After my last post “the Agony and Ecstasy of Chaos,” I started thinking more about DAYDREAMS.

Let’s just take a moment here – did you daydream in class, or actually, anywhere? I was always criticized for it – on report cards, and in class. “If only she would pay attention…” was the mantra that followed me from grade school through high school. As I described in my last post, I would spend much of my class time tilting […my head this way and that, trying to line up the cross bars of the window with trees, poles, or buildings outside, until the alignment of the two would make crosses, or parallel lines, or even new shapes.] Little did my teachers know that these seeming lapses was actually the start of my career as an artist!

Untitled #03-15-19-192

Now, I believe that daydreaming is a wonderful and healthy thing to do. It also feels quite good! Letting the mind wander – making connections and putting things together. In our crazy and manic world, we don’t have much time for daydreaming between checking our phones, messages and emails, UNLESS we happen to be lucky enough to be an artist.

When I am looking though the lens, completely present to my seeing, it feels as delicious and wonderful as a daydream. The important piece here is that I am FOLLOWING (NOT guiding) my eyes. In daydreams we allow our minds to wander this way and that without CONTROLLING our thoughts. It is different than the crazy monkey brain that jumps all around distracting us, but rather a pleasant process that leads us . When I am photographing, and truly following my eyes, I am, as in daydreams, not controlling where I am going. At this point I am discovering – trying different relationships between forms, lines, shapes, tones, colors, etc. “WHAT HAPPENS IF….”
These connections may SOUND absurd when I THINK about them, but these visuals may lead to metaphoric seeing.

Untitled 04-19-19-880

This latest work, 2019, illustrates my love and even passion for putting lines and shapes together in “nonsensical” or playful ways. I love lines intersecting, crossing, and following other lines. Currently I am working with two models, one very tall, and the other quite a bit shorter which creates an interesting visual relationship. Above, in Untitled #04-19-19-880, a leg (red light) and an arm (natural light) are combining in a way that makes no reasonable sense but creates a visually fluid dance.

Untitled #06-06-16-598

In 2016, exploring how using different shapes of broken (plastic) mirrors could reshape or reform the figure, I discovered they could also define or exaggerate gestures as in Untitled #06-06-16-598, above.

The New York Times discussed this idea of daydreaming, though they called it doing nothing in this April 29, 2019 article:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/smarter-living/the-case-for-doing-nothing.html

???
Why does this approach lead to metaphorical seeing?
Excellent question……

I will attempt to answer that in a future post –
“The eyes are the scout of the heart” Joseph Campbell

Untitled #11-21-17-412

Here are a couple of thoughts about 2017 and how to make sense of it. I am NOT going to expound about the state of the world and the hideous political situation we are in. Instead I am going to talk about a subject that I love – my photographs and how they have changed in the course of the year.

The year started off with a big bang which never let up! I shot more images in 2017 than ever before in my life. Of course, not dealing with film and processing makes a HUGE difference, but that is not all. As I look in the rearview mirror I see that not only am I over the hill,  but halfway down the other side!  Instead of slowing down however, I have sped up.

In 2017 I had 88 different shoots – which translates to 1.7 shoots a week for 52 weeks or .25 shoots a day for 365 days.

To show how my work has changed over the last year I have divided the year in two parts; pre and post my Vatican visit.

Pre-Vatican

Untitled #05-01-17-819
Untitled #05-01-17-819

Emphasizing the edges and scratched surface of  the mirror lends a shattered feel to my Pre-Vatican images such as in Untitled #05-01-17-819. A large triangular shard cuts into the frail, broken figure, making him appear thin and brittle. This shard, ending in a cracked point in his leg, implies fragility, uncertainty, pathos, and even hopelessness.

Post Vatican

The trip to Rome this fall had to include, of course, a chance to worship at the feet of one of the greatest geniuses of all time – Michelangelo. For more on my trip to the Vatican see Blog Post Want a lesson in how to ruin brilliance?

Michelangelo did not let me down. From despair to rapture, the expansive expression in his paintings at the Sistine Chapel,  stunningly depict the extremes of the human condition – and he did all of this within the framework of Christianity.  As a non–Christian it was easy for me to ignore the religious overtones and contemplate the momentous figures sculpted out of paint.

Back in my studio I studied the dark, grim figures on the wall.  I loved them (still do) but I wanted a shift – to what, I did not know. The shape of the mirrors has been my major concern for the last couple of years, which means emphasizing sharp edges, breaks, points and cracks. But with a minor change in focus I made a MAJOR shift in seeing!    I moved my focus from the surface and edge of the mirror to the figures. The mirrors are still defining the forms, but without the  cracks, scratches and marks on the surface I began to explore  lines and forms.   Ask anyone who has ever studied with me – I LOVE LINES AND FORMS!

