Tag Archives: portrait

On Seeing Yourself

A wet plate portrait of Malin James on glass beneath water. Wet Plate Collodian by Nicolas Laborie for On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Portrait, Malin James. Wet Plate Collodian by Nicolas Laborie

I’ve been bumping up against my own self-image recently, which is a curiously exciting and unsettling thing. It’s been happening in several ways, some easier to define than others, but the overall effect is the realization that I don’t know myself as well as I thought I did, and that that is absolutely fine.

Being photographed by someone gifted is its own kind of gift – one that I couldn’t accept when I was a young, distracted thing. A gifted photographer can distil you with an odd sort of purity. If you’re lucky and the stars align, what you end up with are visual representations of various facets of yourself – shards of personality that often operate beneath your conscious understanding.

Black and white head shot of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The self-image I’ve nurtured over the years is that of a controlled, measured woman. I don’t let down my guard unless I choose to and it’s rare that I do. Like most people, I wear a social mask and it’s that mask that I recognize in pictures. I rarely see the person who watches the world from beneath it represented on film. That’s probably why the images Nicolas Laborie took this past week-end pulled me up short.

The wet plate above is recognizable insofar as I recognize the interiority it caught – that particular mixture of nameless emotions is essentially my resting state. I’ve just never seen it on my face, not even when I look in a mirror. I’m not entirely sure how the wet plate caught it – maybe it’s just having to stay perfectly still for the exposure – but it’s the first time I’ve seen an accurate visual representation of my internal life.

Black and white portrait of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The other three were taken after the wet plate and they do something a bit different. When I was younger, I longed for self-possession. When someone photographed me, I very consciously cloaked myself in imitation poise. The problem was that I always knew it was fake and I didn’t like seeing that gap between reality and aspiration caught on film.

As I got older and grew increasingly uncomfortable with what I saw in images of myself, being photographed stopped being a pleasure. It was too much of a personal minefield. Participating in Sinful Sunday has helped me enjoy photography again, but only to the extent that I control the image, and I rarely let down my guard.

But these are different. These are just of me being me in the moment because I no longer know how to be something I’m not. That’s why they mean so much to me.

Black and white portrait of Malin James taken by Nicolas Laborie. For On Seeing Yourself by Malin James

Photograph by Nicolas Laborie

The person in these pictures is the woman I wanted to be when I was a confused mess of a girl. I wanted to be calm and hungry and strong, so much so that I tried to pretend to be something I wasn’t and failed every time.

It’s magic to me that I became someone I could respect. I never trusted myself – I never gave myself a reason to – but the person I see in these pictures is someone I respect and trust. That’s why these photos are a bit of a revelation. In many ways, it’s the first time I can say that seeing myself on film is comforting rather than proof of the gap between my reality and everything I want to be.

To see more of Nicolas Laborie’s work, please visit his site, and follow him on Twitter. He’s brilliant. 

NB: I nearly didn’t write this post. Ironically, there’s still something uncomfortable about talking about myself, especially in what could be perceived as an arrogant light (and let’s face it, talking about pretty pictures of yourself skates that boundary uncomfortably close). Ultimately, the fact that the experience was so unexpected and revelatory in its way was the reason I decided to go out on a limb and write it. It was an amazing experience and I hope other people are able to experience something similarly positive in front of a lens.

Small Breasts

Portrait by Tabitha Rayne

Portrait by Tabitha Rayne

Ah, breasts. They’re lovely, right? Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about breasts, (I know, it’s hard not to), mostly because I realized that the only time I ever describe them in my erotica, is expressly to say that the breasts in question are small.  If I don’t describe them, it’s fair to say that the character’s breasts anywhere from average-sized, (whatever that means), to large and that they are, of course, lovely.

However, if I take the time to actually describe them, it’s almost always to say that they are small or “delicate” just as the bodies that go with them are “boyish” with “subtle curves.” I don’t do it often because most of the time, I want the reader to slide herself, (or himself), into the story and, for better or worse, tiny tits are not very common. At least, they never were, especially in the erotic content I read when I was younger.

In many ways, popular erotica tends to traffic in ideal body types, which means that the genre has been graced by an abundance of full, heavy, goddess-like breasts – the sort of tits a man can lay his head on after fucking the slender yet curvy woman they’re attached. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. Erotica is, in many ways, a fantasy driven genre, and for many people, slim bodies and large breasts are the fantastic ideal. Recently though, we’ve seen more stories featuring women with true-to-life proportions, which I think is wonderful. These women are sexy and hot despite not being a size-4. They rock those goddess-like breasts in a whole new way, and it’s wonderful to see the slow integration of realistic body types in erotica. But this left me wondering about those of us who do not have full, goddess-like breasts; ladies who, rather than rocking a pair of D’s, are sitting pretty with a set of A’s?

