The Image: Jen Davis, "Purity"

© Jen Davis, Purity, 2002

I was 23-years-old, searching for my identity and for an understanding of my body through the camera. It was my last semester in college and I had just started this series of self-portraits. I found myself at Columbia College's bookstore looking through the photo books between classes. I came to a book that had a women's naked back on the cover. In this picture there was a mirror in front of her, reflecting her body as she held up a black dress. She was looking at herself in this mirror, as her lover, who was lying in bed, was looking at her from below. There was so much psychological drama unfolding within the gaze of this one image. I was intrigued and picked up the book. Laura Letinsky, I hadn't seen this photographer's work before. I went page by page, looking as couples embraced one another, held each other in both sexual and silent moments. I was shocked by this form of exhibitionism and amount of detail.

As I stood in this bookstore, I realized what intimacy was and that it was something missing in my life. I remember suddenly feeling shame, like what I was looking at was pornographic, at least to my innocent eyes it was. These pictures transcended what I knew about sex, love and desire. I became embarrassed, however this did not stop me from looking. Rather it propelled my curiosity.

Later that week with the images still fixed in my mind, I contemplated intimacy and what this meant...I thought a lot about touch, the softness of skin, finger tips slowly rubbing up and down one's body - how could I communicate this? I wanted to make a photograph that spoke to this feeling though I was faced with a challenge of how to convey this visually. The next morning I looked at myself in the mirror after a shower and saw water drops that were left on my skin and felt the sensation of them running down the surface of my body. I thought that this could possibly make for an interesting photograph. There was something so sensual about the water. That night when I got home I set up my camera and lights, then started to bathe. The water had to be fresh on my skin when the picture was made. If I waited too long the drops would be gone. I took four sheets of film. In between each exposure I went in for more, to soak up as much water as possible on my skin and in my hair, hoping that one of the sheets of film would be successful.

Jen Davis