ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Ashley MacLean recalls a moment of undocumented intimacy.

I’m 19, it’s an unexceptional day of the week, it’s early afternoon, and we’re in bed. My lover at the time is lying with her head on my chest, staring out of the row of windows on my left. We’re in her tiny studio apartment on the Upper East Side.

I can see part of her profile, her dirty-blonde hair draped over me, and part of her pink pale chest. She is first person I’ve ever seen naked, the first person I’ve been naked with. She’s the first person I’ve really ever kissed. I’ve told her this, but she doesn’t believe me.

She’s 30-years-old, and may be wondering whether she’s a lesbian now.

All of the moments I wish I’d photographed are personal moments. Someone else might say “private moments.” I have a hard time with what are basically normal relationships to privacy.

I think there’s a shame associated with sex that it’s easier not to acknowledge. I think the outcome of living with our deep-seated belief that sex is dirty is to fixate on it. We’re saying, “Why do I spend so much time thinking about this when everything around me says it’s disgusting? Debasing?” Rather than face that discomfort, we assign a perversity to sexuality across the board.

Most of the imagery that we find exciting is illicit. It’s about illicit, taboo sex. It’s about sex you’re not supposed to be having, that someone’s not supposed to be filming (or photographing), and no one is supposed to be watching. There isn’t much of a language of sexuality that can be spoken freely about real sex.

My conception of it at the time was that I couldn’t have photographed that moment. That she wouldn’t have let me. I think I worried that she would feel disrespected in some way by being documented. Exposed, catalogued, like a trophy. Or I thought it would break the moment.

Whatever it was, I didn’t move, but I did look with enough attention that it might as well be a photograph. I know what it would’ve looked like now if I had shot it. It was the first time I felt that intense urge to keep an image.

I want to keep the things that are given to me. I want to give back the way I see them.  There is a lot of serenading that goes into portraiture, at least for me. That’s what I mean to do. It’s a song.

Should Have Shot That! is illustrated by James Noel Smith. Ashley MacLean‘s captivating, intimate photography feels as if you were invited in on a secret moment, a feeling, a wavelength of existence.

I Should Have Shot That!

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