Back in the Summer of 2011, I shot an ex-lover, Sam, during his first visit to San Francisco—both the city and the man now much changed. Much also has changed since between Sam and me: we live on opposite ends of the country; the lives we live have led us drastically away from each other; a text, at Christmas, is all that passes between us now.
Perhaps Sam would echo the words of a photographer-friend I like, who said: "It's just funny to watch what you had calculated as your forever fall away, it's funny to see what fades, and it's funny to see what stays." My friend refers to this as "a displacement of what you once valued," and for him it's a lessening, which shrinks the object of your affection to something much less esteemed...
And, yes, when I think about Sam, I can't help but pivot to loss.
But it isn't that sort of loss for me. Honestly, this displacement, what my friend's referring to, doesn't seem to refer to loss at all.
Loss sucks. Sometimes it sucks ass. But loss builds you piece by piece, too. And while I don't think there's any inherent order in it—no reason or great plan—I don't think loss is somehow empty of meaning. Sure, it's a little obvious to say that loss changes you, because, of course it does. But it can be transformative, too.
Losing a lover is a particular kind of ache. Sam and I were never boyfriends. Nor were we lovers in the share-each-other's-bed sense for very frequent or long. We were just friends who, to our collective surprise, ended up closer than we had expected: dizzying attraction crept in at the end, when it was already too late. (Though that's another story...) And losing Sam? If you ever heard of the Sortie's Paradox, I think you know what happened here: we'd miss each other, and keep missing each other, until it was only a matter of time before little distancings accumulated and enough was enough. We both became bitter, but less so because of bitterness than simply becoming engrossed with other things. Where once the ache in my body for him beat into a kind of throbbing ever-present heaviness, now that ache is replaced with the pulsing against a hollow. It's more occasional—time does that—but it's still present.
And still are the photographs.
Unless you lose a hard drive, the photographs are never really lost, either. Sam sat for me five separate times in four different places: Salt Lake City (2X), San Francisco, Brooklyn, and then Portland. (You could track the nature and affinity of our relationship by his facial expressions... Seriously, look below.) Always a little reluctant. Sometimes almost explaining his differences of aesthetic opinion. And certainly at least partially failing to hide his characteristic lack of comfort with the body I so dearly loved.
As a poet, I was always told to follow my obsessions. And I think it's good advice for photographers as well. I was obsessed with photographing Sam.
Drawn to him, again and again. Something about Sam always eluded me, as he's eluded me now, and asking him to sit for me seemed like the only way to pin him down. Good photographs are always about time (as much as they're about anything else), and I feel like I ought to have seen losing Sam coming.
I hope to work with Sam at least once more, if the fates allow. To attempt to capture a man who I assume would now be a relative stranger—the kind you half-recognize, because even two years can change everything. It may yet happen. The Sam I knew would have indulged such a thought experiment...
Photography can be transformative, too. Following obsessions can reflect back the insight that reveals yourself to yourself. The practice of it can clarify your sight.
These four black-and-white pictures of Sam, they're from the 2011 session I referenced at the beginning. It was, maybe, two or three months after he told me he loved me—though these are perhaps not the best pictures for showing it. Nevertheless, I do think they show something.