Bed Portraits

For our latest “Finding Your Voice as a Photographer” class, we were instructed to bring in five portraits with a repeated setting. We looked at Richard Avedon’s pure white backdrops (this was on a friend’s wall growing up; experimenting with stolen alcohol from her parents’ cabinet, we’d smoosh a line of tape into her carpet leading straight to this man’s stoic gaze and I’d think “I wish that was mine, I wish I knew how to make that” — a thought I had again just Wednesday evening), Irving Penn’s tiny corner, and Rineke Djikstra’s awkward beaches. Then we were released into the world, bleary-eyed from eight hours in front of the projector screen. Go do something like this! See you Saturday!

The awesome thing about these sudden, intense assignments is that it forces you to get moving immediately. As our instructor described the assignment I was making a panicked list in my head of repeated backdrops I had easy access to; also, ideally, I wanted that access to be easy to whomever I was shooting, too, because I’d be contacting them tonight and asking if I could shoot them tomorrow and were they free for like fifteen minutes.

A field, I thought. A certain bridge. I’d go to a fabric store and buy a shitton of chiffon, I thought.

What the hell would you do with a shitton of chiffon?

Quit stifling me I’m just throwing ideas out there this is due in three days AAAGH!

What I wanted to do occurred to me as I was driving home, all dangerously distracted from the road. What room in everyone’s home makes me a little uncomfortable to enter? What room’s meaning transforms with age, from your parents’ vision of you to the very fiercely defended expression of your identity to the cluttered sterility of dormitories to a room that’s almost in disguise, meant to look like the rest of your home, but holding secrets — sexual preferences, arguments had, weapons in the closet, family planning in the drawer, sleep and its aggravated lacking, all those books you’re meaning to read if you weren’t so tired, all of those books you’re staying up reading? Where do you prefer to be unconscious?

I asked some friends (also, Grandma!) if they’d let me stop by and take their portrait — wearing their everyday clothes, on top of the covers — in their beds. I was pretty excited when they said yes.

“Are you okay with me standing on your bed? Awesome. Now maybe, show me a weird way you woke up one time.”

It’s been the most fun assignment so far. Can I take your bed portrait?

Slideshow of all bed portraits here.

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