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'Come Back to Bed' Is One Artist's Story of Reclamation & Rediscovery [NSFW]

Robert Tennent knows a thing or two about perseverance and strength. After surviving a sexual assault and entering a five-month period of celibacy, he re-introduced intimacy into his life with caution and care. Photographing each of his partners started as something to remember the moment (no book was envisioned at the beginning) but it quickly developed into a larger project, and soon, Come Back to Bed was on its way to fruition.

Now, after almost a year of creating images in the bedroom, Tennent’s first book is finally available worldwide (you can grab a copy here). On view in Auckland, New Zealand on May 22, we’ve brought a handful of the photos to the digital sphere for those of us who can’t make it down under for opening night. Read our conversation with Tennent below, and scroll through the images in the slideshow above for a peek into the intimate world of photographer Robert Tennent.

What was it like introducing sex into your life again after the assault? What role did your photo project play with those encounters?

It was super scary. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know how to respond. I associated it with something unpleasant and  I tried to not think about it much. The photos were just a playful idea I came up with when I first with the first boy. He was handsome and looked so good, I just wanted to remember it. Taking the photos was also reclaiming control. I was in control, when you have a camera in your face in can me quite intimidating. But after what happened to me, i wanted to be in control. They trusted me to take their pictures and I trusted them with my body.

What kind of reactions did you get from the men you photographed? Were they open to being photographed or resistant?

Well when I started taking pictures it wasn’t for a book, it was just for me and them to look back on. So they weren’t hesitant. But when I got the idea to turn it into a book, some of them were hesitant to be in it. But they all consented because they knew how important it was to me and my story.

The camera can be a tool of power that allows you to document your own experience firsthand. How did this photo project help you to take back ownership of your narrative?

It helped me because I was in control. It was me and them and the flash. I shot all the images on film which eliminated the chances of retaking an image or seeing if it was good enough. It was just one shot and it was all in the moment. Some before, during and after sex. I got to take things into my own hands and tell my story through my lens. But i was open to them taking images of me. It was all apart of capturing the mood.

How would you describe the whole process of taking these photos? For example has it been cathartic, energizing, invigorating, etc?

It was super cathartic and empowering. I wanted to tell this story from my point of view and taking photos was the most personal thing i could do to fully capture the story. Looking back now I still get butterflies and I still miss them. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

How do you hope this book effects other people, both those who have and have not been victims of sexual assault?

I wanted to tell this story about me. I am not speaking for all victims. Victims do not own us their stories. But I chose to tell mine because I hope it can help someone heal or show that there are different ways to heal. I am not recommending that you do what I do, but I do recommend you take some time off and do everything at your own pace. And I hope for those that have not been a victim of sexual assault to understand how those feel afterwards.

Images courtesy of Robert Tennent

Stay tuned to Milk for more artistic happenings. 

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