Seduction Photography, by Louis Shackleton

Your Narrative, Photographed

There’s a lot of pain visible.

I took one look and my heart broke.

It’s gorgeous partly because of that.

That’s what my friend Leela had to say when I showed her this self-portrait yesterday. I was surprised, really. I wasn’t intending to create a sad piece at all, and even went to great effort to get a nice hint of smile in it that I liked. This wasn’t at all about my broken heart. I was attempting to say something about the dichotomous nature of many facets of me and my life. Not really happy or sad, just a refinement of the idea and the shot I posted the other day.

She continued, when I asked her to elaborate.

I see long strands of pain, the eyes especially, chronic rather than acute pain. And some kind of awkwardly wry acceptance of it. I see strength and a kind of planted determination, and the leading edge of some kind of impending change. And deep longing.

All of those things are there, inside me, that’s completely accurate. I haven’t exactly made a secret of how I’ve been feeling. Perhaps she just knows me well, but I had made a deliberate attempt to put a bandage over my wounds for this piece. I thought maybe her fairly detailed knowledge of me and of my life was coloring her perception, projecting itself onto what was on her screen. Was it all bleeding through so badly? So I passed it around to some other friends a bit, and asked their thoughts. I pressed beyond the ‘it’s gorgeous’ sorts of compliments and reactions and began asking, “Thank you, but how does it make you feel?”

I was rather shocked with the responses. Of those who responded in any sort of meaningful way, the feelings this piece evoked were pretty close to unanimously negative. (Big shout out to those who offered their honest considerations, I love you all.)

“It unnerves me for some reason, but I cannot explain why,” said Sheila. It “makes me feel fucked up,” Aubrey told me, in part. Mirielle responded, “I feel like the smile is a lie or cover up.”

I’m not sure what to make of all that. I’ve never been one to hide my feelings, and frankly I wear them proudly on my sleeve. They’re mine, and I’m entitled to them and I’m entitled to express them freely. I don’t want to hide my feelings. Why would I? Why should I? Fuck the patriarchy.

But to be so utterly bad at covering it up for one shot?

I had no idea I was bleeding so profusely.