trans·mu·ta·tion

Please note this entry is in process and is a living document. I will be returning to it over the next several weeks to evolve its meaning and add more contact sheets/video documentation.

Start from the simple premise that everything is about to change and you won’t be far off from what happened.

I ‘m not going to attribute my success or feelings of positivity to my diagnosis of HIV. When people say “HIV is a gift” I want to slap them and puke. HIV is not a “gift”. It can be a catalyst, a wake-up call, or even the fruition of a belief system, but it is not a “gift”. It’s also not a diagnosis of death like it was when I was 18. Getting past the initial PTSD was difficult, but I knew I did not want to spend the rest of my life in that well of pain. HIV is, however, something that one has to survive and in order to do that, I had to allow the toxic medicine to transmutate my body and ultimately my mind.

Me. Deep in the pain.
Looking outwards for help.

Like nuclear fusion transforming an object, I was being pumped full of chemicals to change HIV to a non-reactive form. Undetectable. The human form translated at a cellular level. My body fat migrates. My body weakened. My mental capacity was absorbed by the energy required to fight HIV. I was powerless, or so I thought.

The truth for me was I would need to allow the process to occur. Regardless of what I wanted the universe and the medicines were conspiring and I needed to practice acceptance. I was sick, but I didn’t need to dive into the deep end anymore. I had suffered enough and now it was time to make a choice.

My choice is to live and create. I hadn’t given up totally. I was using my art to find my way. The process of activating my creativity had been the only salvation. I was literally clinging to my art, my family, and friends like a life raft. But I needed to pull myself back up. I changed my mind because I didn’t want to fight anymore. My capacity to suffer is endless, but my capacity to create is not. Only one could survive.

This series is about outside forces that create the opportunity for change, what we do to connect the mental and physical, and the person who emerges. If we are powerless how do we find our potential? I asked my models to explore the mental and physical boundaries of the surface I perched them on. Close your eyes. Imagine the camera above you has the power to change your physical being and your only weapon is your mind. You can project an image of who you are going to be and the camera will capture the struggle. We are left with these images to document their transformations. What does the model feel when they see the evidence? What do we believe their struggle to be? Can we see ourselves in their pain, joy, tension, release, and humanity?

The catalyst to transform here is the opportunity to share this experience between artist and subject. It’s emerging from a cocoon. It’s a seed breaking wide open and rooting in reality. I am all these things. I am my pain, suffering, anger, and disappointment. I am also my happiness, my creativity, my love, my laughter, my smile, my desire, and my connection to my physical self.

The next step is to add me into the mix. Cross that threshold of fear I asked my models to cross. Photography myself nude in transmutation. Deal with the changing appearance of my body due to the HIV medicines. Demonstrate my willingness to allow that physical change to be an opportunity for mental change.

What I was not planning on was the level of intimacy I’d be engaged in with my camera and my models. After hearing from the models about what the experience was like for them, I decided to send some questions back to them in hopes of including their point of view in the project.

Transmutation is the experience of being biologically changed by outside forces.

  • Thinking about how you felt during the modeling session, what were the outside forces affecting how you responded to the camera?
  • What were you feeling during the modeling session?
  • After you left the modeling session what were you feeling? Did new feelings come up as a result of the session?
  • How did you feel once you saw the sketch of the photos I sent you?
  • Did seeing your images in social media affect you in any way?

En Espanol

Hola – Estoy atando algunos cabos sueltos sobre el proyecto Transmutación para descubrir cómo voy a usar todo esto de una manera más concreta. ¿Puedes hacerme un favor y responder a estas preguntas? Por favor, no se apresure y reflexione sobre toda la experiencia de modelar en este contexto. ………La transmutación es la experiencia de ser cambiado biológicamente por fuerzas externas. Por ejemplo, para mí, el contexto era el VIH, los medicamentos, los efectos secundarios físicos y emocionales, y cómo estoy aceptando todos los cambios.
Preguntas:

  • Pensando en cómo te sentiste durante la sesión de modelado, ¿cuáles fueron las fuerzas externas que afectaron cómo respondiste a la cámara?
  • ¿Qué sentiste durante la sesión de modelaje?
  • Después de que saliste de la sesión de modelaje, ¿qué sentiste? ¿Surgieron nuevos sentimientos como resultado de la sesión?
  • ¿Cómo te sentiste cuando viste el boceto de las fotos que te envié?
  • ¿Ver tus imágenes en los medios sociales te afectó de alguna manera?

Si es posible, me gustaría recibir sus respuestas a finales de la próxima semana en mi dirección de correo electrónico o en el mensajero de facebook para que sea más fácil de transponer en otros formatos ( XXXX@gmail.com).

