - and I fretted, " Holy crap - that is his barn! I hope he's not pissed that I was in there!" 

You see, I'd had a hunch that it was he who ran cattle on that farm, but it wasn't until he gently called me out for trespassing on the property - that I was absolutely, positively sure. Remarkably though, the farmer was genuinely complimentary of the pictures that I'd taken there, and wasn't the least bit angry that I'd done so without permission. The more we talked, the less anxious I became, and before the conversation ended - he had given me his blessing to return to the farm to take this cluster of "hay feeder" snaps...I gotta tell ya', I was elated and dumbfounded all at once...

Not that this should matter, but to me it really does - the farmer's not some nobody, and he's not just anybody...around here he's a well-respected somebody. And so for him to eschew the omnipresent scuttlebutt over my questionable lifestyle, choosing instead to form his own opinions about me and my art, but more importantly - to facilitate and encourage my self-portraiture the way that he did - was a surprise and welcome feather in my cap...

...And because of all that, what sticks in my mind the most about these pics. - is not the stuff that typically does, like...the fact that my feet became so numb from the cold, that it wasn't until several hours after this shoot (when they'd had enough time to completely thaw out), that I realized they were full of thistle thorns...ow. Nor is it the attention that I got from motorists slowly driving past, staring at the crazy woman wearing light blue, lacy undies - climbing on hay rings like playground equipment, and tromping barefoot through a field full of cow shit...Nope. The thing that these pictures will always bring to mind, is that a beloved member of this oftentimes highly (and ridiculously) opinionated community - openly (to me at least) endorses and encourages what I do as an artist. It's refreshing to know that the farmer not only has a mind of his own, but that he's also not afraid to speak whatever's on public, to my face, and no matter who the hell is watching. He is a self-assured man who's got the cajones to buck popular (negative) opinion about me...despite the fact that it's an opinion that is shared by many people who are actually very close to him...Bravo!

(Thank You so much for being kind and good to me!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Holding Pattern

I'm alive...I haven't wandered off...I swear I'm still here - but. My beloved, trusty, ole Mac actually did bite the big one - a little over a week ago. The very capable experts at my nearby Apple Store - fixed my computer, but from Thursday - Saturday, I was repeatedly unsuccessful at restoring my old files onto the new hard drive...including all 35,000 + pics....*sigh*

It wasn't until my fourth panicked call to the online site where my files were backed up - that the nice guy on the phone was able to successfully troubleshoot the problems I was having with retrieving my data, and from Saturday afternoon until now - 100k out of 150k files have been returned to their rightful spot on my refurbished Mac. Sadly though, none of my self-portraits have found their way there yet...rendering all photo-related activities here, as well as on my tumblr - suspended, until further notice.

I'm writing this puny, pictureless post on my children's computer (which for some reason - will not let me upload the newest batch of pics. that I have on my camera, curses!) - while I leave mine alone and in peace, to (hopefully) guide 7 years-worth of photos and videos - of my kids, of my friends and of myself, plus the thousands of pics. that I've snapped with my iPhone - safely back home again.

Although I'm extremely anxious in regards to the unknown whereabouts of my absurdly large collection of pics. - I haven't given up hope...and pending a happy ending to this mess (fingers crossed) I shall be properly blogging again before long...Thank you for your continued patience :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover

(All pics. snapped on 1/02/12)

After having spent four out of the last eight or nine nights at "Vixens" (my new, favorite, local haunt) - observing, absorbing, collecting and storing info - for the sake of building an informal, mini-thesis on strip club culture and how it is perceived by folks in general (or misconceived, as is frequently the case)  - I havta say that I am completely overwhelmed by the influx of thoughts and ideas wreaking havoc on my poor, pathetic mind. Woooaaahhh...

...and because my brain might literally short out, if I spend any more time there gathering data with which to support all my theories (plus the fact that a few of the dancers have begun to look at me as if I'm some sort of skeevy, predatory creeper - for repeatedly coming in and gawking the way I do) I'm curtailing my activities at Vixens...for awhile. That being said, I encourage all of you guys to give Vixens - or your own neighborhood strip joint a shot!

