Tuesday, March 3, 2009
No matter where I aim my camera, it is with the goal of capturing the feeling rather than the thing. I was fortunate to find a model last October who really wanted to shoot some nude work in the snow. We ended up with a pretty dreary, overcast day, and it didn't bode well for photography, but it put me in mind of the aesthetics of Japanese art. I'm no expert on Japanese art, and those who are may think I'm full of crap, but I've always been attracted to it's combination of beauty and melancholy, the sense it conveys that humanity, like nature's beauty, is fleeting and fragile, while unlike humanity, nature's beauty is underlain by a solidity and permanence that remains, even as the seasons change. I've often pondered how to achieve that in a photograph. I'd never gotten around to experimenting with it, but looking at this model in the snow on that dreary day, I was inspired to give it a try. Here are my favorites from that set, along with some discussion of how I tried to achieve the aesthetic qualities I associate with Japanese art. It had crossed my mind that selective focus might be a factor in achieving the melancholy I was after. In this shot the point of focus is on the grass in front of the model and the depth of field is shallow, making the model render soft (enlarge it to see the effect better). I also considered that minimizing the size of the model in the composition could help give the loneliness and fragility I wanted. Having the model mimick natural shapes is a key aspect of most "nude in nature" work. I thought doing so in a bit more abstract fashion might lead to the feeling of an organic attachment between humanity and nature while still emphasizing the separateness of the two. Including large areas of dominant dark forms in the composition is also something I associate with Japanese art, and I thought it was worth a try, particularly where the human element is part of the background and the natural elements are the dominant foreground. I think all four of these approaches were effective, and the posing and tone of the images helps as well, but they were not the essential ingredients in achieving what I was after. I think the key ingredient that made them successful is that they all have a space that stands alone and apart from the model, that's isolated but not detached from the human element in the image. I'd like to say that element was intentional also, but it wasn't. The fact that's it's there in virtually every shot in the set rules out accident or serendipity. It was subconscious, intuitive. My heart and eye knew how to capture the feeling I wanted, even if my head was unsure, and it reaffirmed my belief that photography's expressive aspect is dominant over it's documentary aspect, at least for me. Is it a Japanese aesthetic? I would be interested in hearing an answer to that from some experts in Japanese aesthetics, but it really doesn't matter. I achieved the feeling I was after and that's what matters. This is some of my favorite work I've shot to date, and I'm very grateful to the brave, cold model who helped produce it.