From the book’s introduction:

The most intimate conversation of my life, visually and spiritually, is photography. Photographic portraiture avails me the most audacious means of self-inquiry and self-expression. In the sacred spaces that my subjects and I create, I am at last myself. We are utterly present and connected, one with the other and one with all, unspeakably enthralled in an unnamable process. At its absolute best, we are joined in oneness, in spiritual union, beyond definition, convention and comprehension, where images are born in the mystical rapture of silence and space, for the love of and for the sake of art, one moment, one frame at a time. Borrowing from Alfred Stieglitz, the father of modern photography, “When I make a photograph, I make love.”
 
The act of imaging a woman’s beauty is, for me, divine grace incarnate. Intimate portraiture offers ease and emptiness, what Buddhism’s Heart Sutra offers as Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form. We are Wu Wei to Taoists, creating spontaneously and effortlessly, consciously experiencing ourselves as part of the unity of life. There is no I; there is only the act. Perhaps this mode of being is what Lao Tzu referred to when he wrote: 

“The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.
Without form there is no desire.

Read More

From the book’s introduction:
The most intimate conversation of my life, visually and spiritually, is photography. Photographic portraiture avails me the most audacious means of self-inquiry and self-expression. In the sacred spaces that my subjects and I create, I am at last myself. We are utterly present and connected, one with the other and one with all, unspeakably enthralled in an unnamable process. At its absolute best, we are joined in oneness, in spiritual union, beyond definition, convention and comprehension, where images are born in the mystical rapture of silence and space, for the love of and for the sake of art, one moment, one frame at a time. Borrowing from Alfred Stieglitz, the father of modern photography, “When I make a photograph, I make love.” The act of imaging a woman’s beauty is, for me, divine grace incarnate. Intimate portraiture offers ease and emptiness, what Buddhism’s Heart Sutra offers as Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form. We are Wu Wei to Taoists, creating spontaneously and effortlessly, consciously experiencing ourselves as part of the unity of life. There is no I; there is only the act. Perhaps this mode of being is what Lao Tzu referred to when he wrote: 
“The Tao abides in non-action,Yet nothing is left undone.If kings and lords observed this,The ten thousand things would develop naturally.If they still desired to act,They would return to the simplicity of formless substance.Without form there is no desire.[[MORE]]Without desire there is tranquility.In this way all things would be at peace.” We are presence. We are peace. In the consecrated domain of a photography session, my model is my deepest desire. She is the exquisite feminine, smothered in my own body. She is utterly vibrant. She is utterly still. I am mystified by the woman who offers herself to my lens. Enchanted.
With camera in hand, I glide into communion with divinity. The adored goddess is crowned and I revealed. In those moments, she and I are of the same essence and I revel in blissful adoration, worshipping not her, but that which she embodies – Creation itself. Charis Wilson’s writes of her husband, Edward Weston’s esteem, “He was the best listener I’ve ever met. So when he turned that vitality and receptiveness upon a woman, he made her more completely there than she had probably ever felt in her whole life.” Such is the pinnacle of presence that I imply.

I want to be quiet. I want to be alone.
With myself and with others.
Alone with my wife. Alone with my children. Alone with my friends.
Alone with my art.

How does a naked woman represent my life? My struggle?
A naked woman. 
Undressed. 
Bearing all. 
Living in dread. 
Alive. 
Unexpecting. 
At my best, my most vulnerable and accessible, am I any different than a naked woman? 
Am I a naked woman after all?

So much to fall in love with. 
The curves. 
The lines. 
The spirit. 
The joy. 
The freedom. 
The enigma. 

Read More

I want to be quiet. I want to be alone.With myself and with others.Alone with my wife. Alone with my children. Alone with my friends.Alone with my art.
How does a naked woman represent my life? My struggle?A naked woman. Undressed. Bearing all. Living in dread. Alive. Unexpecting. At my best, my most vulnerable and accessible, am I any different than a naked woman? Am I a naked woman after all?
So much to fall in love with. The curves. The lines. The spirit. The joy. The freedom. The enigma. [[MORE]] As I consider the joyous beauty, this celebration of life itself, I close my eyes and see a silhouetted shape and call it goddess of pleasure. 
Pure. Sex. An incarnation of all the senses. Miraculous, this earthly pleasure. This gift to man. And to woman. All that she is.
With eyes closed I smell heaven. Aliveness. Birth. Rising. Paradise. I hear waves of ecstasy. Awakening. Awe. I witness slow, purposeful movement — phoenix wings, an ocean’s waves, a woman’s legs and arching back and tousled hair. Life and love and pleasure and pain and questions, questions, questions. So the poet writes. Perhaps I can learn more from Neruda’s poems than from the Harvard professor. No, I can DEFINITELY learn more from Neruda’s poems, and more from Neruda himself and more still from loving — from falling in love. 
From WOMEN. From the struggle and the questions and an awakened eye.
What if my work evolved toward “pure” sex? Is that the same as pure being? The bold move is toward my unabashed expression of an insatiable thirst for the frenzied beauty of the world. The incomparable beauty of freedom of expression, that which I take way too for granted.

