photo of the day 12/9/2011 photo © Mark I Chester
The Hanged Man from the series Sexual Portraits & Private Acts from the Warzone, 1986-1988.
I love and feel connected to all my photographs, even going back to my most raw and technically naive images from the late 1970s. But there are particular images that stand out. That somehow by themselves can stand as a metaphor for all of my work. The Hanged Man is one of those magical images.
There are some secrets about this photograph that I can't reveal, but there are other things that I can tell you. This leather fetishist contacted me out of the blue and asked if I was willing to work with him to help him turn his fantasy into a reality. He had been totally distracted by this fantasy. First he put together a leather costume under which he could be anonymous - leather jodhpurs, shiny leather boots, black uniform shirt, leather gauntlets and a leather executioner's hood that had been customized so that the eyes were no longer visible and looked like alien or bug eyes.
It was amazing. He didn't really know what he was doing or what he was moving towards. He had done all of this intuitively and rather innocently believing that if he continued on his path that somehow this fantasy would actualize itself. A kind of 'if you build it, they will come' attitude. And then he pulled out these polaroids. First there were polaroids of a wooden male form, like those used by sketchers for modeling, but all the figures were hanging by a chain from various body parts. In one the form was hanging from a foot, but in another, it was hanging from a chain around the waist. And then he pulled out the polaroids where he had continued this exploration, but he started using himself as the form that was hanging from the chain. The one that I liked the best was somewhat similar to the tarot card, The Hanged Man, a card that I had always felt connected to, except that in his study the figure was laying on a surface and not really hanging.
I needed an extra pair of hands to do this shoot, so I contacted Cleo Dubois and she agreed to work behind the scenes. Because we needed connection points in the ceiling, I cleared out part of my playroom, hung paper to create a kind of backdrop and connected a come-along in order to securely lift him off the ground. He started by laying on my bondage box with one booted foot lifted up by chains. But the images were lacking power because there really was no tension. And so began this game where I kept encouraging him to slide off the box and really hang by his foot. It was a game of inches. First he agreed to be pulled up father. Then it was to slide forward a bit. Then let go of the box with one hand. In the end, I wasn't able to get him to let go of the second hand with which he held tightly onto the box. But it is one of those funny things. While I didn't get him to go all the way, the place he stopped ended up being just perfect.
There are many connections between the leather experience and the state of consciousness described by The Hanged Man card in the tarot. It is about "suspending" belief, looking at the world in a new way, knowing that after this experience that you will be changed for all time. It is not a moment for action, as much as a moment of revelation, a time to just soak up this new world that you had never seen before in just this way. Change is coming.
But what you don't know and what I never told him is that I started suspending myself upside down by my feet in my early teens. I was trying to duplicate something I had seen in a movie and then later in a book that documented the "Tortures and Torments of the Christian Martyrs." I would go down to the basement when no one was home, move the ping pong table so that it was under the ceiling beams, tie my feet together with cotton rope and throw the rope over the beam. I would then inch by inch slide off the table until I was hanging upside down and swinging in the air. I would tie off the rope and then I would come to some sort of physical, emotional and sexual explosion. <eg> It was insane. I knew it was insane. I knew that my parents would literally think I was insane if they ever found out. And yet it felt so insanely good in ways that I still can't explain. Like The Hanged Man, it was this strange paradox in which the world was literally turned upside down and I came away having been changed forever.