Digital Photo Collage
My friend, Todd Kimmel received a liver transplant. I was asked to take what could be gruesome photos. To mark his new beginning, he wanted to document the stapled incisions.
Physically he is a striking man, very handsome. But even more notable is his size. At 6’7”, he stands extremely tall. He is not lanky or stretched into a great height. His proportions are average, simply scaled up. His presence is formidable, commanding awareness more than most people. Magically, it is never threatening. In fact the opposite — I feel safe when he is nearby.
This made what I saw all the more wrenching. Three lines radiated from his stomach. They were so incongruous that my perception was misaligned. They appeared to be an alien laying on top of his skin. Yet, I knew they were the incisions deep into his body. Size escalated my horror, projecting the vast cuts on my smaller body was inconceivable. Specs of bright metal dashed along the lines. Each of the countless staples glistened obscenely where they pinched the discolored skin. (There were 50!)
To witness my friend in a controlled freefall into pain was jarring. Intellectually I knew what he suffered saved his life. But the agony was hard for my bleeding heart to reconcile with. It is extremely difficult to see so much pain in a kind, generous soul.
But on the other hand, I was going to get a treasure trove of amazing images! The artist in me kicked in. This wouldn’t be a studio session. The deep red wall in our dining room would be the backdrop. Counter to my baseline approach, I didn’t want a color to contrast or compliment. It needed to be immersive and expansive.
Even in extreme pain he was willing to take instruction, and he allowed me to experiment. I work very much “in the moment”. I don’t construct elaborate shoots. I get what I get and allow the results to guide my further work. Luckily for him, we were done in 10 minutes.
This body of work has become a meditation on empathy, transference, protection and more. Observing the corporeal veil pulled so thin I am aware just how little is between us and hell.
I create best when I allow my subconscious to do the driving. What I found myself doing repeatedly is literally erasing his wounds. In some, I superimposed images of my own stomach on to his, almost another transplant. But I never escape his pain. These images scream of his pain.
When I get the least bit painterly, I can’t help borrowing from Francis Bacon. I am also reminded of Freda Kahlo’s work. Unlike her, I am not presenting my anguish, instead acting as a voyeur. Even though Frida Kahlo argued she wasn’t a surrealist, we (artists, art historians and devoted fans) insist on placing her within that tradition to make her riveting images more palatable. By saying her suffering wasn’t fully real does it make it approachable? Detachment and simultaneous empathy certainly provided tension in my approach.
Coming towards the end, I borrowed a line from David Bowie for a title. I took a deeper dive into the lyrics of Diamond Dogs and was intoxicated. As a whole do they mean a damn thing? I don’t know. But every line tumbles you through a maze of fully realized truths. Into the next it evaporates and is enveloped. Poetic vapors passing through. May my friend's pain finally be exhaled.
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