Intro by Jennifer Beals on Men Before 10 AM:
It is not that easy to be photographed because it is not always that easy to allow oneself to be seen. Interestingly, what we wish for above all else is to be seen clearly, with the hope that what is there is somehow beautiful simply by virtue of its sheer existence. We hope that someone else’s vision of us will be commensurate to our experience of ourselves. Surely this possibility is most precarious in the early hours of the morning when we are passing through dream’s gate back into the world of “reality.” When we are coming back from that place – sleep – a place that is so intimate, second only to death or perhaps birth, who could presume to see us in all our subtle, unguarded complexity? Would we even want a stranger to greet us at dream’s door when we are so thoroughly ourselves? How do we emerge into the world? Though the gate of ivory or through the gate of horn? What rituals or happenstance take us into the day’s embrace? And who is there to greet us…and would we want them to have a camera?
When Veronique asked to photograph me for her book Women Before 10 a.m. I was undoubtedly the happiest I had ever been. I had just been married the week before in a small town in Michigan, and my husband and I decided to extend our honeymoon at a hotel not far from our house in Los Angeles. I was told Veronique wanted to photograph women before ten in the morning, without assistants, without hair and makeup, and without the usual armaments which guard the public persona like the Great Wall of China. How exciting. How utterly terrifying. Did I even want people to see me? I then thought about how important it was to circumvent the fantasies created by magazines and I agreed.
The night before Veronique arrived, I could hardly sleep. I felt like it was the night before the first day of school. I do not love being photographed, but I do love photography. I love the truth within the fiction. Sometimes when I see a fine photograph, it is so palpably sweet I can taste it in my mouth. By fine I don’t mean it is necessarily hanging in a museum, ordained by the latest curator. I mean fine as in true – as in it has life and God and a sound to it, a vibration all its own. That thing is indescribably delicious. And so, knowing I was embarking on a journey with someone who sought the truth of the thing rather that the publicist’s fiction, I was excited. And unable to sleep. What would she be like? Would she be an insatiable hunter, like so may of the photographers I had met? Or would she be impenetrably silent, like so many others? I knew she was French, and I thought she must be an intrepid soul.
I don’t remember what time she said she would arrive, but I was up by 6a.m. I am an early riser, but not that early. So I waited. And waited. I felt like I was on a first date. I remember my cat Pushkin was with me. My husband lay on the hotel bed sleeping. I took out my own camera and photographed them, and did a few self portraits in my wedding veil. Still no Veronique. I pulled on my sweat pants and went to the hotel gym and ran. And ran some more. And kept running. I like to run, but not that much.
I left the gym sweaty and only slightly wired, and there in front of me appeared a beautiful woman with long dark hair, a camera, and an exquisite sense of calm usually reserved for Persian cats. I felt such relief. Trust was born in an instant, because in that instant I realized she wasn’t a voyeur, but an explorer.
The “session” took less than half an hour. I took a shower, put on my robe, and filled with the exhaustion of relief got back into bed. Veronique saw my veil hanging on the chair and asked if I minded being photographed in it again. No, not at all. That was my life at that moment, and though re-donning the veil was a fiction, it was a fiction filled with truth. My marriage and my joy was how I was emerging from dream’s gate into life – and maybe Veronique sensed that. The only thing missing from the beautiful photograph she took is how wonderful my love smells in the morning.
What follows in this book is how these groups of men emerge from that intimate place of darkness into the day on the particular morning Veronique came to photograph them. Some, still sleeping, gaze at death’s amorous side; unencumbered by manhood, they look like boys. Some you see playing with Veronique; delighted she is there, delighted they are being regarded. Others are shy; some are deeply grounded, confident that they need not present themselves to the camera, knowing it will find them. They are all beautiful.
One of the questions the photographs seem to answer is, how do we prepare for the day? How do we prepare for life? In the smallest actions we create who we are. I love looking at the smallest detail, the smallest action – an old balloon lying on the couch, the way someone washes his hair or holds his cup. It reminds me of what the director Carl Franklin once said to me: The camera is lovingly interested in it all; the camera is interested in you. Veronique Vial is lovingly interested in it all, and she finds the truth in the fiction time and time again, like a seeker who knows where the grail is hidden.
Jennifer Beals, June 2001