1996 was, in some ways, a study in opposites. It was in some ways the best summer of figure work I'd ever had, but at the same time, it was one of my most disappointing summers yet. The disappointment came from a chronic eye infection which plagued me throughout the summer. More than just painful, it caused me to become extremely light sensitive, and it was only on those few days when the infection was subsiding that I could comfortably shoot.
What made it the best summer to date were the sessions I did with J_, who modeled for me on and off throughout the summer. I hadn't previously had the opportunity to work with the same model for more than two sessions, and had always suspected that the increased rapport would strengthen the images. J_ is a commercial model and a student, and as such had both the time and interest necessary to work with me. Initially, we had planned to trade her figure modelling for me in return for me producing portfolio images for her, but as it turned out, she decided she was happier just working on the fine art nudes with me, and going elsewhere to have her book done.
J_ had never modeled nude before, but was very comfortable with the camera, and very quickly became good at working out poses and taking my sometimes cryptic directions. The first time we worked together was a mammoth session, going from 10 am to 8 PM, with lunch in-between. I had to reload my film-holders at lunch, and while I had the changing bag on the table, the waitress came over and asked J_ in hushed tones "Is he developing the film in there?" With a totally straight face, she held up some contact sheets and answered "Yes, he's already done these." She looked suitably impressed and walked off. I had a hard time suppressing my laughter.
The main advantage of having the same model for several sessions in a row is that they become very comfortable with the process, and that speeds up the work enormously. There is inevitably a period with each new model in which they have to adjust to working with me, and usually, with modelling nude. After J_'s first session with me, each successive one produced stronger and stronger images, building upon the previous session's work.
The biggest change which J_ brought to my work was the introduction of water. I had used water in my work before in a very limited sense, but over the summer of 1996, it eventually became a central theme to my work.
In some senses, 1996 was a one model summer. I may have missed the possibilities which would have been present if I had worked with a selection of models, but the relationship that was built between J_ and I showed strongly in the later images, and more than proved that a single model, worked with over an extended period, could produce strong work.
The introduction of water to my figure work was a revelation for me; all my life I have lived next to the ocean, and not once had I thought to incorporate water with the body. The water nudes J_ and I did were so spontaneous and different from what I'd previously created that they challenged the restrictions that I'd placed upon my work - both in terms of subject and cameras.
There was little other work produced during 1996 besides images of the nude. Some rock abstracts and architectural images were made between sessions, but much of the summer I spent nursing my eye and wishing I could go out and photograph. It was a form of torture in a way, having a model keen and eager to work with me, and having an infection which directly interfered with my working process. At the time it was frustrating, but in retrospect, the strength of work I produced spoke for itself, and if I had produced half the number of strong images I would have been happy.
1996 was in some ways the test of my ideas of how my work has naturally evolved. I spent the spring finishing up the previous years work, and doing some experimental images. The summer was spent making new work and processing film and contact prints. And to the winter was the actual refinement of the year's work, with the printing and selection of the work carrying though until the next spring.
For the first time since I had started photographing a decade before, there was a sense of satisfaction the year through. I did produce a few studio nudes towards the end of the year, but these were more to play with colour film than anything serious.
|6x7 cm film|
It took me five years to refine my vision of what I wanted to show the world into a concrete form, and another five years to learn how to incorporate that vision into my life. In some ways I feel I have come full circle, having gone though a fascination with technical and details, back to feeling that the image as the ultimate end is the most important aspect of photography. All I can hope is that the vision and work continues to grow over the next decade.