Monday, May 21, 2012

A Preamble to a photograph

This is a very long preamble to a photograph.

When Amanda and I were first going out together we would spend a lot of time on the phone, talking about big real things. We don't talk on the phone anywhere nearly as much any more, and when we do talk on the phone we're more likely to be trying to figure out the logistics of where we are in the world and how we can warp space and time in order to be in the same place relatively soon than about our hearts or our lives. That's just the way things are, and when we're together, late at night, in bed, we still talk about all the big real things. 

But we used to talk on the phone. One night I said something to Amanda about my life, and beds, and the sizes of beds, and she got very quiet. I thought she was crying on the phone, which seemed odd, as I'd not said anything (to my mind) about hearts.

A week or so later, she announced on Twitter that she was writing a song. She posted photos of herself after each verse. It seemed like the whole of Twitter was cheering her on.

I got to Boston a few days later, and she played me her song, on the huge grand piano in her cramped apartment. She'd taken a tiny fragment of my life and made it into something else, a story about a couple, from joy to death, exhibited, as in a legal case or at an inquest, as a sequence of beds. I cried when she played it. 

She asked me to give it a title, because I had inspired it, and I didn't want to give it a clever title, and so I called it "The Bed Song", and the name stuck.

It's one of the songs on her new album.

She's asked a number of artists to make art to go along with the book, asked if I would do something for "The Bed Song". I thought about what I wanted to make, realised it was a sequence of five photographs, mirroring the five verses/exhibits in the song. And that, while I love taking photographs (my lomo cameras are some of my favourite possessions) I did not know how I would take these photographs...

Fortunately, a few days later there was a gathering in Barrington Illinois to honour Gene Wolfe, and my friend Kyle Cassidy was there with his beautiful actress wife Trillian. I asked Kyle if he'd like to collaborate on making art: I'd write a script, describing the images, as I would have done if I was writing a comics script. He'd take the photos. Kyle said yes. Then I told him the deadline we were on...

And that we'd need people of all ages, willing to be photographed, in couples (all but one), naked in a bed.

Kyle set off, undaunted.

Kyle is an amazing photographer. We found volunteers through friends and through Twitter. It was relatively easy to find people to pose in their twenties and thirties and forties... finding older models was harder. I was hugely pleased when my friends Samuel R. Delany and Mia Wolff agreed to pose for the last  photograph we needed. 

Many of the people who had their photos taken told Kyle that it was a life-changing experience for them, and I can believe it.

The photographs were beautiful. The sequence of photographs worked as a story. We were happy, about everything except...  Kyle had taken too many good photographs.

Each photograph was a piece of art. Amanda's doing an art book already, of the art that's been made for the album, but we desperately wanted to see Kyle's photos reproduced at the size and at the same quality as they'll be hung in the art galleries they'll be hanging in this summer, during Amanda's art tour. And we wanted the photos that weren't just part of the set of five, that would hang in the gallery and be part of the art book, to be seen.

And Amanda was putting together a Kickstarter (it's at It was going to need incentives at various levels. And if the incentive level was priced high enough then we could actually afford to make the kind of book we dreamed of -- something with the level of art and craft you'd find in the impressive oversized Taschen photo books. Although there would be significantly fewer photos than the $15,000 Helmut Newton SUMO book (but then, it also wouldn't need to come with its own display stand).

So that's what we're doing. We're making a maximum of 666 of them (to commemorate the % by which the Evening With Neil and Amanda Kickstarter exceeded its level). If the demand is less, we may make significantly less. We want copies for our models, and a few for ourselves. You'll get one if you support the Kickstarter at the $1000 level or above (so each of the 35 people hosting a house party, for example, will get a copy), and you also get all the goodies from lower levels as well.

Right now we're just finalising the specs -- Kyle wants a lock on the box (or slipcase) it comes in, for example, but we need to decide what kind of lock...

There will be photographs,  reproduced at the same size (HUGE -- the book is planned to be the same size as the recent oversized Little Nemo Sunday pages) and quality (amazing) as the actual prints. There will be an essay by me about the song, what inspired it and what it means to me. There will be the script for Kyle and the emails. There will be a reproduction of Amanda's handwritten lyrics. And we will sign it, and limit it, and I very much hope that each of the people who winds up with a copy is made very happy by it.

Of all of the things in the Kickstarter campaign, it's the most likely to ship last, because the production process of objects like this is always beset with nightmares. We want it fancy and beautiful and unique, but each fancy thing we add means there's something else that can go wrong or delay things, and that printers and bookbinders and boxmakers will simply not be able to do what we're asking, meaning we'll have to find someone who can, or wait, or send something back to be redone.

Right now, Kyle is taking the handful of last photographs for the book. And as we were talking about it, I realised, with a creeping horror, that the final photo had, inevitably, to be me and Amanda. Amanda has been in many photographs naked, has no nudity taboo that I've ever noticed. I'm English. I have a nudity taboo. 

Kyle took several shots of us in Philadelphia last week, in our hotel room. Some of them we had the covers over us, in others (the scary ones -- well, scary for me) we didn't.  I held Amanda and did my best to go to sleep and not to think about the camera on a stick far above us.

I've not seen any of the photos Kyle took of us without bedclothes, yet.  I'm nervous as hell about seeing them, but also certain that we'll find the one to be the final image, and glad it will only be in a very limited edition book. But the photo that Kyle just sent over showing Amanda and me together, under the covers, with me mostly asleep, is beautiful.

And this is it.

It's the only one of the photos that's in colour, too. I think we may use it as the image on the limitation page, the one we all sign.

And, with Kyle's permission, I'm putting it up here.

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