|The colors of love|
Artifacts from an Italian couple’s romance form the building blocks of a new story.
|By Margot Herster / Brooklyn, New York|
|Sunday, March 5, 2006|
On our first date I was 15 and he was 17. We were high school sweethearts and, after 11 years, we married. During our teens and 20s, when most of our friends were experimenting with casual romances, we seemed too intertwined, too interdependent, and too stable. Instead of moving from person to person, we moved from place to place to find our own way to experiment with the world. We moved from our college campus to his law school town in Indiana; Chicago; Florence, Italy; back to Chicago; and then to Brooklyn.
It was in Italy, in 2002, that I conceived this project from a series of black and white photographs taken of my husband shortly after we moved there. We rented a furnished apartment on Via dei Pepi from a couple who were strangers to us. They left their personal items, including their photographs, diaries, love letters, music, dried red roses, mismatched dishes, a Kama Sutra book, and the bed they shared. Through their suggestion of daily rituals and interaction, the objects left in the apartment invited me to imagine the private interiors of the couple’s relationship. By sifting through the possessions of these strangers a story of intimacy unfolded, except this story was not made on a Hollywood set but had taken place in my own home.
Influenced by the images of my relationship on the backdrop of the artifacts left behind by the Italian couple’s romance, my photographic project evolved into an exploration of the architecture of love. I used my apartment as a set, painting walls, arranging spaces, and directing my husband as the main character of an everyday love story. The plot of this story was based on the “couples dance,” which is a term psychologists use to describe couples’ negotiations seeking closeness until it becomes smothering and eliciting distance until it feels too far. Rather than documenting our life as it happened, I referenced memories, observations of other real couples and impressions learned from media-based relationship prototypes. By sourcing these external representations, I aimed to merge our specific reality with an archetypal fictional shell painted in vibrant color.
Upon viewing the photographs I made, I realized in addition to creating a story about the couples dance, the photographic process was part of my couples dance. In my own relationship closeness was always easy but seeing our independence was sometimes a challenge. Becoming so close at such a young age — we grew up together — our influence on each other was immense, resulting in heightened confusion for me about where my individual identity ended and his began.
Behind the camera, I took control over my husband; I used him as a model. Our photographing sessions created a scenario in which I reserved power to project my own ideas onto him — to make him whatever I wanted him to be. In the pictures, I barely recognize his persona; the exertion of my control diminished his individuality. Viewing his image transformed and suspended in the photographs fostered a distance, an alternate perspective from which to understand him and his relation to me. I identified with the cycle of closeness and distance portrayed in the images, as he retreats and comes forward, and saw the parallel to our real life. In contrasting the image of him I created on film to his real life character, the interplay between our detached and connected identities resonated. I saw that while I could influence him (as I did posing him for the pictures) and he could influence me, that committing to a relationship does not encroach the ability to act as self-determined individuals making choices to dominate, recede, and compromise.
All images were made in Brooklyn, New York using a medium format camera.
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A REVIEW: The art of photographing the young and in love
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