Feb 022017
 

2016 ended with such a bang, it’s now February and I’m STILL working on a “Year in Review” blog post to try to summarize the immense creative growth, productivity, and excitement that came with it. Everything in the last year has motivated me to keep working, to continue pushing the envelope of the ever-evolving creative process, and to seek new discoveries in my work.

That said, 2017 is off to another fantastic “binge-shooting” start. I have been absolutely captive behind the lens. The new year encouraged me to overhaul and upgrade much of the studio I shoot the mirror work in, including working with lights that allow for increased color variations and great-big-giant-drop-clothes for different textures and backgrounds.  (Don’t worry: we’re still using a pickup truck to break giant mirrors).

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Untitled #01-25-17-728

Embracing the experimental attitude that opened up so many new doors in 2016, I’ve continued with a more hands-on approach in working with the mirrors. I’m still responding to the visceral quality of the mirror shards themselves while incorporating mannequins with real human forms. In some of the latest images, it is being pushed to the extreme- taking a bare minimum of both body forms and blending them together in ways that, although are conceptually nonsensical, work on a visual level that still manages to identify them as “body”. In places, lines and shapes come together in the most elegant way, while in other areas the connection might be more imprecise, jarring, and/or disparate.

Squeezing in multiple shoots every day, I’ve once again found myself wonderfully buried in new images. I’m eager to continue exploring, and I’m excited for feedback on the new work – I would love to hear your thoughts on this image!

 

 February 2, 2017  Posted by at 4:00 pm Latest Images, Portfolio No Responses »
Mar 242016
 

My new images are different, or at least they are to me. Okay, so now I have been photographing in mirrors for a few decades.  In the beginning there were lots of new discoveries and fewer and fewer as time goes on.  This makes sense because I see much of my job now as a more nuanced one of refining and pushing.  Recently, in the beginning of 2016, I have seen a shift in my work and by my standards – a rather major one.  Yes I am using the same mirrors I have always used and using them to reform the human body and to use shapes of broken shards to exaggerate gestures and forms.  Nothing new there.

What is totally new, however, is my appreciation of the edges – sharp and angular or round and curved.

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Untitled #01-07-16-121

Now I am not just breaking the shards but gouging them, digging into them with screwdrivers, utility knives and using paint to selectively bring bits of color into the marks. The result gives them a visceral quality – distressed and marred. Because the focus is on the shape of the shards, the edges and textures, they flatten the space. This flattened space results in the body appearing as if broken into flat planes.

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Untitled #01-14-16-502

These broken planes are disconnected from each other so the figure appears to be put together from disparate pieces. Their loose, often imprecise construction makes me think of marionettes, or dolls.   The figures appear less individuated because the emphasis now is not on particular individual features, but more on shapes. The images are still dark and disturbing, as most of my images are but more removed from the form of the human body.

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Untitled #01-12-16-101

The way the shape of the mirrors relate to each other is similar to Hannah Höck‘s photomontages. An artist from the German Expressionist era, Höck would collage together different elements, torn or cut out magazines, photographs and drawings. The shape of these elements created a similar flat sense of space that my mirror planes do. Figures in her work are often redefined through the edges of the paper and images she uses. The effect is often twisted, almost comical in it’s bizarreness, but disturbing to the point of being haunting, and this new mirror work seems to echo that strange emotional quality.

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Hannah Höch- Dada Puppen (Dada Dolls), 1916

 

photomontage by Hannah Höch

 

I’ve also found the figures in the latest mirror images to appear in odd, uncomfortable and perhaps unnatural gestures. Although there may be nothing particularly twisted about the bodies themselves, the way the mirror shards reshape and redefine the body’s extremities make these gestures seem rigid and stiff, and jarring, reminding me of the way the figure is depicted in the work of Egon Schiele, or Oskar Kokoschka. Their drawings and paintings of the human form are immediately recognizable for their simple yet exaggerated linear quality. The figures are often twisted, sometimes to the point of being grotesque, and frequently have elongated, disproportionate limbs and/or features. Since the latest mirror work focuses on the shape of the mirrors, the arms, legs, torso and even heads of the figures are forcibly redefined into these rigid shapes, echoing the taut oddness of Schiele or Kokoschka’s figures.

