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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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…
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 violent 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.
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!