My third shoot of the series consisted of an impossibly heavy bathtub, 50lbs of wax, and an epic 4 hour long scrub afterwards.
When I started conceiving of the series which would turn into “Fourth Wall”, I was enamored with textures. I wanted there to be a great mixture of various textures that would each have a different feel to them. I wanted the viewer to feel as though he or she could reach in to the image and touch different layers. I wanted the walls to feel grungy, the yarn to be fuzzy, the wax to be cracked and smooth. I had so many ideas for textures, but the image that struck me as having the most potential was this one.
I was initially going to shoot this image with a black floor so that the wax would stand out even more. However, after testing it that way, I decided I couldn’t give up the natural texture of the original hardwood floors. Fun fact: I shot the series in a studio, but that studio was actually a room in an abandoned high school that has since been turned into artist studios…in a semi-abandoned ghost town, no less.
I began searching for wax that didn’t use any animal products and finally settled on soy wax, as I read that it is safe to touch skin. The hunt for the bathtub was easy; the practicality of getting it up to my second floor studio was not. I had recently finished hauling 800lbs of sand up the stairs, so not only were my legs and arms sore, I had no faith in my (or my friends) ability to lift this bathtub. I hired a couple of vets to do the lifting and they were amazing. Even those two burly men had the time of their lives trying to maneuver the tub up the stairs. After about an hour the ordeal was done (until it was time to haul it out).
Once the bathtub was in place, the wax was ordered and I had finished my testing to see what the wax would dry like and if it was safe to put on my skin, I asked my friend to come model for the image. In these situations, where you are asking someone to do something completely insane, I feel you must turn to friends first.
Several challenges presented themselves. First, the wax took some time to dry and I had to apply it in layers. Therefore, my model had to sit in the bathtub in the same position for roughly 2 hours as I continuously heated the wax, filled a pitcher, poured it, and waited for it to dry. It was a difficult process, and throughout she was getting hotter and hotter as her body heat was trapped under the warm wax. I rolled a pillow and put it under her back for support, but eventually she had to try and fall asleep to forget about the difficulty of staying still and waiting.
Another challenge was how slippery everything became. The floor was slippery, the tub was slippery, and eventually my hands felt like slick stumps. Many towels were used that day to try and remedy the situation. I put fabric over her eyes to protect her when it came time to “wax” her face. Her hair stuck to the tub when I poured it through her hair.
I remember when we were ready to shoot I finally climbed my ladder and looked down at her and the pattern the wax had created. I was filled with that amazing feeling when something you have planned for looks exactly as you had hoped. The wax was an important tool for me to communicate with. I felt it so perfectly portrayed the feeling of being trapped – stagnant, unmoving, timeless. It only took a few clicks to know it was right, especially since she couldn’t move!
I will never forget that day. We took turns holding fans over her to cool her and the wax down faster. We took turns feeding her to keep her energy up. And when I finished and it was time to get her out of the tub, I will never forget the difficulty of peeling her hair off of the side of the bathtub. When she stood up her hair made a right angle and moved perpendicular to her neck. Her hair was stiff as a board and sticking straight off of her head. I wrapped her in my best Doctor Who robe and we went out to the bathrooms. Can you imagine the sight she was to behold?
After some time scrubbing it was clear that we needed much more than a sink. She spent 4 hours that night in my bathtub trying to get the wax off. With some baking soda and dish detergent the job eventually was won, and I had a picture I was truly elated about.
This has been the most interesting piece to display because of how people feel about it. I have heard many reactions that have been quite negative to it, and I understand that entirely. It is overtly creepy and has a definite sexual nature to it (in many intended ways). But that is what I love about creating. It isn’t for praise but for conversation. Differing opinions. I am grateful that this piece could do that.
Very limited editions. Each print is offered at 42×42 inches with an edition of 2, and 8×8 inches with an edition of 3.
Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.
Model: KD Stapleton
Assistance: Kelly McGrady