The first time I saw this little girl’s image in Robert Mapplethorpe’s Certain People, I felt a shock startle me. I hesitated, but briefly, and then I turned the page. But the image stayed with me; haunted me. The way she appeared in my mind was provocative: she had pulled aside her dress and was flaunting herself to the camera.
My memory of her was incorrect. She is not flaunting herself. Robert Mapplethorpe captured her vulnerability and I found it disturbing. I find my own vulnerability disturbing. No. I find the behaviours of mindless adults towards vulnerable children disturbing. Looking at this photograph makes me feel like I’m walking along the edge of a cliff. At any moment the edge could crumble.
In my journal I wrote: has something happened to her or is she okay? I’d like her to be okay but I’m not sure if she is. Has someone done something to her? And there’s no way of knowing. I keep staring at the picture trying to see one way or another and it’s impossible. If something has happened to her I’ll feel distraught, gutted; if something hasn’t I’ll feel relieved. And she’s a little girl who’s grown up now. And I don’t know her. I’m shocked at the intelligence in the girl’s eyes. That pudginess characteristic of very young children. She has a vagina and a womb even at that age. It’s there, all swollen with baby fat. There’s something repulsive about it. It’s as if her vulnerability stems from that part of her.
What is vulnerability? The potential to be used. That would make tools vulnerable. Vulnerable. Soft. Accepting. Real. Alive. Gentle. Breathing with the world. Letting the world in as it is in the moment.
When I was seventeen I did two hundred situps every day in an effort to have some kind of control. I made my belly hard and flat and sometimes invited people to punch it as I tensed my abdominals, proud of the cage I’d made. “You can’t hurt me!” was what I was saying. But they couldn’t touch my heart either.
I think I’m doing something similar with my filmmaking. I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel vulnerable. The footage I transferred to the university network wasn’t there when I logged on today; I hadn’t saved it properly. I copied over footage from my mobile but there isn’t much room left; just megabytes. I feel stuck and don’t know how to move forward.
Last night I was going through some old journals and found a film idea from 2010. It’s something I really want to make but am scared to, which suggests it’s something to go towards. All sorts of blocks come up: I haven’t got the equipment I need; I haven’t got actors; who’s going to work with me without a script? But I know these are thoughts designed to keep me safe inside my comfort zone. Perhaps I need to think about the idea in terms of how I might communicate it to someone else so that they can understand it. I know that when an idea is well formed everything conspires to let it emerge.