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Egon Schiele – The Dancer, 1913

 

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Oskar Kokoschka- Nude with back turned, 1907

Much of the figure in my latest mirror images becomes similarly flat and simplified, often breaking the body into flat planes. This effect gives them the same gaunt, stark, and desolate appearance as seen in both Schiele and Kokoschka’s work.

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Untitled #01-12-16-192

 

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Untitled #01-05-16-366

Since I have taken more liberty with defacing the mirror surfaces, the “hatching” effect has become louder, and is visually similar to Käthe Kollowitz‘s mark making. Through the expression of her mark making there is an element of tragedy in her work, one of desperation and despair. The figures in this latest mirror work exhibit a similar quality of despair, reflecting more of an internal, psychological state rather than representing actual, physical beings.

 

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Untitled #01-05-16-292

 

Käthe Kollwitz- Call of Death, 1937
Käthe Kollwitz- Call of Death, 1937

 

 March 24, 2016  Posted by at 4:09 pm Latest Images, Portfolio No Responses »
Feb 182016
 

It takes quite a bit to bring me to my knees these days, but the Metropolitan Opera‘s production of Lulu did just that.

Patricia, my wife, read a review in the NY Times raving about this season’s Met Opera production of “Lulu” by Berg. She immediately got us tickets for the Met broadcast at a local cinema. Reading the synopsis I couldn’t get past the small type at the top of the page that announced that the opera went on for FOUR hours! As soon as the curtain was lifted, however, I was mesmerized to see a stage filled with heavy ink drawings and projections immediately recalling the intense and demanding style of German Expressionism, an anti-realism style characterized by extreme distortions “to show an inner emotional reality rather than what is on the surface”. Large cut out hands and cylinders with crudely drawn features like oversized paper bag masks appeared incongruous and out of place. Yet these seemingly silly props were thin veneers covering the angst and foreboding that filled the set. Paper cut outs of Lulu’s intimate parts taped onto her clothes made her seem even more raw and naked than if she was actually without clothes. The fracturing nature of cubism and the sophisticated decorative approach of art deco were overladen with the weight and complexity of German Expressionism.

Lulu at the Met

There was so much happening on the stage- intense projections, bizarre music, and of course the actions of the actors and singers. As if that was not enough, a mannequin-like figure on the side of the stage seemingly played the piano. Conjuring the seedy, dark and edgy cabarets in 1930’s Germany, this character interpreted and mimed the actions on the stage, often amplifying the intensely psychological qualities.

lulu-hands

The visuals got me. Immediately and fully. The music, the strange “twelve tone technique,” which I know nothing about except that musicians cringe when it is mentioned, was indeed strange but interfaced perfectly with the eerie stage set. To cap off the entire experience, Marlis Petersen has perfected her role to the point where she seems to inhabit Lulu’s complex and grim psyche. Through her voice we could viscerally experience her fights, loves, deceptions, and despairs.

I enjoyed opera before this experience, but now I am hooked. At least for really excellent opera, such as those produced by the Met. Lulu stayed with me on a conscious level, but she also penetrated my psyche. I know this because my work immediately changed.

I had another binge shoot in January, six weeks after seeing Lulu, with Carl. We started off playing with different ideas and new directions. The resulting work recalls the strange reinterpretation of gestures, emotions and figures reminiscent of German Expressionism.

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Untitled #01-07-16-121, 2016

 

Redefining the body using the shape of mirror shards is not new for me; I have been doing it for years…

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Untitled #9607, 2002
Untitled #9348
Untitled #9348, 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but this time feels different, and not only due to the inclusion of color. Perhaps it is coming from the impact of the breaking and shattering I experienced occurring on the set, in the music, and throughout the story of Lulu.

Untitled #01-05-16-366, 2016
Untitled #01-05-16-366, 2016

In any case, I find myself once again inadvertently bearing the influence of one of my art heroes – Kathe Kollowitz.

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Untitled #01-05-16-292, 2016
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Self Portrait by Kathe Kollowitz, woodcut on Japan paper, 1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always been a fan of Kathe Kollowitz, a German artist working in the first part of the 20th century. Her work speaks of the tragedy of war and of the human condition. She would often divide the planes of the face into extreme geometric forms, transforming the external expression into a reflection of innermost concerns.

kollwitz-selfportrait

I’m still exploring this new work, and have been really drawn to it’s emotional and geometric qualities. The shapes of the mirror shards flatten the body, but within their reflections there is dimension and form, which is defined even further by the color. The texture of the particular mirrors I’ve been using also lends itself to the German Expressionist style, with scrapes and scratches that echo the dark, dense, and inky quality of the movement’s mark making.  Woking with one model instead of two seems to emphasis the deconstruction of the form, while the reconstruction is incomplete, marred, or extremely distorted.

