Artist in Solitude: Sophia Diaz
an exercise in prying off the figurehead
this thing kept happening while i was staying at the house. the windows were making this crinkling, crunching sound. at first, i thought it must have been from the tapping of some closeby branch or all the misguided beetles flying into the glass. when i finally looked outside, to better understand the sound, there was only air on the other side. nothing even touched these windows. the sounds were coming from the sun, reaching deep into the wood of the house, a reminder to rid itself of all that winter water and cold. a command to simplify into itself, to embrace this warm hardening. the constant crackle of the sound created a surreal effect that i needed more of. i wanted complete submersion, to surround myself with all the crunching sounds available to me. i ate rainbow carrots with my mouth open, put a paper bag at my feet to stomp on as i typed as fast as i possibly could without jamming up the hammers on my typewriter. i rolled my neck to feel that internal crinkling, thanks crepitus, and i anthropomorphized the glass of the windows and wood of the house. to enliven an inanimate object with narrative is, perhaps, my favorite neurosis. i could have cried for the expectations put on this relationship, how can the glass ever flex and swell to meet the needs of their dynamic partner? oh! this crunching soundtrack of codependency and difference, sacrifice and love. i ate a slice of marionberry pie while sitting with my back against the window, cracking open each small seed with my front teeth, commiserating with the glass, pining for the lifestyle of the wood.
when i first entered the house, just before 11pm, i turned on all the lights; carefully flipping every switch i saw, every button pushed. i moved like a rabbit around the house, pressing myself into each corner, needing to trace the perimeter. i had to make certain that i was, indeed, alone; allowing myself to feel for any ghosts or spirits or aliens. i rubbed my chin along the black countertops, along the mantels, shower curtain, handrails. ok, maybe i didn’t physically do this, but ‘chinning’ is something that rabbits do and if that imagery had been lineated, i’m sure you would have just gone along with it. you know, i’m just a typical prey animal trying to explore and mark my territory and then write about it in prose. anyway, by the time i sat down at the long, empty table to eat my first slice of pie, my chin was incredibly sore.
i came to the house with four holders and eight sheets of hp5 already loaded, knowing that i wanted to do a series of self portraits. i made sketches in my mind of the images i could make; the clothes i could wear, the props i could hold. i decided to dedicate each holder to one particular time of the day: 12:05am, the moment of my birth twenty nine years before, 9:37am, the moment i woke up on the actual day of my birthday, 1:49pm, in order to capture some midday light, and finally 9:43pm, to document the close of the day. the technical act of preparing for these self portraits began with a clinical detachment from my body; i needed the measurements, needed to consider my body as an object in the round. I pulled the measuring tape right up to my eyes, making note of just how far forward my body leaned over the front cushions. once i had this information, this record of my body sitting on the couch, i fashioned a precarious pile to fill the void: sweatshirt, jacket, typewriter case, small stool, three books, a smashed up paper bag filled with recyclables. then, throwing my hoody over my hunched up shoulders to guard against the light, i gazed intently at my trash heap doppelganger, taking great care to ensure she was sharp and in focus.
i watched myself in the mirror for hours. practicing a variety of ways to pose for my self portraits. all this narcissism in the name of art. i pulled my face into the wildest shapes possible, my widest mouth, my most flared nostrils. i did this almost recklessly, not needing to worry about frightening anyone who could have walked in. all this mirror time amounted to a form of therapy, shamelessly staring at this culmination of what i’ve become. it’s been so hard to trust myself since coming out and into my queerness about a year ago. it was surprisingly challenging to stare into the eyes of the compulsive liar version of myself and consider how best to represent them. how much of that version of me needs to be present in this current iteration, the one that feels most honest? i would turn before the mirror, with lights on and off, in these clothes or not, then i would meander through the house, processing what i had seen. i found myself becoming distracted by the titles of the many books lining the walls of the house. all alone out there, but in many ways surrounded by all these cis-white-hetero men; how familiar. i kept returning to one title in particular, a massive white book with soft, blue lettering that elicited within me such a visceral response: ‘men, ships, and the sea.’ the words sunk into my stomach, heavy with concepts agency and power, what it means to be relevant. i never opened the book, never even touched it, but i couldn’t get the title out of my head. it had me remembering the years and years of positing myself as figurehead, a strong wooden carving of a woman, whose face would rise above or dip below the sea. so submissive, so graceful. because who needs to breathe when you’re actually made of wood and you don’t have any lungs or blood or brain. i say this as if i have managed to pry myself from the prow; though, even now, i continue to arch back onto another. same prow, different vessel. i am clinging to this new ship in hopes that it can carry me. at least the stylings have changed: all elastic bands on briefs visible, all femme tattoos, all budding astrology knowledge.
