Text and photos by Kalliope Amorphous.
salivating thoughts on iron,
quickening their rust,
the last casts of a lantern,
write on the wind with dust
a cavalcade of letters,
an eraser made of words,
a ghost, a spectral face,
a nothingness that mutes
the originating space
transmuting vision to parchment,
which covers the eyes with its skin
and cages the heart as a tenant
in a house on the head of a pen
each testament a zombie,
each word a tribe of fleeting ghosts
I cannot paper nor pen their army
are most reluctant hosts
and I do not have the muscle
to wrestle bone from marrow
nor the compass for Euterpe’s angle
whose singing springs unfiltered
from the larynx of the sparrow.
(Excerpt from The Futility Of Words)
I am spellbound by that place which Artaud so perfectly described as “that fragile, fluctuating center which forms never reach”. My work focuses on the subconscious aspects of emotion and perception; the hidden reverie, the fleeting vision produced in dream; mute moments of despair, heartbreak, wonder or horror which are not expressed outwardly in our day to day lives, but remain a part of our inner worlds or end up pinned to the archetypes in fairytales and myths.
Before I ever picked up a camera or stood in front of one, words were my primary canvas for painting these inner emotions or perceptions onto something tangible. As I have made my way from the written word to the still image, I have come to realize that the absence of words is a language of it’s own. I use myself as a “prop” for all of my images, which means that in addition to composing and capturing the story, I am physically immersed in it as well. I have come to embrace this process as a way of creating visual poetry.
It has been said that the human face is capable of manifesting over 200,000 individual expressions, making it a canvas of myriad range for depicting the most dramatic to the most subtle of emotions. Through the slightest shifting of the eyes, the positioning of the lips or the flexing of the facial muscles, a new story is created. Further, there are the infinite possibilities of the body and it’s nuances; a gesture of the arm, the preening of the neck, the placement of the hands. As a photographer who also plays the role of model, I am driven by this seemingly infinite palette of possibilities for conveying the intangible aspects of emotion. Much like poetry, these images are personal renderings of inner landscapes, or of my perceptions of the potential inner landscapes of the characters that I create.
I enjoy blurring the lines between “self” and “other”. In the early stages of my work, I was very focused on character development and physical transformation. When I first began experimenting with self-portraiture, my focus was on attempting to create the most varied characters possible. I wanted to see how far and how drastically I could alter my own image, because I was not setting out to take autobiographical photographs. Those early photographs were very simple and theatrical. I rarely show them, but they represent the roots where this journey into conceptual self portraiture began.
Having grown rather reclusive over the past handful of years, being the model, stylist and photographer became a natural progression. It was not something that I had planned, nor did I ever expect to be a “self portraitist”. I realize now that many elements of my life combined to bring me to this work. I had spent a lot of time in my youth in front of the camera as a model and it was there I realized that, from a photogenic perspective, my face has a very chameleon-like quality. Having a passion for makeup arts and theatrical styling, I am able to combine all of these elements in order to use myself as a prop for my photographs. I have always preferred working alone and I also come from a long line of artists with a history of keeping odd hours while creating. I half-jokingly blame my genes for my frequent 3 AM creative jolts, yet since I am the protagonist in all of my work, I am able to experiment with my ideas right away.
I turned the camera on myself not only because it happened to be a convenient evolution, but because I am drawn to this work as a practice in the deconstruction of identity; both self-identity and the perception of “other”. Through this work, I often end up empathizing with qualities and stories that I view as separate from myself. Yet, more often than not lately, I realize that I am sometimes a part of these stories on levels that are often entirely unconscious. My perspective is beginning to shift and it is becoming both horrifying and amazing in those moments when I realize that I have tried to tell a story and without my intending to, the story is my own on very subconscious and personal levels. With my Hypnagogia series for example, a lot of time went by before I realized and/or acknowledged that every one of those images is deeply personal in some way. This is not the case with all of my images, but I am allowing myself to recognize subconscious reflection in my work. I have experienced this sort of symbiosis in poetry before, but it never occurred to me that a still image could be capable of the same.
chewing the lips of twilight
with tongues of gold and azure,
candles strip their lungs of light
and tie them to a mirror
I no longer recognize a face
since they mistook the looking glass for skin
and all their ashen breaths erase
the space where eyes reflected in.