I was so immersed and so captivated by the production of Lulu, so affected by the power of its expression, that it influenced my own work. To be influenced is to engage so deeply with a piece, with a work of art, that it becomes part of you, infecting your point of view, challenging values or just becoming a catalyst for opening yourself to greater experiences. Lulu did just that, and has since elevated my exploration working with the same materials and subject for over 30 years.

 February 18, 2016  Posted by at 2:30 pm Latest Images, Thoughts and Ramblings 1 Response »
Dec 102015
 

With the workshop season drawing to a close, I found myself inspired to photograph and eager to get back to my own work. The pool is currently unavailable (details soon….), but my heart is with the mirrors for the time being anyway.

I’ve been playing with a different palette in the studio this time, and in just the last few weeks have already had some excellent shoots and exciting developments. Although it hasn’t been quite as intense as “binge shooting“, I have my hands full with the editing process and new images to work with. I’m looking forward to sharing more soon, but in the meantime here is one of the latest:

Untitled #12-01-15-39
Untitled #12-01-15-39

When I’m photographing with the mirrors, I typically shoot at least two models at a time, either combining them into a single figure or looking for an interesting relationship between the two. In Untitled #12-01-15-39, I was only working with one model- Cory, of course- and experimenting with different light and color in preparation for another upcoming shoot. This image was somewhat of a surprise- I just love the color gradation on the body, and how it blends with the background in just the right area’s. The “contrapposto” (which sounds like something you order at Grano Emporio) of the figure feels classical, reminding me of the ancient Greek sculpture Kritios Boy. It also brought to mind Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which I always rush to see when I’m visiting the Louvre. I would love to hear any thoughts!

More recent work to come soon….

 

 December 10, 2015  Posted by at 3:59 pm Latest Images, Portfolio No Responses »
Mar 172015
 

After the invention of the CON-traption solved many of the logistical issues involved with shooting in the pool, the biggest hurdle I faced was finding bodies to put in the water. Two of my go-to models that I had worked with for years had moved out of town, and this coincided with a relative scarcity of models in general. The solution was to invite Ruth, a student of mine at The Maine Media Workshops and a dear friend, to stay at the house and spend the week shooting intensively.  Our work together was so successful and productive that as soon as I had recovered I invited Carl, one of my regular models who moved away, to visit and shoot for a week.  This intense method of shooting has become a new way of working for me, and I have since come to refer to it as “binge-shooting”.

It literally took months to go through and edit all of the images from the pool shoots with Ruth and Carl (and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface).  By January of 2015 however, I was eager for more, and invited Carl to visit for another session of binge shooting…

With the pool – and the CON-traption– officially closed for the winter, it was back to photographing in the mirrors.  With Carl staying at the Imboden Compound, we would shoot at least two to three times a day.  While this was once again an exhausting amount to shoot in just one week’s time, the buildup of my visual acuity was remarkable due to the overall intensity. I found I needed less time to warm up- we would shoot in the morning, look at the work over lunch and discuss what was or wasn’t working, and jump right back into it. I loved how quickly I progressed, and I was thrilled with many of the images that resulted.

In the previous binge shooting sessions under the water, I had explored ways of bringing in different intensities of color and introducing more of it, something I had been working with in the proceeding mirror images.  This time, back to the mirrors, I was interested in experimenting with the darker, cooler tones I had grown fond of in the water images.  Eschewing the usual red gel in favor of a deeper blue filter to light one of the model’s, I found myself working with a ghastly palette in these reflections…