Matthew Alan: I’m not in a laboratory and I’m not conducting science experiments; I am creating evocative and provocative photographs of women who are naked and  I’m doing it in the same room with them at the same time. To say that they are innocent, that’s a ridiculous statement. They’re not made to be innocent. I never claimed to not be entranced, or intrigued, or mesmerized or bowled over by the power and the beauty of the sexuality of another woman. I’m taking all of that and I’m welcoming it, I’m embracing it as something that is genuine and real and good.

Pat Rogers: The question is, are you purposely encouraging the sexuality in an environment where the women can feel sexual?

Alan: Definitely!

Matthew Alan: I’m not in a laboratory and I’m not conducting science experiments; I am creating evocative and provocative photographs of women who are naked and  I’m doing it in the same room with them at the same time. To say that they are innocent, that’s a ridiculous statement. They’re not made to be innocent. I never claimed to not be entranced, or intrigued, or mesmerized or bowled over by the power and the beauty of the sexuality of another woman. I’m taking all of that and I’m welcoming it, I’m embracing it as something that is genuine and real and good.
Pat Rogers: The question is, are you purposely encouraging the sexuality in an environment where the women can feel sexual?
Alan: Definitely!

Matthew Alan: I think pornography is a lot more responsible than advertising.

Pat Rogers: It’s very clear what it is.

Alan: It’s honest.

Rogers: Now we take this middle ground, what you do, make art.

Alan: Okay, that’s a good word.

Rogers: One of the things that good art does is create images that stay with you; and they raise issues and they make you think and they make you feel and they make you reflect on your own experiences.

Alan: One personal criterion for my art is that what I create in the end is something of beauty. But beauty is a big word; it’s so culturally subjective.

Rogers: That’s okay, it can be subjective.

Alan: As long as I feel it’s beautiful than that criterion is satisfied.

Rogers: But you’re making us confront our own sexuality or making us put ourselves into the picture…instead of her. What if it was me on that bed? So do you think that that’s one of the difficulties that people are finding with your work in particular?

Alan: Don’t know, don’t care. My values are so in check, I know that what I’m doing is responsible. I know that what I am doing is not exploitive. I am so conscious of who I am and what I’m doing.

Read More

Matthew Alan: I think pornography is a lot more responsible than advertising.
Pat Rogers: It’s very clear what it is.Alan: It’s honest.Rogers: Now we take this middle ground, what you do, make art.Alan: Okay, that’s a good word.Rogers: One of the things that good art does is create images that stay with you; and they raise issues and they make you think and they make you feel and they make you reflect on your own experiences.
Alan: One personal criterion for my art is that what I create in the end is something of beauty. But beauty is a big word; it’s so culturally subjective.Rogers: That’s okay, it can be subjective.Alan: As long as I feel it’s beautiful than that criterion is satisfied.Rogers: But you’re making us confront our own sexuality or making us put ourselves into the picture…instead of her. What if it was me on that bed? So do you think that that’s one of the difficulties that people are finding with your work in particular?Alan: Don’t know, don’t care. My values are so in check, I know that what I’m doing is responsible. I know that what I am doing is not exploitive. I am so conscious of who I am and what I’m doing.[[MORE]] I’ve had the discussions at length. This interviewing process is taking it even further. Initially it was a question of, “Am I doing something wrong?” Now it’s a question of, “How good is this thing that I’m doing?”  It’s gone 180 degrees. I’m moving away from any sort of a defensive position to a place of complete confidence and celebration of something that I find to be complicated, but equally as beautiful. That will always stir some sort of controversy; it will always stir some sort of questioning.  Much more so in America than in other places.
Rogers: Yes, that’s true.Alan: But I live in America and I do need to be able to address my audience so that I can put forth a responsible…Rogers: A clear intention of what you are saying, so that way it provides a key into almost the innocence of what you are doing.Alan: Let’s not say that my work is innocent.  