My fascination with Vixens and the subsequent, sudden desire to stage a photo shoot there - were triggered several weeks ago, after a friend and I got the hankerin' to spice up a ho-hum Monday night by spending it at our nearest and dearest West Virginia titty bar. Over the (almost) two decades that I've lived in this area, I've been fairly sporadic in the frequency with which I've made trips to this - my all-time fave Gentleman's Club...sometimes letting whole years pass by, between visits. Each time I go though, I have a crap ton of fun, and always feel a genuine appreciation for the girls who've put Vixens on the map. 

The time that I was there with my friend recently though, my take on things was palpably different. Perhaps because of the eternal fire-storm that burns here in my conservative community - over the "scandalous", naked pictures that I post on the internet (woooooooooo) - for the first time ever, I felt this sort of kindred connection to the dancers on the stage, as well as a deeper respect for them not only as performers - but as thinking, feeling human beings, who just happen to strip for a living (yeah that's right...what of it?!) You and I both know that those gals get a bad rap sometimes, which (if you ask me) makes entirely no sense...cuz guess what? They're no different from you, or me, or anybody else...except that what they do for a living takes courage...

I sorta think about it like this: You know how when a person is super nervous about standing up in front of a crowd and speaking, or performing, or whatever? And someone suggests that they picture everyone in the audience naked, or just wearing undies? Well, imagine how terrifying it would be to feel nervous like that, but it's you who hasta get naked...while everyone watching you is clothed...

F'you ask me, the dancers deserve props - not derision for what they do.

Probably goes without saying that I personally, am not a shy person. I mean obviously I'm not terribly modest with my body (dur) - but (for the most part) I'm also outgoing in social situations, and that night at Vixens was certainly no exception. I havta say though, I was surprised (and delighted) that so many of the dancers were willing to chat with me, and answer my string of silly questions - sometimes without breaking stride in their dance routines. Other times though, they would halt what they were doing, kneel down right in front of me, and give me their undivided attention...was really awesome!

...and then just when I thought things couldn't get any better, something even more amazing happened.........this teeny, tiny, spunky, punky pixie - that the announcer introduced to us as, "Poison" - came on stage, climbed the pole...and within seconds the girl completely blew my mind, I kid you not. 

What Poison did on that pole was mesmerizing...literally on par with something ya' might see in Cirque de Soleil. I'm sure that it took an enormous amount of strength, but you never would've known it by looking at her face. She kept a softness in her mouth and her eyes, which not only belied the physical exertion that made her extraordinarily graceful maneuvers seem effortless, but also convinced me that she truly enjoyed (possibly loved?) being a dancer at Vixens...

(Ok now, here's where my thoughts start getting seriously jumbled up. Lemme see if I can break this all down in such a way that it makes sense, without sounding we go)

Oftentimes I find that when I bring up the idea of going to Vixens, or blab on about my latest trip there - I generally get one of two common reactions: either the person acts all over-the-top, horn-dog hubba hubba...or they roll their eyes, shake their head, and pull some funny face...I'm left there thinking, "What on earth is the big freaking deal?" I dunno...maybe because I've spent so much time with my own naked body - I've become desensitized...there's no shock value for me anymore - in seeing a woman's body in the nude (a man's body either, for that matter). Thing is though, while I am undeniably beguiled by the aesthetics of the human form, I tend to be more interested in (curious about?) what a body can do (by itself, or in conjunction with others)...such an incredibly complicated, and yet simple machine. 

Take Poison, for example: while her physique is unquestionably, through-the-roof stellar - it's what she did with her body that was seriously phenomenal...and although the fact that she was (mostly) naked, was an added bonus - she could've done that pole dance in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and I would've been equally as impressed...

I've kind of come to the conclusion that people who are ignorant enough to stereotype...stigmatize...look down on strippers (and others in the adult entertainment biz)  - are either a.) following the herd of close-minded, uptight nay-sayers, or b.) insecure about, or ashamed of their own bodies - thus threatened by these women who are so comfortable in their own. Naturally, the easiest way to pump up their deflated egos, is to systematically harsh on what have become - historically easy targets...neat-o.

