Inspired By Photographs

“Claire” – Photograph by Helen Alexis Yonov, 2010

A re-printing of “Inspired by Photographs” (SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2007)

As I was driving down Melrose Boulevard today on my way home after doing my tenth Pilates session, I looked to my left and saw a sign with a photograph of a woman’s legs on it and the words “WESTON at the Getty” beside it. I almost forgot to focus on the road. Edward Weston’s photography is at the Getty!

In 2004, I had a similar reaction driving west down Wilshire Boulevard when passing LACMA. I saw a sign for Diane Arbus’ photography. Again, I almost forgot to focus on the road as I looked up at the photograph and the words “DIANE ARBUS.” I think it was a few days later when my friend Leigh called me up and asked if I wanted to go to the exhibit with her and her friend, Kate. I jumped at the chance and we went to LACMA where we spent three hours walking through the different rooms filled with nearly 200 of her most significant work.

I couldn’t believe that I was seeing her work in person. Up close and personal. Not only were there rooms of her photographs, but there was a room (or two) that displayed some of her belongings, like contact sheets, cameras, letters, notebooks, and other writings. I’ve always found artist’s personal objects to be fascinating. A window into their world. A momentary glimpse at their tools, which might tell you a secret if you stand there long enough. Why did she photograph the people she did? Why did she write these words? Why, oh why, did she kill herself in 1971?

For the past six years, I have been working on a story (off and on) about a woman who is a photojournalist and so I started getting very interested in photographers and their lives. I stumbled on a couple very interesting things when I was researching my story.

First off, there is a fantastic War photographer named Lee Miller, who was the assistant and lover of Man Ray. She is one of those fierce women that makes you wonder if you could ever be truly that brave with your own life. There are so many things that I want to do with my life and I think I’m a pretty brave person, but people like Lee Miller make me feel like I am playing it safe… which in many ways I am and in many ways I’m not.

Another photographer and woman that I admire is Deborah Copaken Kogan. She wrote a book called Shutterbabe, which I was absolutely sucked into. I’ve read her book numerous times and am constantly amazed by the life this woman led. It was poetic, cinematic, raw and filled with color and life and sex and danger.

Reading about these women makes me want to pick up a camera and travel halfway across the World. Reading about these women inspires me to make sure I experience life to the fullest. And maybe I write in order to live out the types of lives these women actually had. Lives that they woke up every day to. Experiences they felt intensely.

But writing allows me to experience many lives, not just one. Writing allows me to be anyone I want to be – woman, man, child – and I don’t think I remain at my computer because I’m afraid of what could happen. I think it’s more about what I found myself in love with… and what found me… which happens to be a rather safer way to live your life…

Or is it?