Model Micheal (myself)

Turn that camera on myself and kaboom, the awareness of transmutation increases significantly. Although the camera was on a tripod, relied on a remote, a stack of books to balance it over the balcony, and an immense amount of patience, it was technically easier than I had thought it would be. The hard part would be releasing the judgment of my body that triggered laughing, crying, and eventually, acceptance.

Thinking about how you felt during the modeling session, what were the outside forces affecting how you responded to the camera? 

I could not release the judgment I was feeling about my own body. After losing so much weight over 3 months due to the medicines I thought I would feel freer. The reality was all the feelings of self-loathing were waiting for me. I was dialoguing with myself during the photos about the things I could not change about my body. I was telling myself how important it was for me to be able to complete the circle of the project and how I needed to honor the experience of my models by having a parallel experience. There were two cameras; the camera above my head and the camera live broadcasting on Instagram. It seems a little incongruent to be scared of my body and to be live broadcasting, but other models had done it and I wanted to walk in their footsteps. So the forces of my mind, the judgments of the audience, and the indisputable reality of the camera were all forces working on changing my physical being. I visualized those forces as energy that moved my body. I think that came out in the final photos. 

What were you feeling during the modeling session? Scared you’d see my body as I see my body. I was recalling the photo I took (above) a few months ago when I was at my worst. Suicidal. I was comparing how I had been feeling recently and the distance between the two. At first, I cried. Then I laughed because I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to live when I took the previous photo and so much had transpired. A full range of emotions flowed through me during the session. It was a very emotional experience.

After you left the modeling session what were you feeling? Did new feelings come up as a result of the session? Well, I left to my upper loft to look at the photos and create the sketch below. At first, I felt quite critical of the folds in my stomach and the flaws I felt the photos revealed. I became frustrated because I thought I should look better after losing this weight. I heard that voice in my head criticizing every aspect of the photos, but I decided to allow all this to flow through me and try to create beauty from the judgments. That was a new thing for me to mold myself around the negative idea in a way that would smother it out of existence. I felt freer. 

How did you feel once you saw the sketch of the photos I sent you? I was relieved that the editing allowed me to see myself as worthy of the photo. Sounds horrible to speak of myself this way, but again the transmutation process had become the American Express without limits I needed to make changes in the way I see myself. When I see the sketch I can’t not compare them to the beauty I saw in my models, the parallels, and therefore the beauty of myself. It released another torrent of tears, but tears of joy and relief. 

Did seeing your images in social media affect you in any way? At typing this I have only released this on facebook in my personal profile. Partially due to the late hour and wanting to share it in a time zone that people I want to share it with specifically will see it. The other part is the fear of judgment I might get from my audience. Possible not probable attention as my therapist and I keep discussing. My mind is all about ‘possible’ and I am working on identifying ‘probable’ to reduce the effects the nearly constant negative dialogue in my head. So, now I stand perched over the send button to post my image on Instagram. I am still nervous, but at the same time, I feel connected to letting this go. 

Please note this is a sketch and those of you who feel necessary to send me emails or post about Photoshop techniques are really missing the point. 🙂

Model Martin:

THINKING ABOUT HOW I FELT DURING THE MODELING SESSION.

I had so many feelings involved.

OUTSIDE FORCES AFFECTING HOW I RESPONDED TO THE CAMERA…
Absolutely, I love you a lot and of course before the session when we were talking a little bit about some stigma you were passing through but all the exposure you are having due to this big health and lifestyle change. The emotions reflected on your art work but this special meaning on this collection in particular, make me explote my joy feelings.                                I put myself totally in your shoes, thinking like If It was me. Also, the political moment we are passing through in Mexico and in the World, the huge advances done for the LGBTTTIQ+ Community and at the same time the way bad governments and corrupt homophobic entities are tearing apart human rights that took for ever to get placed as a normal benefit, people who even died to make it happen. 

The jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria actions and in some other countries where being gay is not just forbidden but death penalty.

WHAT WERE MY FEELINGS DURING THE MODELING SESSION?  
Of course all the anger, impotence, love, injustices, hate, came to my mind while letting my body express and at the same time my thought was: Martin, there is Hope, let´s just keep working on achieving all this LGBTTTIQ+ Equity Rights we all deserve to have.

AFTER I LEFT THE MODELING SESSION, WHAT WAS MY FEELING?
I was very surprise that i have been modeling since I was 18, now I am 50, and this is the first time that after a photo shooting I feel so exhausted, after analyzing the whole journey, I totally understand that it was so many feelings involved, so much love and anger and more that took a lot of my own energy out.

DID NEW FEELINGS CAME UP AS A RESULT OF THE SESSION?
Absolutely, there was a huge release, also my gratitude to Micheal for the honor to be part of such amazing work that goes beyond the art itself.

