MEG member E.E. McCollumdescribes the evolution of a photographic series.
For the past 3 years, I've been working on a project I call theCocoon Series. The project started quite by accident when a model I was working with - Katlyn - showed me a tube of stretchy nylon material, six feet or so in length and sewn closed on one end.
"I think you'll like this," she said, and wriggled into it.
Suddenly, the figure I saw in front of me was transformed. The fabric stretched around Katlyn in such a way that the space of the body was made manifest and Katlyn's creative poses took on a sculptural quality. I was hooked. Ways to make images of the body in the cocoon kept coming to me long after that first session.
As I explored photographing the whole figure, I began to wonder what it would be like to have two models in one cocoon. Two adventurous models agreed to try. The two figures together suggested relationship and contact as the figures wove together. I also began to explore moving closer to the models and not including the entire figure. My creative model/partners began to play with the concept of the two together producing images that are by turns beautiful, and odd and unsettling. We struggle to orient ourselves as we look at them.
We also used fish line to pull the nylon up toward the ceiling, manipulating the space that the cocoon defines. It seemed to work best when it followed the contours of the body. Again, the models responded with such creativity to this new approach and, together with one, we created what has become the iconic image of the series.
With another model, I shot with a harsher light directed from a different angle. The result was a more graphic sense of the body and some mystery as the body disappeared into the shadows. The project went on and on. We stained the fabric with facial mud and body paint to accentuate texture. We tore it provide a sense of emergence. I shot a male model and a male/female couple. Each time I think it might be done, a new idea comes to me.
This is the first sustained artistic project I've done and I've been reflecting on what I've learned from it. First, I think a sustainable project needs to be based on something morethan just an idea. I took a class once and a fellow photographer showed her project for critique. She had decided to do a sustained piece of work and cast around for an idea or theme, she said. What she showed, at least in my view, was somewhat lackluster, although the idea itself was intriguing. I think it's because one can't set out to do a project. The project has to capture you. The cocoon came along unexpectedly and captured me emotionally right from the start and that seemed to enliven the work. There must be something emotional in the mix if you are to live with a body of work as long as a project demands.
Secondly, I learned that things change. The cocoon series started as individual images. Early on, each image with interesting solely in its own right. The more it continued, however, the more I saw the images relating to one another with prior images providing context for the later ones. It took time for it to became a project, in other words. It developed organically. I also have to remember that the earlier images are very familiar to me and have lost a little of their freshness because I have seen and worked with them so much. But that isn't true of most viewers. As I make a selection of the project for a publication or show, I try to include images from throughout the series. The recent ones are of more interest to me because they represent my growing edge. But you have to have faith in the strength of the work throughout.
Finally, I think you have to have the dedication to follow the project to its end while recognizing that it's hard to know when to stop. So far, every time I think I've gotten to the end of the Cocoon Series, something new has occurred to me. I don't know how long it will continue, or if the work will grow stale after a while. Nevertheless, I remain committed to following it to wherever it needs to go.
Images from The Cocoon Series will be on display at the Art League Gallery in the Torpedo Factory from March 13th through April 7th, 2014. Selections from the series can also be seen daily at Multiple Exposures Gallery in Studio 312 at the Torpedo Factory.
E. E. McCollum can be reached at email@example.com