Getting ready

The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke — Jerzy Kosinski

This Friday, I will lay bare the results of my photographic skills in an exhibit called Urban Triptych Connection at its opening reception. It’s a group show. Along with photography, painting and pottery will also be showcased. The theme, if you haven’t gathered by the exhibit title, is urban.

The works are the result of how Monika (the painter), Tanis (the potter) and myself interpret  and define the word ‘urban,’ and what some of the physical characteristics we consider to be part of the urban landscape of our home.

I’m not one for participating in art exhibits or having solo shows. I tried a little of that years ago. The images that were exhibit back then were black and white nudes. I remember copying the print images onto slides, putting together packages with submission query letters and sending them out to various art galleries across Canada to see if anybody was interested in the way I looked at the human body.

Needless to say, I garnered the sound of crickets and a reply letter from a gallery telling me my images were beautiful, reminiscent of the Calvin Klein ads that ran during that time. We’re talking about the ’90s, folks. But the images were seen as ‘too slick’ and nicely executed to be seriously considered for an exhibit in this particular gallery. I didn’t know whether to view the Calvin Klein ad reference as a compliment or an insult.

I quickly considered it an insult. For me, art exists to evoke feelings in the person who is looking at the work. When I look at a piece of art, I’d like to react to it. If I don’t react to it, then I think the artist has failed to evoke something from me. Love it, lump it, anything but be indifferent to it. I go for the lowest common denominator — emotion. It’s basic. It’s primal.

I can’t think academically about my images. I realize an image can be worth a thousand words but I’m not interested in crafting an essay from one image. I love documentary photography. I love the art of visual storytelling. But what I’ve created for the exhibit is not a conscious attempt at storytelling. I photograph what interests me. If there is a story in my collection of images, then that’s great. Purely unintentional. But if you start yapping about the socio-economic importance of an image to me, I’ll tune you out before you finish your first sentence. Talk to someone else. I have no interest in participating in that discussion.

My black and white nudes were created in, what I consider to be, a vacuum. I’m not much for discussing the creative process — especially my creative process — because I’m never sure if anybody listening really gets what I’m trying to do or why I’m doing it.

Anyway, when I say I was working in a vacuum, I mean I really didn’t look at anything for inspiration or to emulate when I started photographing nudes. Granted, the Calvin Klein black and white ads (print and TV) featuring semi-nude models were ubiquitous at the time but I pretty much ignored them. Put my images next to the CK images and I think the only things you would find that they have in common are the use of nude models and the preference for black and white images. How I used lighting was completely different from the way the CK campaign photographer used lighting. No viable comparison.

Also, the reasoning and rationale behind my work with nudes were also completely different. Sure, it would have be nice to be paid huge sums of money to photograph nude models for a big fashion icon but that didn’t happen. That will never be my reason and rationale. My reasons were much simpler.

I’ll summarize this as efficiently as I can. I mentioned in a previous blog my reasons for working with nudes were: 1) I wanted to work on my people skills; 2) I wanted to work on composition; 3)I wanted to work in a studio setting and be comfortable in that setting; 4) I wanted to develop my ability to direct people and figure out what kind of directing style I have (I still haven’t figured it out but I’ve been successful in muddling through); 5) Up to that point, I hadn’t discovered any photographers I liked or had an appreciation for their work with nudes. Anything I saw, didn’t move me. I wanted to create something I found aesthetically pleasing to my sensibilities. I was creating something to fill a void for myself. Through this process, I developed a better understanding of the nude and now have a small list of photographers whose work with the nude, I have a great appreciation for — Ruth Bernhard, Jeanloup Sieff, Robert Mapplethorpe and Sally Mann.

I did manage to eventually have my work shown which was fine. I’ll admit I was more nervous back then about how people would react to the images. If I were to have an exhibit of new nudes, I’m pretty sure I won’t suffer in angst over it now. I know what I can do. I know how I photographically see the world right now. I also know how I see the world is continually evolving. In any creative endeavour, I’m evolving. How I look at the world around me will probably look a little different six months from now, six years from now. I’m looking forward to discovering what I can do and seeing what I produce.

I hadn’t planned on returning to gallery exhibits of my images. Ever. It wasn’t something I yearned for. But I’m glad I’m doing it with Monika and Tanis. Their enthusiasm for the images I’ve produced for the show is heart-warming. I’m looking forward to seeing their work on display with mine. I think it should be an interesting exhibit.

This Wednesday, we install the exhibit at the gallery. I’ll be taking photos of the process when I’m not too busy with hanging up my work. I’m going into this feeling relatively angst-free about the whole process.

I also have no expectations about whether or not anybody will like my work enough to purchase a piece. If I sell some of my images, great. If not, they’ll take up residence on the walls in my home. I’m not worried.

I’m more interested in the experience, not the outcome.

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