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Untitled #01-15-15-533

In Untitled #01-15-15-533, the blue gel over the light on the model behind the mirror echoes the underwater hues, rendering him entirely in cool tones.  The model in front of the mirror is lit more naturally, keeping the flesh realistic.  The quality of the blue is more dense than it was under the water, a little deeper and slightly less green, making those areas appear drained of life, putrified, or frostbitten.  With the bodies combined into one figure, the contrast with the warm flesh is not as violerubens-boreas-abducts-oreithyant as it had been with the red filter, but is still unsettling.  To further change up the color palette, I swapped out the blue that had become an integral part of the backgrounds in the mirror images with the deep red of a large bath towel.  The resulting hue is lush, not quite as passionate or vibrant as that of the light through the red filter, and offers a sense of depth and space.  It is a rich, luxuriant red, like the drapery that appears in so much Renaissance imagery, leading me to refer to it as “Ruben’s Red” after the 16th century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.  The red creates an environment, giving the background a sense of atmosphere.  Interestingly, I’m working with essentially the same color palette as the previous mirror work, except in these images using the blue as the primary color on the body and red as the background, instead of vice-versa.

Untitled #01-27-15-168
Untitled #01-27-15-168

Of course, this binge shooting session wouldn’t be complete without Ruth, who was not only eager and willing to participate in another intense week in front of the camera, but was able to overlap her visit for the same week that Carl was staying.  Suddenly finding myself working with an abundance of models, I was energized by everyone’s enthusiasm and we were photographing like crazy.  In Untitled #01-27-15-168, Ruth is behind the mirror and illuminated by the blue filtered strobe.  Her figure is at peace, again emanating a sense that she is drained of life, but this time the body tapers from a solid form towards a more ethereal state at the bottom.  The solemn embrace of the male figure is pensive, and the way their bodies line up between the mirrors is very precise.  I love the way Carl’s head seems to rest at the top of Ruth’s chest and neck, and the tenderness in the expression.  I also love where the lines of Ruth’s arm fade into and echo the folds of the red bath towel in such an interesting way on the left side.  The texture and marks on the mirrors surface integrate with both of the figures and contribute to the fading from solid to whispy forms.

As with the first week of “binge-shooting”, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work we managed to produce in such a short period of time, and I still have a ton of editing to do.  There’s such a large crop of really quality images, these were just some of the first couple to really stand out.  I’m looking forward to getting more posted here soon before I’m completely buried by the next intense “binge-shooting” session!

 March 17, 2015  Posted by at 11:55 am Latest Images, Portfolio Tagged with: , , , , ,  3 Responses »
Nov 152014
 

2014 has been a year of phenomenal workshops and lots of travel.  I’ve had a blast being able to teach across the globe within the past year, even though it has left little time for shooting.  Feeling inspired from the excellent work of so many of my students, I managed to get out of the studio for a change and make some time for some intensive underwater shoots.

Back in the days of only being able to shoot in the pool at night during the Spring and Summer months, I would set up as many shoots as possible in a short period of time.  In the last couple months, I worked very similarly, hosting two excellent models for two periods of relentless underwater photography.  We shot as much as we could physically bear- it can get pretty exhausting!  As I don’t work with scuba gear or anything of that sort, I frequently need to remind myself to take a break and BREATHE, making every shoot quite the aerobic workout.

The first model I played host to was Ruth, who was a student of mine at The Maine Media Workshops. Ruth and I arranged for her to stay with me for a whole week, during which time we would get in as many shoots every day as possible. She was an excellent model and so much fun to work with, and we found ourselves getting into a good rhythm very early on.

With the long shoot days and Ruth’s excellent work as a model, we produced a ton of images I am really excited about! When I’m shooting so actively, the time spent looking at and analyzing images immediately after a shoot is minimal, but the growth and evolution in what I’m seeing is still there. (something about that being very exciting) After some time sorting, editing, and looking at so much of this work, I couldn’t wait to get some of it posted here.

Here are just a few of my favorite images working with her:

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Looking at many of these, I became really attracted to a lot of the dark underwater tones.  Many of the images have a deep, atmospheric quality that I just love.  The weirdness, the various distortions and disconnections between what is above and below the water seem slightly more subtle in some of these, but the effect is still startling.  I was motivated to explore these darker expressions in my next intensive shooting session…

Carl and I have worked together for years and is one of my most photographed models since transitioning to color.  A great deal of the latest work in Reflections features Carl as the model.  Working with him for so many years means that we can typically pick up where we left off- we’re so familiar with how each other works that it feels like second nature.  Knowing what I’m interested in and what I’m looking at makes working with Carl extremely productive, and all of that said, he is also a very dear friend.