Untitled #11-21-17-412
Untitled #11-21-17-412

 

Untitled #11-10-17-185
Untitled #11-10-17-185

Untitled #12-22-17-423

Without faces and heads the work becomes less psychological and more gestural reminding me of images I have made in the hot tub through the years.

 

Untitled #4442
Untitled #4442 1992

 

Untitled #11159
Untitled #11159 2006

 

When I started this journey in 1983 I had no idea that in 2018 I would still be on it. As I look back I don’t see  a straight path, but rather a spiral where I periodically come back to similar visual concerns.  The first time I explored the form of the body (eliminating the head and face) was in 1992, I picked up on it again 14 years later in 2006.  12 years later I am once again concerned with the forms and lines of the body but this time I am doing it, not in a hot tub, but in a studio with mirrors.

 

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).

Untitled #01-25-17-728
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!

 

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.

01-07-16-121
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.

01-12-16-101
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.

Hannah Hoch-5
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.

Egon-Schiele-The-Dancer-1913
Egon Schiele – The Dancer, 1913

 

kokoschka
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.

01-12-16-192
Untitled #01-12-16-192

 

01-05-16-366
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.

 

01-05-16-292
Untitled #01-05-16-292

 

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

 

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.

01-07-16-121
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…

Untitled #9607
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

kollwitz-02
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.

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….

 

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…

Untitled #01-15-15-533
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!

2013 has proven to be a very busy year. With so many workshops and a lot of traveling, I haven’t had many opportunities to get into a regular shooting schedule.  There’s pro’s and con’s to this, but one advantage is feeling the freedom to get in the studio and just play.  Without any concrete directions or thoughts on where to begin, it really opens up the possibility to make new discoveries and wild breakthroughs.

This image is from a recent shoot where we were really starting from scratch, and where I really felt like I could take a lot of risks and see what developed.  The whole shoot was just fantastic, but I have to say I LOVE this image!

I feel like this image is really emotionally charged.  The figure here is really suffering, he’s clearly in agony and we’re witnessing it.  It’s a very active quality of pain, and very striking.  There’s a heroic quality to his pain, maybe something like martyrdom?

The red portions of the figure read to me as very raw, like recent wounds, while the dark area in his chest feels like an old wound of some sort.  The lighting and the colors in the shoulder and arm gie the impression of exposed tendons.  The fist coming through the chest could be something punching out, something reaching out from within or bursting through, but I also don’t always see it a fist.  Perhaps it is an exposed organ, maybe the heart?

There is something about the overall quality of agony here that makes the lines around the wrist and upper arm appear to be chains of some sort.  It’s almost as if he is bound in a dark chamber somewhere.  Or maybe this is an internal struggle- a psychic battle in some dark corner of the mind- and representative of something Karen Armstrong referred to as the labyrinth of the mind….

All that said, I find the face here just INCREDIBLE.  There is subtle but clear smears of red over his eyes, and to me it gives an immediate feeling of blindness.  Perhaps he is nearly blind, or blinded by blood.  Seeing his blindness adds to the overall tragedy of the suffering he is experiencing, bound and body falling apart…

So much of the color work I’ve done shooting with the mirrors has had classical religious qualities to them, specifically reminding me of Christian iconography.  This image, however, goes back to a more mythological feeling for me.  Prometheus, who is credited with giving man the gift of fire, was punished for doing so by being bound to a rock where every day an eagle would tear out and feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again, day after day.  The bound quality of the figure in this image, the body falling apart, the raw flesh, the clear agony and obvious suffering, even the fist reading as an exposed organ, all remind me of the torture of Prometheus.

This is a well known sculpture of Prometheus by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, housed at the Louvre in France:

As the fall season begins and I work on getting back to a regular shooting schedule, I’m looking forward to posting more images here and on the website, and making more unexpected and exciting connections like this one!

 

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

Working with deeper red gels on one of the models and a new mirror, the most recent work has taken on a disturbing, almost more violent feel.  It’s been fascinating to me to see the progression of this work to this point.  It hasn’t been my intention to make unsettling images by any means.  The materials, lighting, and visual approach just came together to bring out all of these details that amount to this disquieting feeling.
Continuing with this work, I’ve been reminded of some of the earlier work I’ve done with the mirrors- the darker images in particular:
 
Thinking about this has made me go back and find connections in the current body of work with images I produced as far back as 20 years ago….
-CLICK THE JUMP BELOW FOR MORE- 

I love seeing some of these side by side!  The color work brings out relationships in the black & white work, and vice versa.  Each era of work seems to enhance meanings and subtleties in the other, and brings new understanding and interpretations.

 Mother and Child, 1986

Untitled #04-14-09-462, 2009

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!