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Unnatural Acts with Blood

JoyriderThis is a different sort of tutorial. I will cover the technical aspects of creating this image, quickly, because they do matter. But the point of this tutorial is to think about placing technique in the service of vision and message.

The Technical Side

I'd been thinking for a while about using a nude from Poser in a natural setting, but without too many specific images or themes in mind. Then I came across this macrophotograph of a hibiscus among a box of old slides, and things came together very quickly. I found the photo in mid-afternoon, and had a completed image before the end of the evening.

I used Photoshop for scanning and touch-up, then exported the image to Poser, where I included it as a background. This made it possible to scale and pose the figure, although to complete the work in Poser, I had to render and export against a black background. I brought this image back into Photoshop, deleted the background, and placed the figure within the flower (something that Poser could not do). This was largely a matter of erasing parts of her body so that the flower would appear to be hiding parts of her. The obvious part is the left leg, which is only slightly visible between petals. However, note also the left hand, raised above the head. It was cupped in Poser, with the fingers and part of the palm erased in Photoshop to give the appearance of gripping a petal. I also used an adjustment layer to give the cold color to her.

Then it was export time again. The blood was added in Painter, using the liquid metal tool. This created a floater, which is Painter's equivalent to a layer. Saving in Photoshop format preserved the layer, so that I could go back to Photoshop and use adjustment layers (grouped with the metal layers) to set the color and and adjust levels to brighten the metal a bit, completing a simulation of blood on the flower.

Joyrider figure from Poser
Hibiscus center

The Vision Thing

All of this was done for a reason.

I hope that this is a strong image. It meets some basic qualifications: there are only a few elements (flower, figure, blood), and each is attention-getting in its own way. The hard part is to bring them all together in such a way as to express a single idea.

Eroticism aside, nudity carries multiple strong messages. Poser's "ideal" female nude is slender and athletic, the kind of body that comes first from good genetics, but also takes a lot of effort to develop and maintain. This indicates considerable self-absorption, along with the suggestion of youth. It's hard to have a body like this and not be aware of it, let alone being aware of its power to seduce, and the careless flaunting of that power is a subliminal consideration in this image.

Besides being beautiful and a symbol of universal beauty, a flower is also a sexual organ of plants. Few things can bring this into focus as well as an extreme close-up photograph; one has to get close enough not only to lose the overall shape and identity of the flower, but also to bring out a focus on its "intimate" inner parts. The truly sexual parts of the flower are not particularly sexual to us, and they aren't included in this image. What matters are the delicacy and structure, as well as the intrigue of seeing that which we normally do not see. It is a sort of voyeurism, although no one really knows whether the flower feels violated.

Blood brings with it a host of messages, especially when we see it as the shedding of blood. We think of injury and violation, of loss, of fragility. We're not supposed to bleed. And yet blood is inextricably linked with female human sexuality. Reproduction has its messy side, as well as its risk to the life of mother and child. Unexpected blood is often a sign that something is wrong.

There is a sexual aspect to all of the components of the image, and yet sexuality is not the pure focus of the message; like the pieces of the image, it's a path to the message.

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Joyrider posed in flower
Blood from a flower
Seeing blood

Each pairing of components also contains pieces of the puzzle.

A flower is a flower. We, you and I as human beings, don't belong there. Bees, ants, and other insects belong there, but a human being inside a flower is a violation first of our sense of scale, but even more of our sense of place. What is she doing in there, anyway?

The image is called "joyrider," and that's exactly what she's doing here. She's out of place. She's naked and flaunting it. This is pure, selfish, headstrong rebellion, an animal pleasure in violating rules. To the extent that it is careless of social considerations or of any other consequences, it is also a rather cold act, which the color and hairlessness emphasize. She may be having fun, but some of the rest of us may find it offensive. Offensive enough that we forget the sins of our own youth? Speak for yourself.

What about the bleeding flower? Flowers don't bleed, at least they don't bleed red, animal blood. I used blood for its human connection, the feelings that it brings up in us. These do connect with the flower, because the figure could indeed be causing injury. Note that the blood on the center stalk flows from creases in the flower, and that the figure pulling on the petal with her hand could stress those creases and perhaps open a wound. The lower wound could perhaps have been caused by a swinging leg. The blood adds to the sense of violation.

Is the figure aware of the blood? Yes, and this is the crux of the image.

What to do with the face, and the eyes in particular, is one of the issues in working with nudes. This often marks the difference between an erotic and a "serious" image. Whatever the figure was doing the moment before, her head is now turned toward the first blood to appear in her range of vision. She is looking over her shoulder, away from us, away from herself. For most of us, the next action would be a full-body turn, to focus our attention on the blood and its source.

Will she also turn to see? We don't know. She might, and that's the point. She is at the point of awareness of consequences; what remains to be seen is whether she will care.

The joyride is over. "She's dead, Jim."

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No, I don't always go through this kind of thought process when creating an image, or writing a story. Some images exist for their own sake, and that's fine as well. But for things like an awakening of awareness, meaning is effectively conveyed through subtlety and indirection. The backward glance is the real key, and it is very understated compared to the blatant, eye-catching nudity, or the blood running down the flower. I've enjoyed being able to lay the real message under strong images with words, and I hope that I'm reaching the point of being able to do this visually as well. But only you can judge that.