Matthew Alan: There’s photographing and then there’s publishing. These are two very different ideas. When the work goes public, it feels disrespectful of the trust that exists between my model and me. I found it so interesting and painful to discover that Andrew Wyeth kept The Helga Pictures* a secret the entire time they were being made.

Pat Rogers: It’s almost like talking about your intimate life with your wife with everybody who will listen to you.
 
Alan: Exactly! The sanctity of the relationship is based on the fact that it is a private affair, and now, it’s as if I’m saying, “Okay world, let me show you what it’s like when we’re together.” I understand the value of the art to the world and no, I’m 

Read More

Matthew Alan: There’s photographing and then there’s publishing. These are two very different ideas. When the work goes public, it feels disrespectful of the trust that exists between my model and me. I found it so interesting and painful to discover that Andrew Wyeth kept The Helga Pictures* a secret the entire time they were being made.
Pat Rogers: It’s almost like talking about your intimate life with your wife with everybody who will listen to you. Alan: Exactly! The sanctity of the relationship is based on the fact that it is a private affair, and now, it’s as if I’m saying, “Okay world, let me show you what it’s like when we’re together.” I understand the value of the art to the world and no, I’m [[MORE]]not literally saying that I am going to tell you deep dark secrets about my relationship with this woman, but that’s what it feels like. And it would likely, and has been, severely misinterpreted. 
There’s a wonderful project called Post Secret by an artist named Frank Warren. People mail him handmade postcards that contain their secrets and every Sunday they’re posted on a blog. It’s actually the largest advertisement-free blog int the world! People have secrets and they have a need to share them. With Post Secret they get to do so anonymously. It’s like a virtual confessional of sorts. That’s why it’s so incredibly successful. I am thrown when I’ve been called irresponsible and selfish because I have chosen not to put that work out in the world. I think there are two clear sides to that same coin.   
Rogers: For Emma [one of Alan’s most often-photographed models], it seems very clear that the work should go out, and anything less is almost a betrayal. I think this is a much truer block in your journey as an artist. What do you do with something that is intimate and that you feel shouldn’t be shared, because it is actually betraying the relationship that facilitates the making of this art, but on the other hand, to not reveal it seems to take away from the work itself? Alan: Great question. Rogers: You've adamantly said, “I am not a photographer; This is not what I do; This is just one of the manifestations of what happens as I live my life as an artist.”  Then clearly your work is not finished, because how could it possibly capture the entire dynamic? Alan: And how willing am I to externalize all of the parts of me that are represented in my photographs, and do so with conviction?  I suppose that is the next level in my journey, as an artist and as a man.
*The Helga Pictures are a series of more than 240 paintings and drawings of German model Helga Testorf created by Andrew Wyeth between 1971 and 1985. Testorf was a neighbor of Wyeth’s and over the course of fifteen years posed for Wyeth indoors and out of doors, nude and clothed. The sessions were a secret even to their spouses. Explaining the series, Wyeth said, “The difference between me and a lot of painters is that I have to have a personal contact with my models…. I have to become enamored. Smitten. That’s what happened when I saw Helga.”  

Both Sides of Emptiness
by Matthew Alan

The threat and the promise
Of emptiness
Heads and tails of the same
Pulling and pushing
Into and out of what I know
Mystery leaves an open door
And I tumble in the void
Infinitely wondrous and terrorizing
Anything awaits me
Seeking comfort in a lounge of intangibility
Efforts in vein
I slither through webs of silken promises
And land upon my knees
Still lost
Still waiting
Still in wretched awe

Both Sides of Emptinessby Matthew AlanThe threat and the promiseOf emptinessHeads and tails of the samePulling and pushingInto and out of what I knowMystery leaves an open doorAnd I tumble in the voidInfinitely wondrous and terrorizingAnything awaits meSeeking comfort in a lounge of intangibilityEfforts in veinI slither through webs of silken promisesAnd land upon my kneesStill lostStill waitingStill in wretched awe

Sara: I specifically remember one of our shoots, Matthew came in and said “I’m in a really dark place and I think we should explore that,” and I remember being so refreshed by hearing that because our society has a tendency to say, “Everything is okay,” and you put on a smile on your face and you pretend everything is fine. He said, “I am in a really dark place, so we are going to explore dark stuff today” and it really pushed me to see if I was facing anything similar. 

