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Jay Thomas Simpson
Jay Thomas Simpson
Geographic location Professional photographer, United-States
15K image views


Inner Conflict

Publication September 19, 2016 at 11:55pm, viewed 84 times

I remember the very first time I took a nude self-portrait. I had a little Sony point and shoot, I was learning and taking lots of photographs of everything, especially of my girlfriend at the time. She left for work (maybe? I don't remember now), but I was alone and curious. I've always had these insecurities that repeat on a loop in my brain. I was (still am) Painfully shy, I have Crooked teeth, skinny legs, pale skin, a skinny body, a big nose, size matters (am I Big enough, every guy wonders, trust me)? There are plenty more, but I think you get the idea, lol. Whenever I looked in the mirror, my eyes knew right where to go, it's almost like our brains see through our reflection and we focus on the flaws. I had this thought, that maybe if I took a photograph I could see myself the way someone else might see me, as a whole rather than just the flaws. So I took my clothes off, put the camera on a bookshelf in my bedroom, set the timer, ran to a spot in front of my window, and nervously waited for the beeping to stop and the shutter to close.

I only took one photograph, that was all the courage I could muster. I waited awhile, thought about deleting it, (I felt completely foolish for even taking it), but at some point that night I imported the photo to my computer. Finally, I hesitantly opened the file, the first thing I noticed was how little I actually knew about photography. The photo was really underexposed (I was standing in front of the window, blocking the light!!), it was grainy and slightly blurry. The next thing I noticed was the emotion. I know how that sounds, pretentious maybe? but I promise it's the truth. The nudity was secondary, instead, I saw these contradictions and tension written all over my face and body. The vulnerability was obvious, but I also saw Strength and Weakness, Courage and Fear, Passion and Indifference, Arrogance and Humility, I felt Guarded but completely Exposed. I sat there stunned, wondering... I still saw the flaws, I still felt insecure, I felt embarrassed for looking at myself nude, but I was overwhelmed by this unexpected story. How could all these Contradictions coexist in this one fleeting moment?

I don't think I shot another nude self-portrait for over a year, and I didn't Really start this project until I broke up with my girlfriend (almost three years later), but honestly, I could see the potential. I just knew it was about more than nudity, or sex, or exhibitionism... it was about making myself vulnerable enough to see the truth. I didn't know it then, but this project was born the moment I took that first photograph.

Fast forward a few years, and my girlfriend and I break up. I know that heartbreak and desperation and loneliness aren't unique to me, but it was the catalyst for this project. I was horrible at expressing my thoughts and emotions through conversations, so I just wallowed in self-pity and embraced the sadness with music and movies, (I had Jeff Buckley's Grace on repeat for months), I was literally Depressed. I took so many photographs of us and her, I had no desire to pick up my camera ever again, it was just another reminder of what was gone. Eventually, I just couldn't do it anymore, I couldn't keep holding everything in, I felt like I was going to break... I thought, what if I try to capture this sadness in a photograph, so I set up my camera in a now empty bedroom, and I let go. I cried, I screamed, I physically expressed the pain, I just wanted to feel Everything. I knew I had to be nude because I wanted it to reflect something as vulnerable and desperate as I felt in that moment. I don't remember how long I shot for, but when I was done, it felt like a release. It felt cathartic, it was a form of therapy. I repeated this process, maybe once a week for a couple months before I ever even imported anything to my computer. I never intended to actually share it. There was no way I could share this! As I started to shoot more and more, this project became a way to learn and grow as an Artist, a Photographer, and a Man... I was finally learning Photoshop and what the hell Aperture and shutter speed and ISO really meant and I was starting to find a way to deal with all the emotional shit I had bottled up for so long... It was Crazy, but I was Healing.

I edited one photograph that just struck me as more powerful than the rest, and I wanted so bad to share it with someone, to just talk about it, to see if what I saw and felt was real or not. So I set up a profile on Flickr and swore I'd never show my face or my penis, (those were my rules) but I had to share this work with someone, so I did. It's amazing how people connect through art, through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. For years I would gain courage, make friends, push myself to open up, then I'd freak out, delete everything and disappear. It sucked. It was such a horrible cycle of fear and uncertainty. That's one thing I really do regret, I'd simply pretend it never happened, I'd avoid the friendships I had made and I'd just feel guilt and shame, for sharing this work, then I'd feel guilt and shame and embarrassment for running away. I'd think "what the fuck are you doing??" But I kept doing it, each time I'd come back I'd stay a little longer...

This project has evolved so much over the years, in the beginning, it was all about fear and pain and sorrow, now it's simply about whatever I feel at the moment, it can be joyful or deep and depressing, or sexual or stoic, but I still have this inner conflict. Why am I doing this, why do I share it, is it necessary to reveal everything, what do other people see and feel, am I lying to myself??? Is it about attention, narcissism, is it porn, is it exhibitionism? So many doubts stem from the culture and society I grew up in, and I know from conversations with people from across the ocean that nudity and sexuality are viewed much differently here. It's hard to let go of those questions and beliefs, though, it just becomes another hurdle, another layer of guilt and fear. I think the most frustrating question for me is about male nudity and how it's perceived, there's such a stigma attached to the whole subject. There are moments where I honestly think this should be a square format series, cropped at the waist. strictly PG-13. I could probably still capture emotion and vulnerability, but then there are moments when I feel like that would be completely compromising what this project is supposed to be, an expression of absolute Vulnerability, something real, Honest, raw and even primal.

I've made so many genuine connections over the years, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel like this is the path I was meant to travel. I'm still completely unsure of what I'm sharing and why. Maybe that conflict is an essential part of the process, maybe it helps fuel the emotion, or maybe it's something I'll eventually have to figure out as I move forward as an Artist.

Anyway, thanks for allowing me the freedom to share my thoughts with you here, I wish this format had comments, I'd love to have real conversations about this subject, if any of you are at all interested in sharing your thoughts, Please don't hesitate to write, I'd like that.

Thanks again for all your support and Understanding so far, I feel lucky to have discovered this place, Thank You Christine, for sharing the link! :)

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