(Excerpt from Sentences)
I had initially felt a very strong sense of vulnerability when my photographs were beginning to get published and exhibited. One of the stigmas attached to self-portraiture can be the idea of narcissism or vanity and in the beginning I struggled with the presentation of this work as self portraiture, because it is precisely the place of “stepping outside of the ego” that I work from. I had once considered not even referencing my images as self portraiture, but I had considered it far too long after my work became known. While trying to define my work socially and off-the-cuff without the images on-hand, I sometimes felt that the inquirer imagined that I spent my days photographing myself snapshot-style as “Kalliope” as they contemplated the size of my ego and/or delusional behavior. In retrospect, I laugh at those awkward attempts at explaining what I do and this is why “I am not a photographer or a narcissist. I am an artist with a camera.” is the first line of my artist statement.
I now embrace the act of creating self-portraiture and the word self-portrait. I realize that ultimately, these are personal and subjective expressions which are going to be viewed objectively once they are put out into the world. Like the objective lens in photography which gathers light to form something tangible, the most I can hope for as an artist is that my work may sometimes trigger an emotional response from the viewer or that they may be engaged by the story line. I often try to compose the scenes from the perspective of a voyeur in order to invite the eye on a journey through a keyhole, as if glimpsing a moment that perhaps should not be seen.
I have been writing poetry since I was five years old. Frequently veering off into other art forms (mixed media, performance art, etc.), I have always returned to poetry as my main channel. I write often and I have a large volume of poetry completed over the past year which I am currently revising. I see many similarities in the written word and still image when it comes to the projection of one’s own subconscious. Often, the understanding of what or why I am writing or creating does not dawn on me until the project is finished or abandoned. There is an almost mystical element to it and I have talked to many other artists who experience the same thing. For example, I spent a year working on a volume of poetry which I thought was about one subject only to find out it is about something else entirely.
When I was younger, I engaged in different writing styles and was very enthusiastic about sharing and publishing it. For awhile now, writing has become a more personal endeavor. For some reason, the sharing of my writing began to feel too vulnerable. I have described it as the feeling of cutting open ones own veins in the town square. I am someone who has had to make great efforts to put my work out for other eyes to see, I think this is because on one level I feel the frustrations of never being able to accurately convey what it is I want to convey. We have all of these modes of expressing the intangible through art, but I think that some of us who have this almost crippling passion at times, can become frustrated by the limitations of the art itself. This subject itself runs through of a lot of my poetry.
the heart does not speak of beats
time and tide sway and dictate
the whittling of a day
in blue advances and retreats;
some day, we will be free.
we are mirrors broken,
all and one,
throwing crooked veins of light
against the sun.
in my garden bower,
a heliotrope throws itself to the ground.
I cannot tell you the taste of this;
love is an animal that eats the tongue and never makes a sound.
The irony is that I am metaphorically writing with my own skin in my self portraits, because many of the themes that I write on seem to get subconsciously filtered down into the photographs. These themes are often dark on the surface, perhaps easily misconstrued as nightmarish, sad or morbid. But, the place I am coming from is usually very optimistic. I have a constant, sometimes painful awareness of the brevity of life, the passing of time and the fragility of the human heart. I am almost always compelled, both in the shoot and in the post-processing, to create characters who have a sense of timelessness about them. Some of my imagery may appear dark, and some of it is indeed intended to be nightmarish, but the majority of my themes are pointing to our mortality and the fragile nature of being human. I want to visually explore all of the aspects of being human and the masks we wear; beauty and beast, angel and shadow side. I do not view these photographs as images of myself. To me, they are just portraits from this strange theater of life, emotion and time.
there is a space between the dream
where emptiness is sewn;
cold fossils drawn up by a seam
connecting earth and bone.
a ghost taps poems upon a rock
to bake their valleys in the heat;
small veins of milk, packed thick with chalk
casting white shadows on a sheet.
he mocks me by his flight.
time is heavy, flesh is rock,
blood is a lock built in the night
and set inside a clock.
from sanguine chambers banished,
a wrist draws a line of impasse
on the map of its own hand.
like this a life will languish:
a ghost inside an hourglass
suckling the bones of sand.
(Excerpt from The Sandglass)
Please visit Kalliope Amorphous website for more