I read a lot of filthy romances growing up, which meant that I was exposed to a great many “bountiful  orbs,” (no joke). Somewhere along the line, I internalized that a woman’s orbs should be bountiful, and that, if they weren’t, it was something of a problem, if not an outright flaw. I’ve often wondered where my insecurity over my small breasts came from, because I’ve never once been with anyone who complained. In fact, the men and women I’ve been with, (and there have been quite a few), never once criticized my breasts in any way. Nor was I ever on the receiving end of another woman’s platonic critique. In fact, as a younger woman I was a ballet dancer and briefly modeled. Both industries are brutal in their own ways, and yet my A-cups were ideal by the requirements set by each. And yet, I’ve often found myself reflexively fixated on my chest, as if somewhere along the line I judged my breasts to be a flaw. It’s bullshit, but it’s true.

My first serious exposure to sex and desirability were in those trashy romances, at the age of 12 or 13, when I had difficulty distinguishing a fantasy from my real life body image. So, despite the fact that my small breasts work in proportion to my long, tall body type, I got used to wanting fuller breasts, breasts that adhered to my own false notion of what sexy should look like. It took a long time to unwind that internalized sense of proportional failure. And then, very recently, I realized that I hadn’t unwound it as thoroughly as I’d thought.

The portrait above, which was done by the massively talented Tabitha Rayne, arrived in the mail last week. When I opened the soft paper that protected it, I was reminded of something I often forget. I was reminded of what I look like. I have a hard time seeing myself in photographs, or even in the mirror. But I can see myself in this portrait to an almost uncanny degree. That’s my hand, looking strong and capable, my shoulders and my collarbone, and yes, my breasts. They are small, and yet within the context of my figure, they are undeniably right. Change those breasts in any way, and the subject would no longer be me.

We are all more than our bodies. And yet, our bodies are the conduit through which we engage the physical world. For years, I held myself to an impossible self-imposed ideal, impossible because, short of silicon, my breasts were never going to change. Now that I write erotica it gives me pleasure to let that ideal fall away. It gives me pleasure not to describe a woman’s “orbs” in lurid detail, but rather to have her partner say “god, I love your tits,” regardless of what her tits look like. And, on the rare occasions that I do describe a woman’s breasts, it pleases me to make them small and delicate. The perfect mouthful. Because I think if I’d read something like that at 13, it might have made all the difference.

Portrait: Tessa

black & white partial nudeAwhile ago, I had an interesting discussion on women and submission on my other self’s blog. The discussion, which originated at The Erotic Writer, was excellent and ranged over several different sites. Dominance and submission are subjects that I am particularly drawn to, and I find myself coming back to power dynamics quite a lot in my work. Control requires a delicate, watchful balance, after all, and I’m sure it will come up here again. In the meantime, however, I offer you Tessa, a snippet of a scene from the opposite side of the coin. Rather than female submission, it’s the portrait of a dominance.

TESSA

Elsa, a woman knowledgeable only in the ways of her own psyche, stared at her sister skeptically. The lines around her mouth settled comfortably. Skepticism was her natural state.

“…But deep down, you must have fantasies about being dominated. Every woman does, even if we don’t admit them to ourselves, even if you never act on them…?”

Tessa leaned back and sipped her tea. She was tired of the conversation. Elsa was her twin, a fact that made less and less sense the older they got. It was a threadbare question, but threadbare or not, the question passed the time.

“Elsa,” she said. “I dream of pulling a man’s heart out of his chest and cupping it in my hands. I want to cradle it so he can see it pulsing, gorgeous and red. I want to say, “look, darling! Your heart! Your heart is in my hands.” I dream of my face being the last thing he sees – my face and his beautiful heart. That is what I want. So no. I don’t dream of being dominated. Not even a little bit.”

Elsa’s fingers fluttered over her porcelain cup. It was empty. Tessa watched her resist the urge to lift it to her lips. She needed something to do.

“I don’t understand you,” she murmured. “I wish I did.”

Tessa reached for the pot, and filled her sister’s cup.

“It’s all right that you don’t.”