to shoot with the intrepid felt so deliciously meticulous, so completely parallel with my default mode of functioning: cripplingly thorough. regardless of our compatibility, i continuously struggled to find a rhythm through the many steps required of the camera. i had never before made images like this. the format itself demanded my full attention and intention, allowing for a welcomed intimacy with the camera. level the body, focus my trash twin, make sure the aperture blades are closed, cock the shutter, pull the dark slide on white, strike my pose, discretely press the shutter release, return the dark slide flipped to black, pull the holder, begin again. so many times, i thought i had done it all, leveled, focused, cocked. i would sit in my most performative version of me and release the shutter, only to remember i had forgotten to pull the dark slide. the recurring taunting of that thin sheet of protective plastic. i wonder now, if my portraits had been in focus, would that frustration be visible; a slightly strained reaction to the unexpected presence of that fucking dark slide. my portraits were out of focus because i was greedy for the limited light in the house. i opened my aperture all the way up, not stopping to think about the impact this had on my depth of field. the other day, a friend mentioned how strange it was that when the eye of the camera was opened at its widest capacity, it became more difficult to focus, more complex. in my attempt to get the most, i narrowed the scope of perceptible information; all these unexpected limitations brought about by overcompensation. it feels truest to show the portraits as they are, in the order in which they were shot. a soft focus documentation of the rawness of this experience.
at the house, there was no one there to pull me back out of myself. i just went deeper. trying, more and more, to trust. to give myself permission to extend into these new mediums. to willingly present this flaying open of my hyper-guarded self. to expand within the discomfort of prose, the vulnerability of large format photography. alone in the space, i wanted to drag myself out to the edge of what i felt i knew, and hurl myself over it.
i ate smoked salmon under a mounted taxidermy fish the length of the entire couch i sat upon. it felt insensitive and i actively repressed any thoughts of the previous lives of both fish, while staring out at the bay. honestly, the couch smelled a little like piss and i thought it better not to sit there for too long. there were several other couches and beds and chairs and open space throughout the house where i could have made my portraits, but this space seemed the most appropriate for an exploration in vulnerability and discomfort. this floral piss couch in front of a large window overlooking the 101, completely visible by the cute restaurant and all its patrons on the other side. ‘hi, here are my nipples and my butterscotch pudding and my eighth piece of pie and my yelling face as i manipulate the tripod at yet another height, enjoy your fish and chips!’ once, i made eye contact with a man wearing sweatpants and smoking a cigarette underneath an american flag. i was also wearing sweatpants but that was all. we stared at each other as if watching television for a minute or so. it was so strange to be real, live humans just across the street from each other but so very, very far away. dear sweet patriot, thanks for validating my great tits and reminding me that you exist and to check my assumptions because you could be the kinkiest, queerest creature around, while i ignorantly believe that you listen to the book on tape recording of ‘men, ships, and the sea’ while cleaning your guns.
now, i am away from the house, my typewriter dormant on the table in the corner as i try to rework, revise, and finish all this unruly prose. this process is simultaneously blessed and complicated by its analog beginnings; revision becomes intersensory. this tactile pulling together of pages and words in physical space has sent my brain spiralling around some elusive notion of cohesion. i change my place in order to find direction: i sit in my bed, on the basement floor, at my desk, in the vinyl booth at the dive bar down the street. i surround myself with these scraggly words; handwritten edits scratched out in purple ink, all the crispy, typewritten pages. pages filled with holes where the letters punched through, a kind of lace memory of how quickly i had banged the words out of me. when i began this prose experiment, i felt frenetic. my fingers were wet with sentences and all i could do was indulge in their sprawling potential; pound out a page, margin to margin with text. i would write and write until my wrists hurt, then walk away and through the house. i kept finding half finished projects left like breadcrumbs behind me: orange pens rolled next to a drawing waiting for color on a green couch, the avocado halved on the kitchen counter, the draft of one poem in the chair, a draft of a letter there and there and there. when i walked away from the house, the only finished work i had were the portraits.