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Last week, three painters spontaneously collaborated to paint a picture of me. I haven’t been able to stop telling people about it.
Kelly Bennett, VOSD’s arts editor, asked me three questions about how it came together:
What were you expecting when you showed up to take photos of the three painters?
Honestly, I was hoping to get in and out of the assignment pretty quickly. I’m currently teaching classes on Tuesday nights at San Diego State University and I needed to get over there.
I thought the assignment sounded interesting enough — three people painting one picture. But it seemed like the kind of assignment where I’d get in, get some quick portraits of the key subjects, a few snaps of their previous work and hang out for about 10 minutes as they worked on something new. I was hoping it would all go quickly and smoothly.
How did they decide to paint you?
Richard Messenger and I stood out in the garage of Ellen Dieter’s home for quite a while talking about their previous works. We talked about the collaborative process and how the three painters become one artist through the works.
Messenger said that now I was part of that process. When someone looked at my photos of the paintings, it would be four people creating one piece of art, he said.
When Dani Dodge arrived, we walked inside to watch them paint. She asked them what they were planning to paint and they didn’t know. Messenger suggested that they should paint me. Dodge and I looked at each other and discussed it briefly.
Most of the time, as a photojournalist, I try to keep myself out of the story. But turning down their idea would have been a less honest representation of the reality of the situation. They wanted to paint me. I told them if they wanted to paint me, that was fine, but that I was going to keep doing my job and taking their pictures, documenting it as I would anything else.
What was it like to photograph people who were painting you?
I told Messenger afterward and I still think it was possibly the most interesting 15 minutes of my career.
It was like a dance. The clatter of Dodge’s hands on her laptop keyboard and the banter between the artists provided the soundtrack. And we all just moved around the room doing our respective jobs. Messenger, Dieter and Shahla Dorafshan provided the art on the wall; but I think the final product is the truly unique collaboration of five artists’ work, represented in this blog post.
I couldn’t stop staring at the painting once it was complete. It’s not a literal likeness of me, but I thought it really captured something about me and my place in the world. The brush strokes were a bit frantic, like I often am as I scamper from assignment to teaching to home life to office to more assignments. And the lines were undefined, much like my technique and my style, which is still developing every day.