“Magic & Fur”

 by : Jay Kirk Writer : Jay Kirk's nonfiction has been published in Harper'sGQThe New York Times Magazine, and The Nation

 It began as a private experiment: to snare the elusive images that, in one way or another, Rene Micheli knew made up her collective personae.  Her personal menagerie of private moods and identities.  Whenever she looked in the mirror, Rene knew she was not capable of seeing who was really fully there.  That there was something hidden, parts missing, faces left unseen in the subconscious.  So she began taking pictures—cell phone images at first—to hold the images down.  To bind them, to pin them like butterflies.  To tie them up long enough to look and say, yes, that is the real me.  That is me feeling sexy.  That is me hungover.  That is me in solitude.  That is me looking dead but beautiful.


Eventually she realized she was trying to recreate experience itself.  The vast fragmented experience of being whole and real but composed of imaginary figments.  And so, as she began to invite models into her studio, she was inviting them to create experiences with her, to create unusual moods and poses.  Victorian ennui.  A movie still from a foreign film.  Jayne Eyre.  Daydream bondage.  Fantasies laced with fear.

She prefers the untrained model.  There is no training necessary to enter into a fairytale for an afternoon.  There is the camera, but there is also the unique intimacy that Micheli finds with each subject.  The subject joins her fantasy just as she enters their own.  It is a collaborative dream experience.  As if the photograph imparts a gift to the subject: as if the artist, Micheli, points out the formerly forbidden path to real beauty.


Her eye finds something in each scenario.  The images are alternatively reminiscent of old daguerreotypes, the Dutch Masters, Egon Shiele, Cindy Sherman.  She arranges, finds the most revelatory pose.  Women come to life as flowers, ethereal creatures brought up from the earth.  A young child becomes a goldfish.  There is a childlike quality, a fairybook realm, mildly sinister, that opens like an aperture inside the mind of her work.  A silent confidence exudes from her subjects.  When Micheli photographs she is as mesmerized by the space between the arms or the gesture of hands—the hands in her photographs often seem like dancers, by turns delicate, frightened, strong—as by the muted cool-grey blues and warm pinks of natural light that fill her studio like lacy cellophane.


Velvet hats, corsets, frocks, leather fringe, ascots, waistcoats, top hats, ruffs, bejeweled gowns, black ribbon, Russian fur.  “Description is revelation,” Wallace Stephens wrote.  The magic of objects, of the costumes seduce and inspire.


To Micheli, composition is the space around the body that creates a certain poetry that allows form to float over the page.  She is a believer in narrative.  Story is experience. Characters inhabit her worlds where spells are cast by the camera.  They are bound and caught and they are set free.