Familiar rituals: Collier Schorr on 'Paul's Book'

Because Paul Hameline is an artist and a professional model, he isn’t quite naive. So he can be stoned, but he doesn’t really fit the description of the stoner. He is a partner in the room, often times steering the ship, because he is interested in how his image fits with all the images that have come before him. And I am thinking about the same thing. The raw materials, skin, carpet, foreskin, thin poster paper, ashes, a phone. I’m in the room with the subject of this history and when I’m not collaborating like this, I am steering the ship, but in this case we are both wondering what it’s like to be more naive (on his part) and more (parasitical/perverse) on my part. What is it like to desire the body as well as the picture? I know sometimes I can have a sense of it — a whiff of identification that perhaps simulates being inside the image. But in general the pictures of boys I have admired are taken by men who are attracted to those boys. Paul has been there. This is not there. This is something entirely different, a space that Paul can play to those characters all the while remaining Paul, in his home, sitting on his bed and his parents’ bed. Talking to me about what a pose looks like. Showing me his parents’ taste in art and collectables. A giant horse, a falcon, a Clark. He is trying on a jacket to become another series of gestures, of leather sleeves folding around slender arms. Parts of us are both young. But they are different parts. I’m trying to understand what the goal is, as we are doing this. Is is it to get close enough for these pictures to look real. But then what is the real thing here. Is it my idea of what situations other photographers have found themselves in when they really are getting as much as they can for themselves. So that you, as a viewer, feel guilty and lucky to get into someone else’s perverse set-up. I still can’t get over or get out of my mind Larry Clark’s blow job pictures of the blond boy on his back getting blown for Larry’s camera. Or is the “real” the boy alone in his room with no one watching? Not likely. Is the real that I am a man, that I desire this boy who is performing some pretty familiar rituals. I’m trying to remember as it was some time ago. I have always seen photography as a way to impersonate. And he is undressed. I’m not exactly sure others feel that way. But my education, the written works of Isherwood and Capote and Rechy and Baldwin, even the somewhat politically loathsome Renaud Camus and his endless tricks, led me to a shadow persona, to an idea that if I dressed just so and walked just right, with my hair that short, I could blend into a room of these men who look like these pictures or take these pictures or take these boys home.

So I think that’s why I am there. But also because I really like Paul and he is my friend. And I like talking to him and relaxing in his tiny bedroom around the corner from my hotel. I am always jet-lagged when I am there so I’m sort of high. He is probably always hung over. We are both unwinding, he is undressing. At this point in the story when we are first taking pictures, he is a fit model for Balenciaga, which at that point in time was a specific identity, almost like a gogo dancer at The Pyramid. A position, if not of authority, that of proximity to a certain power. Entrée. A place where things are humming and people are making things. So some of the clothes he is wearing are payment for that work. He is wearing what is a very new uniform. It fits a new body. One like Paul’s.

One day his brother comes home. His brother is a student. He is blond, not brunette. He treats us with some disdain because we are weird and excited. I’m not sure he understands the age difference between me and Paul and me and his mother. He has a wine bottle collection and a picture of a plane in his bedroom. He has braces and he seems to view us both as frivolous and maybe dangerous. But he also wants to see what it is. He maybe wants in. We pull him in. Paul gives Edouard an army tank top to wear. We pull him in more. And so he poses. He smiles, his braces are a large silver cage that protects him. Maybe they are clear and I just remember them as silver like the wings of the plane in a frame in his room that seems only like a prop in a TV show living room. The plane is so anonymous. There isn’t much in the room to spy. Two boys’ bedrooms, next to each other, one has nothing in it and one has everything in it.Edouard is young and his blond hair really is like Anslem Kiefer straw. He reminds me of the kids I used to shoot in Germany. A million miles away from this bedroom. In some ways boys are universal, but a German kid in the country is not a Parisian boy. Paul is gentle with his brother, almost letting him shine. Paul is proud of his brother. I am with a family. Suddenly I am a grown up. After Edouard leaves, we talk. Maybe we take a few more pictures, maybe the ones with his father’s tie that has hunting shells on it. The tie is long and Paul is naked and I wouldn’t know then, that we decide to cover that nakedness. Over Instagram Direct Message we discuss this idea of showing but not showing. It’s a good time to have those conversations about pictures and what they need to offer up. How much we need to share and how much we did as a way of spending time together rather than just accumulating or documenting.

There is always a natural end to making a series of pictures and it’s not when you get to a special image, because you don’t, or don’t really see them. Or they change. It’s when you no longer want to ask someone to sit down, stand up, take your pants off, look at me, look away. You’ve asked hundreds of times and you do it over and over because you cover the waterfront.

Excerpt from 'The Runaway' by Collier Schorr, from Paul's Book, published in October 2019.
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