We arranged a fervent shooting schedule similar to the one we worked on with Ruth, squeezing in multiple shoots every day, and ending with me getting a nasty case of swimmer’s ear.  Needless to say, it was entirely WORTH it:

09-24-14-195-Edit

While I wanted to continue working with the darker tones I had grown so fond of in working with Ruth, I was also interested in exploring ways of bringing in different intensities of color and introducing more of it, similar to the mirror work.  With the mirrors, I had been incorporating this deep, rich red using a filter over one of the strobes.  My initial intention in doing so was to mimic the profound color difference I had discovered above and below the surface of water and recreate that difference in the studio.  Eventually though the red light became it’s own powerful element, and it became increasingly prominent in many of the mirror images.  Now, back in the water, I wanted to introduce that rich and dramatic red into the images.

For several of these shoots with Carl, I brought a smaller strobe to the pool to light his body above the water with the same red filter from the studio, and I LOVED the effect!  The stark contrast of the red light above the water and the underwater strobe- magnified in coolness by the water- was fascinating!

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Another thing I was drawn to in the shoots with Carl was the blueness I started getting in the shadows.  Since I’m working with these much darker tones, the exposures are quite long, with rather slow shutter speeds.  The strobe is fast enough to freeze a moment and render it in focus, while any movement is captured from the available light under the water, which is of course very blue.  In many instances, it ends up filling in many of the shadows with what looks like blue mist or smoke, and I love how that looks.

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Untitled #09-24-14-477

With so much intensive shooting between the sessions with Ruth and Carl, I have thousands of images that I’m working on, and simply sorting through them is like discovering them for the first time.  These images posted above are some of the first to really standout, although I’m sure there will be more to follow….

 

 November 15, 2014  Posted by at 8:01 pm Latest Images No Responses »
Oct 182011
 

Just added a handful of new images to the portfolio section of the website!

I’ve continued working with the mirrors in color, most recently playing with gels to have more control over the color and how it defines the form.  The color has brought a more dynamic element to the images, and the colors I’ve begun incorporating have been slightly more bold than they were previously.

Check out the 2010-present section at ConnieImboden.com to see some of the latest work!

 October 18, 2011  Posted by at 7:35 pm Latest Images Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 122011
 

As I’ve said, working in the water with color revealed new dimensions, depths, and interpretations to my work. Differences in color temperature of light above and below the surface of water revealed distinct variations that were totally unexpected, allowing me to see the same subject matter I’ve been working with for over 25 years in a totally new way. The color also gave form and context to certain aspects of the body and it’s reflections, things that were more abstracted by black and white.

After photographing with color under water for 2 years, I decided it was time to explore how color would impact the mirror work.

This is a fairly recent image since starting work with the mirrors again a few months ago.  I think the color has a similar effect on the mirror work as it did in the water- it defines a lot of the forms that were previously annihilated by black and white. The color brings with it an element of reality, and along with the notion that photography is automatically taken as truth, creates a tension with the bizarreness of the rest of the image.

The image above is one of my favorites that I’ve seen in the mirrors so far.  A lot of the latest mirror work has had an undeniably classical religious quality to it, which is a surprise to me, because I’m not religious.  When I go into a shoot, I don’t have an image in mind, or even an idea of what I want to convey.  After seeing this image, I couldn’t help but think that not only did it feel classically Christian, but that it reminded me of something in particular.  And then it struck me:

This is from  “The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”, by Early Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio.  I was so surprised to see the similarity not only in the gesture, but in the overall expression.  There’s something about the articulation of the image that feels very similar as well, something about the graphic quality…

A good friend of mine came by the studio and had a similar reaction to the image, but a different painting in mind:

“The Birth of Venus”, by Sandro Botticelli.  I though it was so interesting he had such a different association with the expression.  The gesture is the same, but the overall feeling is so different than the one in “The Expulsion”.  It’s also a bit more of a contrast stylistically, but definitely similar.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other works of art, particularly with the same kind of notoriety as the two given here, that share similarities.  What I find so interesting is that I hadn’t planned this prior to making this image, rather, it was discovered after the fact.  I also love that my friend could have such a different, but equally relevant, interpretation and/or association with an image that is just as much a surprise for me as for anyone else.  I feel like that is one of the advantages of working intuitively, that it can lead to these wonderful discoveries, and bring up more interesting questions.