In 1989 I began working in total darkness, using a small ﬂashlight as the sole light source to create a series of close-up
portraits of friends’ faces. By the end of 2001 I had become so adept at counting light that it became possible to sustain an exposure for the hour or so required to explore an entire human ﬁgure. I count out loud—it becomes a chanting meditation for me, and my subject becomes as involved in my performance as I am in theirs. The only task I ask of my subject is to gaze toward the lens. I take notice if my subject has a ﬁxed stare or is trying to pose. To break the camera face, I have different strategies. I count, make comments, make the subject blink while exposing each eye, and so on. The information is accumulated sequentially on one sheet of ﬁlm. Just as a movie unfolds in real time, so I build the image by exposing one part of the person after another with my tiny light. If I add more light, it emphasizes that body part; conversely, not enough light and that area never becomes visible. I expose the parts of the body in the same sequence in order to exaggerate the differences between each person’s performance. I photograph the head, then move down the right side, then up the left side. In all of the portraits there is an interesting shift in the gaze, from the right eye looking outward, to the left eye looking inward. This is a result of the long interval between exposing the two eyes. What happens during the session remains private, an intimate act between me and the subject. There is an enormous amount of information collected during the session, both emotional and physical. The accumulation of all this information is impossible to interpret simply or decisively. There are so many variables. For example, while I was photographing Ellen, her belly kept moving. This was the result of her baby following my small light. Ellen was six months pregnant at the time. Each person, in his or her own way, has contributed something unexpected. What an adventure this has been for me.
I would like to thank all of my subjects for their trust in me and for giving themselves to the process.
I want to thank all the people who have supported this body of work: Vince Aletti, Ann Thomas, Howard and Katherine Yezerski, Stephen Daiter, Yvonne Rainer, Tom Hurley, and Helen Gee. Thank you all, with all my heart. Thank you to Norman Sanders, who got me started on my Photoshop journey, and Mike Brodesky, who made it a reality by setting up my digital studio and guiding me through it. Thank you to Jeff Hirsch, who has been an invaluable sounding board and has always been generous with his knowledge and time. I would like to thank Trevor Fairbrother for focusing on this work in a paper he delivered at a Harvard symposium in March 2004 and later reworked into an article for Art in America. I would like to thank everyone at Aperture: Ellen Harris, for making this book possible; Lisa Farmer, for her sensitivity in handling the production of the book; Diana Edkins, for the Aperture exhibition. The elegant, spare design by Francesca Richer is rare and supports the work in an exciting way. Special thanks to Melissa Harris and Michael Famighetti for featuring the work in Aperture magazine, Fall 2004, and for Lynn Tillman’s insightful interview in that issue. I especially want to thank Lesley Martin for bringing this project to Aperture—for her wit, patience, intelligence, and willing ear, for encouraging me to keep collecting these nudes well beyond the point where I otherwise would have stopped. I am forever grateful. Thank you, Lesley.
Gary Schneider 2004