A very well balanced shot. Simple. Clean. Focused. A bit on the darkish side, but hey: it's a late night study after all.
The model is laid back. In a relaxed attitude.
A beautiful woman lounging on a sofa in an office like setting. Black and white contrast.
Soft and hard edges. Contrasts to magnify her aesthetics.
And I would have left it at that.
No reason to look further.
After a first look, if the photograph has grabbed my attention, I generally look at the author's title of the piece, if for no other reason than respect for his work.
"Late night study". OK.
At that point, impossible to say whether she is the subject of the study or studying herself. The pose makes it impossible to even ascertain whether she is awake and not sleeping or dozing off, her arms at her sides.
And again, the flawlessness of her curves, the purity of the lines enhanced by the matrix of contrasts at work would have been ample justification to leave it at that.
Except I noticed her toe nail. Black. Black on whites or at least light greys.
Now why would that previously missed detail suddenly stop me from letting it go? Why does it pull me back to reconsider everything in this photo? Or more to the point, to consider everything and not just let myself be subjugated by the sheer purity of its aesthetics?
There are lots of reasons that could explain that nail. If nothing else, the fact that the model had them painted black.
Now, just to make a point clear: I believe that once a piece of art is created, it frees itself from its creator and evolves on its own. This is one of the reasons why I never take into account the authors words about a specific piece when enjoying it. It doesn't mean I do not read them, but I do not let them interfere with the immediate perception.
Why does it matter? Well in this precise case, I do not take into account what the author writes about why he titled this photograph this way. You see, the question is not really to know why something happened (the black nail or the pose) but what its effect is. To detail my thoughts, I believe Randall also had a problem with this toe nail, or more precisely with all of them, which is why we do not see them and only the one the model could not fold without altering too significantly the pose Randall had set. Again, I may be totally wrong. We'll see.
All that matters is that this literal black "contrepoint" made me look much more closely at the portrayed scene because it seems somehow unnatural. Who would paint one's toe nails (even worse, just one nail) black and leave the hands clean? If nothing else, it piques your fancy. So you look again for what else you may have missed.
First, she is sculptural. No doubt. But not in a sexually connoted way. She is naked for sure, but that's almost an aside. No aggressive nipple, a breast profile so soft it is barely distinguishable from the ribs jutting out a few inches lower.
Second, she isn't resting. Though her performance hides the strength required for her pose, it is there. And the setting isn't comfortable either.Her shoulders rest but her head is stretched at an angle and her legs and arms are in traction, her abs firm and active. She is doing something. Looking at something most probably from the setting.
Third, indeed even from afar it is clear her eyes are not closed as I first thought. She is looking at something. But what? There's nothing there really to meet her gaze, save maybe the upper left side of her left leg which she has partially crossed over.
At that point I realize that initially her pose made me think (quite unconsciously) of a classical lounging pose à la Odalisque minus the rich setting and eventual callipygian bottom. Which is probably why I thought she was resting. But there's one more difference: she doesn't look our way. She doesn't pose. Actually, that's quite striking. She seems totally oblivious to her surroundings. Is she examining herself? Her curves, the firmness of her thighs? Passing time pretending to look for the telltale signs of cellulite?
It's like we are privy to an intimate scene. A stolen glance we have taken over our shoulder at an unsuspecting "she" passing the time. Actually, she is so impervious to us (or the author of the photograph) it may well be we aren't in the same time frame... memories?
If that is so, if that is the essence of this shot, I cannot but admire the subtlety, the delicacy of the exercise. Remarkable would be more appropriate. That could also explain the choice of a so very attractive model yet subdued in its physical expression. The innate quality of such fond memories. It could also explain the lighting. Dark but not somber, and exacting the right mix of precise detail and soft exposure. Classy. Very classy.
So that's how a single black toenail led me here. Madness or luck?
Won't read it again for fear of simply deleting it; being strung out so far on a limb with so little to show for it. So please be indulgent Randall as it's shot from the hip as straight forwardly as I could.