Nudes, Truths and Stories
Stories take many forms, including stories told through the human body. I wanted my stories to address real-world ideas of cultural importance. I used the body, or more precisely, creative manifestations of women’s bodies, to address larger truths. This portfolio of nudes was first exhibited at the Dalet Gallery, in Philadelphia, in a show entitled “Fabricating Truths, Shaping Stories,” in 2010.
My concept was to play with viewer perception by using photographs of beautiful women to address issues ranging from voyeurism to moral judgment. The women in these photographs were unclothed, but I didn’t want their photographs to be about nudity.
In photography’s early days, the prevailing maxim was ‘Photographs don’t lie.’ Today, of course, we believe that every photograph is potentially suspect. Even so, photography today can still express important observations. And it can reveal invisible truths.
With a wink to Edward Muybridge, who pioneered the scientific use of stop-motion photography and, in 1877, proved that a galloping horse lifts all four hooves off the ground, I painted a grid on my studio wall and conducted my own, pseudo-scientific experiments. I used the nude as a controlled variable to see what implications it might engender.
My photograph “Red Umbrella” demonstrates that a woman may remain grounded as she opens an umbrella.
My “experiments” also referenced Harold Edgerton, the MIT scientist who used stroboscopic lighting to reveal moments of such brevity that they were invisible to the naked eye. One example is the incremental position of a diver as he performs a back flip.
In my photograph, “Leap of Faith,” I have a young woman, with eyes closed, diving into the hands of a man.
There is nothing difficult to see in my photographs, of course, and every one is clearly staged. Every image targets a different idea. The baldness with which each tableau is arranged makes it possible to move beyond the limitations of fact and to reconsider what we already know from a different perspective.
Take, for example, the explicit, highly detailed color photograph, “Lineup.” In it, five clothed men, facing away from the camera, stand in front of a grid-painted wall. This starkly lit image is reminiscent of a police lineup, except that we cannot possibly identify any of the men. One woman stands in their midst, facing forward. She is naked.
What is one to make of such a tilted scenario?
My instructions to the model were that she be perfectly neutral. I didn’t want her body language to tip the scale in any direction. Most people will get the ‘unbiased identification’ reference right away, but what matters more are the judgments that immediately follow. Is this woman a criminal? Is she a victim of the men? Is she a slut caught in the net? Is this what she deserves?
What I hope the viewer eventually realizes is that these photographs are not really about the nudes at all. My point is to subversively redirect viewer attention to a mixture of social observations and comments, as well as to our perfectly natural tendency to be voyeurs.
After I had made and printed the color photographs for this show, I found myself revisiting the images in my mind’s eye at odd moments during the day. The nudes continued to assert their presence. I carried around their impression as an afterimage.
‘Afterimage’ – that word resonated with me – so I returned to the original photographs with the specific intent of reinterpreting them to create a new work of art. In a very literal sense, I was extending the creative process beyond the point of completion. I wanted to travel beyond the terminal station. The new photograph would be an “after” image. I set about giving this notion a tangible form. While I was at it, I thought I’d steal the nude, too.
Thus were born the AfterImages, a series of Black and White photographs included in this show. There are no nudes in any of these photographs, only black or white holes where the nudes used to be. Yet, especially for people who have seen the original color photograph, the nude figures are there as plain as day.
A second light bulb seems to turn on when viewers contemplate my AfterImages. It illuminates a smile.