In that way I thought it was very much like yoga, because one of the prime puzzle pieces of yoga is being honest with yourself on a really base level. I think so much gets caught up when we get into day-to-day responsibilities of life that we end up putting a

Read More

Sara: I specifically remember one of our shoots, Matthew came in and said “I’m in a really dark place and I think we should explore that,” and I remember being so refreshed by hearing that because our society has a tendency to say, “Everything is okay,” and you put on a smile on your face and you pretend everything is fine. He said, “I am in a really dark place, so we are going to explore dark stuff today” and it really pushed me to see if I was facing anything similar. 
In that way I thought it was very much like yoga, because one of the prime puzzle pieces of yoga is being honest with yourself on a really base level. I think so much gets caught up when we get into day-to-day responsibilities of life that we end up putting a[[MORE]] mask on, going forth and not really facing things because we are too busy. Yoga forces you to find a place of stillness and really see things. Only in seeing things can you accept what is really happening.
Shooting with Matthew is very similar in that it is just the two of you, you are completely naked and it’s just you. You really have to see yourself truthfully, not what you want other people to see, but you have to just say, “This is it, this is where I am today.” That honesty brings up a lot of peace eventually because you are free to be. You don’t have to put on any masks at all.

Pat Rogers: This picture of Janessa is a very sexual image. She’s lying on the bed and she’s got a look on her face like she’s ready to do some exploring on her own. The implication is there because of where her hand is, just above her chest where her breast starts to rise and her other hand is on…what could be edging towards her inner thigh, legs are a little bit open.  It’s clearly a sexual image, or do you think it’s erotic?

Matthew Alan: The answer to the question in this regard is yes, absolutely. Yes, I am seeing that there’s an opportunity to make a photograph that has a higher risk level, a greater level of sex in the more sex-like part of sex. So absolutely, and that’s a good thing. It’s a win-win situation: Janessa wins because she has this moment of blissful liberation. I win because hey, look 

Read More

Pat Rogers: This picture of Janessa is a very sexual image. She’s lying on the bed and she’s got a look on her face like she’s ready to do some exploring on her own. The implication is there because of where her hand is, just above her chest where her breast starts to rise and her other hand is on…what could be edging towards her inner thigh, legs are a little bit open.  It’s clearly a sexual image, or do you think it’s erotic?
Matthew Alan: The answer to the question in this regard is yes, absolutely. Yes, I am seeing that there’s an opportunity to make a photograph that has a higher risk level, a greater level of sex in the more sex-like part of sex. So absolutely, and that’s a good thing. It’s a win-win situation: Janessa wins because she has this moment of blissful liberation. I win because hey, look [[MORE]] what I get to see and photograph. And my audience wins because sex is pleasure and the potential for sex is even more pleasurable. The difference between her flopping her leg over and giving us the whole show—well that would be interesting—but the fact that her crotch is in shadow and that her hand is not in her crotch but it’s on its way, and her other hand is barely on her breast, not on her nipple…
Rogers: Right.Alan: I tell my students all the time, don’t give me a photograph of an exhalation, it’s boring. Go for the little gasp, the uh oh inhalation. Don’t give me a picture of a person already sitting, when they’re butt has already touched the chair; make the photograph of them about to sit, when their butt is about to touch the chair, that exhilarating moment just before. It’s those moments of tension and unsettledness that make for interesting pictures, like a woman who’s about to masturbate.
It’s very private. It’s hard to imagine imagine talking to the guy on line at the deli saying, “Hey, ya know, I was masturbating last night and…”Rogers: Laughing…Alan: You just can’t say that.Rogers: Let’s not go there.
Alan: But that’s an odd thing to me because you can say, “I had this incredible meal last night or I saw this great movie, or I had the most incredible glass of wine, or even I saw the most beautiful woman,” but just try, “Man, I had incredible sex last night and she did this to me and I did that to her and I had an orgasm that lasted five minutes” while the woman next to you is complaining that they forgot to put mayonaise on her sandwich. You know, who’s healthier?

Matthew Alan: It’s much easier for me to be a powerful, balanced member of a relationship when I am making a picture of a woman. I don’t feel that either of us has power over the other. Rather, I have power in some regards; she has power in other regards.  She can bowl me over with her sexuality, I can bowl her over with hypnotism. Nobody doubts it; nobody is exploiting the other. Instead, we are capitalizing on each other’s strengths. 

Pat Rogers: It’s very clear what you’re doing.

