For this series I took the famous and controversial Vladimir Nabokov book “Lolita” as a starting point. For the first time I took a novel as my inspiration, which gave me a lot to work with in terms of symbolism and descriptions. One can indulge oneself in Nabokov’s complex tale of sexual obsession and immorality; it has an incredibly rich poetic style pregnant with puns and aesthetic alliterations, and features the most original sexual metaphors. That, in addition to the innumerable list of literary allusions that arouse visions of many interesting subjects, made this Masterpiece an extremely stimulating muse for me. This brilliant book has been written about extensively, so a lot of research was involved - which I really enjoyed.
As in my “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and my “Pele, Goddess of the Volcano” series, I am impersonating a female figure - in this case a little girl or a “nymphet” as Nabokov calls her (a term that he coined). I tried to show the little girl in all her facets.
The way I see Lolita is dualistic; on the one hand as a seductress and on the other hand as a victim. She is double-faced, or, as Lance Olsen writes in “Lolita, a Janus text”: “Lolita gazes in two directions at once (…) Like the Roman god Janus”. She has no choice but to submit to her surrogate Daddy, but at the same time possesses a power over him that is too strong for him to resist. On the one side she suffers tremendously (which makes her official name very appropriate, as Clare Quilty notes in the book “Lolita, diminutive of Dolores......the tears and the roses”. Dolores is also “Our lady of Pain”, and the English word "dolour" means suffering) and on the other side she takes advantage of her power.
The interplay between these forces is seen from the viewpoint of the camera (typically the viewpoint of the stepfather Humbert Humbert). On some occasions, this viewpoint reveals Lolita with a dominating eye from above. In other cases it is Lolita herself, with a beguiling look on her face, who is looking down on the viewer. Sometimes there is another player in the scene, a mysterious shadow or silhouette… is it a doppelganger, a different person, a voyeur?
The many mysterious shadows participate in a visual game; one will see a gloomy Lolita (Dolores) enveloped by dark dimness, as if caught in a spider’s web or as if bound and bundled like a butterfly pupa in this shady shadow world, almost like a martyr, a saint.
During my photo shooting sessions I used the 2 Lolita movies and educational DVD’s about butterflies and roses to project images onto myself. Both roses and butterflies are used symbolically in the book. The rose is after all an ancient symbol of love and beauty, identified by both Greeks and Romans with the goddess of love (Aphrodite and Venus, respectively), to which Lolita is being compared in the book.
The butterfly is a recurring theme that Nabokov, who was a passionate lepidopterist, uses a lot in his work. There is a great parallel between Lolita’s metamorphosis from girl-child to woman and the stages of a butterflies’ life from larvae to pupa to fully developed butterfly. In fact, one of the stages of a butterfly’s development is called nymph (=immature stage of insects with incomplete metamorphosis) which, no doubt, is why Nabokov calls Lolita a nymphet. By the way, the word ‘nymph’ comes from Greek mythology, but can also mean ‘girl’.
In addition to embodying transformation, the butterfly serves as a sexual symbol of temptation, seduction, and sensuality (among many other things). Butterflies are also used to symbolize fairies, witches, or the soul of witches. After all, both butterflies and witches have the ability to change their form: butterflies change in the course of their development, whereas witches are thought to be able to change at will. In this context it is interesting to note the reference to “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” that can be found in Alfred Appel, Jr.’s annotated version of “Lolita” (page 339): Quote: <<Lolita’s “inhuman” and bewitching charms” suggest that she is Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” (1819) in bobby socks, and that the novel is in part a unique variant of the archetypical tale of a mortal destroyed by his love for a supernatural femme fatale, “The Lovely Lady Without Pity” of ballad, folk tale, and fairy tale. Nabokov calls his book “Lolita” a “fairy tale” and his nymph a “fairy princess”. >> End quote.
During my process I shoot images while listening to my favorite music (mostly Tori Amos and Bjork); I dance and sing with my camera in my hand and submerge myself in waves of sound that draw me into the world in which my images are born. The pictures are taken randomly, yet in a controlled manner: the flip-out monitor of my camera allows me to see the results immediately, and this gives me the opportunity to react straightaway. This interaction is crucial, and is the main reason I use digital photography. I don’t use Photoshop to manipulate. When the disciplined dance-trance dominates me during the shooting, my arm whips the camera around with long and short strokes and catches glimpses of the emotions that I’m generating. Before I start shooting I have a vague idea of what I want to show in the images, often nothing more than a compilation of emotions and poses that I need for the concept of that particular idea. In other words, I never know exactly what and when it’ll hit me, but I recognize it when it strikes a chord.
This page was last updated on 10/13/07.
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© 2007 copyright Suzanne Banning.