1991 started on a sombre note, with the Gulf War beginning the day before my birthday. For the next two weeks I went to nightly vigils with my partner and, occasionally, my daughter. I used to think I was fortunate to live in a country that was never at war during my lifetime. To my shame, and to my country's, this is no longer true. Unfortunately, many people misinterpreted our motivations for holding the vigils; all we wanted was for the military forces to come home where they belonged, and not to have to die in a war we didn't have to fight.
For all intents and purposes, 1991 was the first year I really began to work towards where I am today in a concrete way. It was the first year in which I concentrated most of my photography in the summer, the first where my nude images met my expectations, and the first during which a 4"x5" camera would be my main tool. The start to the year was an incredible compliment; C_, a waitress at the bar where I regularly photographed bands, asked me to produce some nudes of her. She was thinking Playboyesque images, and even mentioned that she had a waterbed. I showed her some of my work and we worked out a deal where I'd make the images she wanted in return for her modelling for the images I was interested in making. In the end the photo she selected for her boyfriend was one of the one we'd made for me. C_ simply hadn't known there was an alternative to the ever prevalent images of the Nude as a sexual object.
The images I'd produce of C_ were made indoors, but as soon as it was warm enough, I was working outside, predominantly on self-portraits, as I had no models to work with. Enough of these were successful to keep me at it, but the frustration of not being able to compose and arrange the images from behind the camera was ever present. The most enjoyable part of making these self-portraits was the reaction of people; almost unanimously, people assume the images are of a female. The androgynous nature of the images pleased me at the time, though it would become something I would struggle with in the future.
1991 was also the year that my interest in the Ruin crystallized, in some ways spurred on by a visit I made to Sydney, in northern Nova Scotia. The heart of what is known as Industrial Nova Scotia, Sydney is home to both a large steel mill, and numerous WW II harbour defences, being a staging area for Trans-Atlantic convoys. I spent an afternoon photographing the collapsed Coke Oven (before being politely asked to leave by the security people) and a full day photographing the remains of the forts. Though very different from the remains of Fortress Halifax, the Sydney ruins proved that my fascination was deeper than my simple affection for the places I had clambered over as a child, being based upon the sheer wonder of the spaces as a visual plane. I haven't managed to return to Sydney since 1991, but it would be a wonderful project to undertake some year, completing the work I started on the harbour defences.
One of the most seductive things to me photographically is good studio photography. There is nothing like a sharp, well created studio portrait or nude to draw me in. The incredible detail and subtly that can be portrayed through a studio image is almost unequaled in the natural word. E_, who I'd work with occasionally in the future, worked with me one evening in my apartment, lit by a low-level borrowed flash-kit. We had to soften the light though sheets, but in the end the images were quite successful. It would take me another three years to separate my love of the studio's ability to record information from my frustration with its lack of context.
C_, who'd worked with me earlier in the year, wanted to try some outdoor nudes as well, so on the last day in August, we took a boat to one of the harbour islands, and spent the afternoon making images. This session was one of the pivotal points in my work, and helped make 1991 a seminal year. Towards the end of the day, C_ was sitting on the side of a lighthouse when the sun came out. She leaned forward to cover her eyes from the glare, and in that instant I made the first nude which totally surpassed my expectations and fulfilled everything I wanted to portray in my work. These images are few and far between, and though many come close, and are certainly eminently successful in their own way, over the past decade there have been less than two handfuls of such images.
Two 4"x5" film images
In the fall of 1991, returning to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design brought the familiar separation between my work, and course work. All term, while working on my projects, I printed images from the summer, and made new ones in the studio. The image to the left was the piece I sold to the Nova Scotia Art bank, and served as a major boost to my confidence. It's also one of the few images I have titled, naming it "Equine" for it's obvious horsy referent neck. J_, who modelled for the image, was very supportive of my work, but never modelled nude for personal reasons. The fact that an image of her was the first "nude" I sold amused her to no end.
My major photo project for the fall of 1991 was made in a class entitled "Framing One's Self - putting the personal in your artwork". I took it thinking it might be a class where I could integrate my personal work back into school. No such luck. Rather than working my nudes into my project, I focused on other far more personal issues, addressing the memory of past relationships and how they are constructed via photography, words and text. It was in some ways the only conceptual piece I have ever made.
The final project consisted of two larger-than-life foetal nude self-portraits arranged on a black circle in a yin-yang fashion. Each nude was covered with 4"x6" pieces of either image or text. It was supposed to represent the two aspects of memory - with some of the text or photos blank or black, representing lost or concealed memories. Though I had hoped to use the class to reintegrate my personal work into my school work and failed, I did produce a reasonably successful final, which, given my frustration with the college at the time, was a success.
At the time this image was made, infrared photography was still
incredibly mysterious for me, and successes seemed more like luck than
skill (each roll of 36 exposures would actually produce 8 or so images,
due to exposure bracketing).
have always had a deep affection for simple portraits; C_ couldn't look
directly at the camera as the light behind me was so bright.
6x6 cm film
this particular session, I carried three different film formats (35mm,
6x6 cm and 4"x5"), and throughout the day, I tried my best to make the
most of the equipment. In this case, the pose C_ found working in the
breakwater rocks around the lighthouse called for a square format!
This image is the most important Nude in my body of work. Produced during my first summer working with my own 4"x5” camera, it built my confidence and demonstrated that what I strove to reveal could be seen. Towards the end of the session, C_ was sitting on the side of a lighthouse when the sun came out. She leaned forward to cover her eyes from the glare and, in that instant, I made the first nude which totally surpassed my expectations and fulfilled everything I wanted to portray in my work. Images like this come rarely and without warning, and as such, are rare and magical for me.