Alan: But it’s totally safe. There are no consequences to anything that anybody does or says because it is all in the context in making art. And then we go home. It’s clean,

Read More

Matthew Alan: It’s much easier for me to be a powerful, balanced member of a relationship when I am making a picture of a woman. I don’t feel that either of us has power over the other. Rather, I have power in some regards; she has power in other regards.  She can bowl me over with her sexuality, I can bowl her over with hypnotism. Nobody doubts it; nobody is exploiting the other. Instead, we are capitalizing on each other’s strengths. 
Pat Rogers: It’s very clear what you’re doing.Alan: But it’s totally safe. There are no consequences to anything that anybody does or says because it is all in the context in making art. And then we go home. It’s clean,[[MORE]] it’s beautiful and in some way, shape or form, it somehow serves as some therapeutic device. Obviously, you’ve heard that from every woman you’ve interviewed.
Rogers: Every woman.Alan: I’m only seeing her in this very narrow light. I’m not seeing her when she has cramps, or when she’s cranky, and if she is cranky I still get to capitalize on her crankiness and see it as a thing of beauty. But I’m walking out the door after a couple of hours and she can take her crankiness to her boyfriend or her husband, I don’t have to deal with it. So it’s creating this very idealized environment for me where I can explore this issue that I carried with me since I’m five.Rogers: Right.Alan: Then came adolescence. Yuck! I didn’t really have a male role model as an adolescent, someone to say, “This is what you do and this is how you go about doing it.” I was incredibly clumsy when it came to relationships with girls. At one point in my career, I thought that that’s what my work was about completely and maybe it was. I know now that it’s not about any one thing. Equally as valid is the celebration of the earthly goddess, herself. It’s interesting that I get all of that from my photographs.Rogers: It sure is!Alan: The experience of the shoot is over when I walk out the door. Something magical has happened that I don’t really understand. That’s the stuff that’s so exciting to me, that which neither of us understood or planned or intended. It came about just because of the nature of our openness and our mutual desire to have an exploration.  
Something arises, and I see it when the film comes back. When I am looking at their pictures, it is so incredibly removed from the experience. It doesn’t take me back to moments in the shoot. It’s a completely new thing; the picture is the picture, even for me, the one who made it. My work has a certain sanctity to it; the woman as a divine creature.

Matthew Alan: I didn’t really have a male role model as an adolescent, someone to say, “This is what you do and this is how you do it.” I was incredibly clumsy when it came to relationships with girls. At one point in my career, I thought that’s what my work was about completely, and maybe it was. I now know that it’s not about any one thing. Equally as valid, is the celebration of the earthly goddess, herself.  It’s interesting that I get all of that from my photographs.

Pat Rogers: Right.

Alan: Something magical has happens during my shoots that I really don’t understand. That’s the stuff that so exciting to me, that which neither of us understood or planned or intended and

Read More

Matthew Alan: I didn’t really have a male role model as an adolescent, someone to say, “This is what you do and this is how you do it.” I was incredibly clumsy when it came to relationships with girls. At one point in my career, I thought that’s what my work was about completely, and maybe it was. I now know that it’s not about any one thing. Equally as valid, is the celebration of the earthly goddess, herself.  It’s interesting that I get all of that from my photographs.
Pat Rogers: Right.Alan: Something magical has happens during my shoots that I really don’t understand. That’s the stuff that so exciting to me, that which neither of us understood or planned or intended and[[MORE]]that came about just because of that openness and that ability and that mutual desire to have an exploration. When I’m looking at the pictures, it is so incredibly removed from the experience.  It doesn’t take me back to moments in the shoot. It’s a completely new thing; the picture is the picture, even for me, the one who made it. My work has a certain sanctity to it; the woman as a divine creature. It’s not a bad thing for me to say.
Rogers: The word reverence keeps popping into my mind. Do you feel your are coming to terms with the power that women have and knowing that it’s not a negative thing, if you’ve had negative connotations before?Alan: I’m slowly coming to terms with it; what a woman chooses to do with that power and how consciously it’s wielded.Rogers: That’s true.Alan: It would be so beneficial for us as a society to have discussions like this in classrooms and at dinner tables. It would really help us to grow and mature and be a healthier society if we didn’t consider these issues to be so private and taboo. We all know people in crises who feel so blessed when they find out that they are not alone. They wind up in a support group and realize, “Hey, I’m not the only one being beaten. I’m not the only one failing every subject in school. I’m not the only one who hates God.”