Instead of being judgmental - why not try remembering that each one of those girls is somebody's child, or sister, or parent, or friend...that they cry when they're bummed out, and laugh when their boyfriend cuts a fart. They wake up with bed-head, watch movies, and eat ice cream. They have groceries to buy, and bills to pay, and tanks in their cars that need gas...and they work just as hard as (or even harder than) the rest of us - to make all of the different ends meet. 

But hey, I don't want you to misinterpret what I'm saying here, as being some sort of patronizing petition - urging you all to grant amnesty on, or feel pity for the strippers of the world - screw that! Frankly, I've never seen any indication that the dancers I've watched, feel persecuted in the slightest for what they do. Those girls don't want sympathy, cuz they damn sure ain't victims! They've made the conscious decision to capitalize on a commodity...and on my own much smaller scale, I can relate.

Now more than ever, I hold these women in extremely high regard. Matter of fact, I view what they do for a living with reverence - envy even. Why? Because although publishing naked self-pics on the web is marginally similar, I'm pretty sure that I'm still too chicken to take it all off in front of a live, captive crowd of complete strangers. I gotta say, admitting that I'm a coward is pretty humbling.

As I reach the end of this post, it's clear to me that neither the photo shoot that I was so fortunate to be able to stage at Vixens, nor the pictures that I snapped there that day - produced the tour de force images that I'd so arrogantly (and naively) expected. In a way it was cheating...smoke and mirrors...playing dress-up. I loved the experience, don't get me wrong about that! It was intimidating as hell to attempt "walking in the shoes", on the very same stage - as the dancers that I respect and admire. But a real coup could've only come about, had I confronted my fears and photographed myself stripping for an actual, live audience. And even though I could sit here and blame the club's strict "no cameras/no photos during operating hours" policy on why this is a fantasy that I will likely never live out - truth be told, it's doubtful that I have the chutzpah to actually ever go through with it anyway...

Just a couple more things real quick, before I finally shut my trap...Again I need to say, "Thank You!" to the owner of Vixens, for allowing me to shoot in his club! I was there during off-hours, and the thing that immediately struck me - was how immaculately clean the place was. There was not a single speck of dirt or debris anywhere on the floors...every inch of all that chrome and brass was smudge-free and polished to a gleam...and there wasn't so much as a hint of cigarette smoke or stale alcohol lingering in the air. I'm tellin' you, the guy runs a very tight ship - and it's reflected in the high quality of his club.

Thanks also to the manager of Vixens' "sister" club - The Underground. He was so friendly and polite, just the nicest man really. He never made me feel badly about dragging him away from his post at work - so that he could get me set up with lights, and heat, and the club to myself - for the two plus hours that I shot. Thank You!

And lastly, I wholeheartedly encourage all of my local(ish) readers - to go see Poison perform. You will not be disappointed, I promise. Find her there Friday - Monday nights, 7 p.m. - 3 a.m. (I think). There are so many other girls who I wish I could also mention, but I didn't get permission to write about them - and I don't wanna assume that it's ok. Just do yourselves a favor (or get off of your high horse, as the case may be) and go watch ALL of 'em dance!!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The "Vixens" Experiment - Part 1

(Snapped on 1/02/12)

So...I've decided to share the pics. that I recently shot at "Vixens" (a Gentleman's Club in Bunker Hill, WV) - over (at least) a couple of separate entries...and in this one - I'm keeping my mouth mostly shut. The one exception being: to offer up the biggest, hugest, most gigundo THANK YOU! to the amazingly accommodating, incredibly cool, and incomparably nice folks who so graciously allowed me to do my thing there...

That being said, the floor is now open to you my dear readers - for questions, comments, discussion, what have you...all of which are strongly encouraged. I'm counting on you guys to provide the text for this post (please?), and I promise to do my part the next time...capiche?