1995 began with some intensive studio sessions, with both single and couple models. The studio is a difficult, intensely problematic place for me, giving incredibly rich imagery, yet with little content beyond the obvious. More than anything, I use the studio as a place to play during the winter, until it is warm enough to work outside again. The work I did in the studio this winter, however, was the strongest yet, though that is more because of the images of the couple I worked with, than as a result of any breakthrough in approach or perception.
Once the weather warmed in the spring, I began to photograph again outdoors. Working with A_ on a huge breakwater lead to one of my strongest nudes to date, an image made stronger by the ambiguity of gender present in the image.
The summer of 1995 marked the first time I exhibited my figure work in public, in a group exhibition entitled "re:nude", which I curated at the Anna Leonowen's Gallery at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD). The exhibit was to be an overview of photographic work addressing the body which had been produced at NSCAD over the previous year. The preparation of my work for the exhibit was a challenge, being the first time I had to layout my entire body of work to date and select those images which best presented what I wished to say.
The interesting outcome of this exhibition was the realization that there were only five images from the previous six years of work with the Nude which were totally successful. I could have easily selected 20 or 30 images to show that came close to fulfilling my aesthetic, but if I had to had to display even seven prints, as opposed to five, I doubt I could have accomplished it. On the whole, the first public showing of my work was a really positive experience, both from the perspective of the selection of the work, and the reception of the exhibition.
It is something that I think I harp on, but the one hard thing about working with the figure is that one is totally dependent upon another to create images. The dynamic which is created by introducing another into the creative process is indescribable; when it works well, it is like an uncontrollable flash-fire. When there is the drive to create, however, and no-one to work with, the closest parallel I can draw is the frustration of an itch that has to be scratched.
Previously the most viable solution to this creative conundrum, however, had been forts, but this summer, forts were either inaccessible or not speaking as they usually did, so I began to flounder and scramble desperately for subjects that would give me what I sought. The two rock images here were the first successful images that I made that were neither nudes nor forts. It would take another three years for the seed that they placed to grow to maturity, but they did answer a need, and give me a revelation that what I wish to say is less rooted in the subject than the vision.
The remainder of the summer was a rich mix of work with the forts and a good session with S_ again. The fort images were predominantly produced with my 8x10 large format camera, drawing heavily on the influence of the Royal Engineer's photos from a century before. The nudes with S_ were among my first attempt is year to work in woods. The vast majority of my nudes to this date are set against rock and shoreline, and I would be the first to admit that this is a rather limiting selection of settings. The other major accomplishment in the work with S_ was a number of very strong Infra-red nudes we produced. Infra-red film had been something I had played with for several years, without particularly successful results (partially through technical errors, and Kodak's particularly bad instructions). This summer was different though, and served to convince me that IR nudes could be successful and strong.
|35mm infrared film|
Given the success of the IR nudes from the summer, in the fall of 1995, when I did some studio images of A_ and V_, I did about 1/3 of the images in both conventional and IR film. In the studio, the sculptural quality of Infra-red is enhanced by the ability to direct light across the body, describing mass through light and texture alone, in a way that is impossible with traditional film.
The nudes of A_ and V_ were successful on many different levels. A_ was a very good friend, and wanted to work with me in the studio with V_, having been very impressed with the previous couple nudes I had shown him. Though the images shown here don't depict it, one of the richest points to the session was the there was considerable difference in the skin colour of the two, creating a rich contrast between his skin and hers.
In October, I had the chance to attend an Arts Conference in Montreal, and used it as an opportunity to challenge my attachment to the view camera. It wasn't practical to take my 4x5, a tripod and other accouterments, so I made myself a deal - no view camera, but the best I could do in 35mm - a top of the line Leica camera, with three unparalleled lenses, and five rolls of my favourite film, T-Max 100. For five days, I spent my evenings and mornings walking around Montreal, finding images and settings that drew me in and struggling to capture them on film. Even before I developed the negatives, I knew the results. Every image I liked, my first thought was "would be strong if I'd had a view camera". The images were little more than sketches. I was so used to the recording power of the view camera that even 8"x10" enlargements began to breakdown on a technical level for me, though no-one else would have seen anything to object to. All the images were, simply put, too small. There wasn't enough investment in them for the weight I wanted them to carry - they were too quick and easy. 1995 was the last time I used conventional 35mm film (as opposed to 35mm infrared film) for anything other than documentation, or making money.
|Digital composite of 4"x5" film|
When I returned from Montreal, I began to move from learning to creating in my Digital Photo Course. Where the first six weeks had been spent learning the basics of digital manipulation, we were now beginning to apply our new skill-set to our own images and vision. My final work for the digital course consisted of six images, each a combination of a natural element and a studio nude. I was so enthralled with the process after taking the course that I was convinced I would be working with digital to produce a larger set of nudes as soon as I could arrange for access to the equipment. I have since continued on the digital nudes, but not with the clarity I reached in the class. I think that, similar to the Fort Charlotte Project in 1994, the success of the digital nude project came as much out of the intensity of the work as the idea or process itself. Spending such a short time so focused on one subject reaps incredible rewards for me. Knowing this gave (and continues to give) me a further tool to apply to my future work.