I Have Something To Tell You
“For beauty is nothing but the onset of terror
we’re still just able to bear.”
I believe that one of photography’s greatest allies is memory, whether it is personal or collective, real or imagined. The illusion of the realism of photography has the potential to access emotions bound to memories, sometimes causing extreme physical reactions, at other times a nagging unease or the warm sensation of pleasure.
When I tested positive for HIV and was diagnosed with AIDS, I had an extreme physical reaction whenever I thought about having to tell my friends and family. Looking at this reaction more closely, I realized that it was the same reaction I had as a kid whenever I had to disclose something uncomfortable to my parents, fearing rejection or even abandonment if larger secrets were revealed.
It occurred to me that it might be possible to overcome this paralyzing fear by photographing my friends as I told them about my diagnosis. I invited each friend to come to my studio to have their picture taken, a simple head shot for a new project. They weren’t given any other information. For a backdrop I used the curtains from the living room of the house I grew up in. I put everyone through the same routine, creating a formal process that proved to be transformative. At the beginning of each shoot I would start by saying, “I have something to tell you”.
Each sitter’s reaction was unique depending upon their own experience of loss, illness and death, creating a portrait of unguarded, unsettling honesty. As a collective, the body of work speaks to the universal experience. The phrase “I have something to tell you” is often the preface for life-altering disclosures: pregnancies, deaths, love affairs, illnesses of all kinds, winning the lottery. The phrase becomes a kind of mile-marker in a life, delineating what came before from what comes after.
I printed the photographs on glossy paper for several different reasons. First because the surface is reflective, often creating a glare that distracts from seeing the actual image, not unlike what we do as humans creating facades to distract from what lies beneath. Also, the surface is extremely fragile. Scratches on the surface are like scars on a human body, speaking to the experiences of life that a photo has as an object.
While these photos are probably the worst pictures ever taken of my friends, they are undoubtedly the most beautiful.