HOW DID I FELT ONCE I SAW THE SKETCH ON THE PHOTOS YOU SENT TO ME?
Something very interesting happened after this modeling opportunity for this photo shooting: I got out of myself centered of the camera lens and I turned into a critical objective, a spectator with my senses fully open to all. Right after the session was finished, Micheal took some time to share with me a fast forward of the pictures. My senses were on the skin so I was very sensitive to everything. Looking at the images captured by the lens of Micheal´s camera, I started to have a feeling that I felt inside of the sensation of sadness. There was a moment that I wanted to cry. That was something that this body expression was transmitting to me.

DID SEEING MY IMAGES IN SOCIAL MEDIA AFFECTED ME IN ANY WAY?
Again, my gratitude forever to Micheal for considering me to be one of his models for this beautiful collection. A feeling of of inner peace and a special hope that the work of each one of the persons involved in this art & love work, reach people´s feelings to cause emotions to change their lives to better human beings.

Martin Sketch

Model: Jaime

Thinking about how you felt during the modeling session, what were the outside forces affecting how you responded to the camera?

Knowing that professionally I rely very heavily on the way I am perceived. I admit it made me pause to think this would be public and possibly seen by either my students or my patients; however, I also realized that it would be a good way to teach by example. 

 What were you feeling during the modeling session?

I started off feeling pretty self-conscious and awkward. I have never been very confident in my body and, especially, in the way I look in pictures, so it took me a while to get comfortable enough to get into the poses that were requested. Happily, there were two people in the session that I love very much and that made the whole experience much easier to digest.

After you left the modeling session what were you feeling? Did new feelings come up as a result of the session?

I felt more empowered concerning my self-image. I was more willing to see the results and have them published to an audience beyond my control. When I saw some of the photos that came out of it, I had a feeling of relief and pride in the way I look.

How did you feel once you saw the sketch of the photos I sent you?

Excited and proud. I was pretty happy with the result. I wanted to keep some of them and publish them for the people close to me, to share the experience and the change in my perception.

Did seeing your images in social media affect you in any way?

I haven’t seen them.

Jaime Sketch

Model Thomas:

I wanted to respond as naturally as possible but I needed to overcome my fear of being naked in front of the camera and my fear that people who know me might see these images. As a 55 year old man, I don’t have a model’s body and I don’t work out as much as I should. I was paranoid that I would look ridiculous and out of shape. But I also have a counter-fear of avoiding new experiences that make me feel uncomfortable and as a consequence not growing and evolving spiritually and emotionally, betraying who I really am and can potentially be. So I wanted to confront my fears and break through. During the session, all I tried to focus on was moving my body as fluidly as possible, using all the space including the table’s edges and showing my body honestly. As I’ve often done in my life, I used substances (pot and wine) to allay the quaking feeling and to temporarily shut down the voice of my biggest critic (me). It allowed me to move as if in a dream, to feel free and unencumbered and to just allow my inner instincts to take over.

What were you feeling during the modeling session?

Like I was in a dream. I could here the camera clicking away and once in a while Michael’s encouragement (“that’s nice”, “I love what you’re doing with the colors”, “nice!!”, etc.). The clicking became a rhythm that filled my mind and marked my movements. I could use the beats to close out the voices in my mind. I felt free, alive. And quite honestly, beautiful. I felt like I was the center of someone’s world, focusing entirely on me and taking me all in. I was allowing it and I was enjoying it. It was so liberating, I’d never felt that way before.

After you left the modeling session, what were you feeling? Did new feelings come up as a result of the session?

Immediately after the session, I was still feeling a bit light-headed and wondering if I would regret what I’d done. If I would ask Michael to please not show the images. But when Michael showed me the pictures on his computer, I was overwhelmed. Far from looking pornographic or embarrassing, the images were captivating! The way the colors flowed across my body. My body looked great. I felt like I was offering a different point of view, something else, something seasoned, tougher, but still beautiful. Leaving the session, I was immensely proud of myself for having pushed through my anxiety and accomplishing something I’ve always wanted to do. Instead of fearing what the final product would look like, I found myself looking forward to seeing it!

How did you feel once you saw the sketch of the photos I sent you?

The photos were extraordinary! They far exceeded my expectations. The way Michael transformed the images, I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Here I was worried about the public seeing my naked body, and now I’m sending the photos off to my family and friends, my brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, etc.

Did seeing your images on social media affect you in any way?

Before the shoot, I was very nervous about how family, friends, coworkers, etc. would react. But after seeing the final result, I published them myself on my Facebook, Messenger and Instagram accounts. The reactions have all been positive, and I feel like I’ve broken through a barrier that I’ve had internally all these years. I feel very grateful for having participated in Michael’s project.

Model Thomas

Videos

From my session with Julio.
From my session with Miguel.
My session with Jaime (assisted by Marco)
My session with Marco (assisted by Jaime)

Contact Sheets

Please note this entry is in process and is a living document. I will be returning to it over the next several days to evolve it’s meaning.

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