Did you start doing photography just as an adjunct to your painting (to have photos to work from) or for other reasons?
I have always used photography as a tool for my painting. Quite often after sketching an idea for a painting, I shoot photos as reference material for the painting. If you say something to me, I do not take it casually and one day a friend asked if I had ever considered the photographs as the finished art. This idea floated around in my head for awhile until I decided I would give it a try. I shot a roll of black & white film and was very pleased with the results, certainly enough to pursue expressing my creativity through photography. A short time later I had an idea to photograph our friends in the nude and without really thinking about it (I act in this way quite often, just blurting things out) I told Jen my idea. She of course responded, "Great, let's ask them!" and I said, "You can't do that." People pick partners who have qualities they themselves would like to possess. I admire Jen for choosing a course of action, being committed to it, and pushing through any fear she may have. I try to be like her in that way and so I got committed to asking our friends to pose nude for me. I also forced myself to subdue my fear. I was fortunate in that the first few people I asked all said yes. That encouraged me to press on and through the experience I felt greatly empowered by it and learned that it was rewarding for me just to ask the question.
Many of your photographs (both nudes and nature/landscapes) are in black and white. Yet you use color in interesting ways (like Beauty and the Beast - which I love, and the sepia ones, and the blue ones, and...). Could you just talk about that? When you play with the colors, are you looking for a specific effect or just seeing what happens?
Sometimes I just feel that an image would be better if it were warmer or cooler and so I tint them sepia or blue. I felt Ancient Magic (left), a shot I took of Stonehenge, needed that antique look that the warmth of sepia can provide. At other times I am just experimenting to see what may happen. When I first saw Beauty and the Beast (below, right) I was disappointed because it was slightly out of focus. I liked the pose and thought it powerful, but slight blurring weakened the impact. So I played around with the image in Photoshop to see if I could salvage it. I kept layering one effect on top of another until the image was as you see it now. Beauty and the Beast was a happy accident, in fact, I'm not sure how I got there and may not be able to duplicate the effect. Other slightly fuzzy images have been saved from the trash heap. Highlights & Drapery (left) and Legs (below) are two images that are slightly out of focus and did not work as straight forward photographs. I bleached the color slightly to give it a 1960's hand-colored look and then added a diffused glow.
Your nudes are stunning. Talk a bit about why they're important to you. You'd mentioned it being "much more interesting and more truthful" - here's your chance to elaborate.
Robin, it pleases me very much that you find my nudes "stunning." I am interested in many, many things and want to paint and photograph them all! However, I think I am most interested in people and especially nudes. As I said, they are "much more interesting and truthful." Clothes can help you feel powerful, thinner, happier, braver, etc. Without clothes we have the naked truth, literally. I think that if you can feel happy and brave without a stitch of clothing, then you truly are happy and brave, or whatever it is that you feel when not hiding beneath clothes. I'm not a nudist nor am I advocating nudism. However, I would recommend having the experience at least once to see what you may discover about yourself.
The initial group of friends I invited to pose nude all said, "yes" and then immediately provided a list of conditions. "First I have to lose ten pounds; no profile shots, I don't like my nose; no frontal shots I have stretch marks on my thighs" and on and on it went. I started to wonder "how am I going to do this?" I attempted to make my case for wanting them just as they were, I wasn't looking for airbrushed images. I'm happy to say that once we got started all the caveats were forgotten. And then there was an additional unexpected result for almost everyone who has participated. Many of my models told me at the end of the shoot that they would do it again and that they had experienced a tremendous sense of freedom. First fear, push through, and then freedom!
I spend about ten minutes at the beginning of each shoot photographing the model dressed so that he or she may get accustomed to the bright lights and the whole environment. The moment of disrobing is still an anxious one and the robe is kept close by for breaks. Many of the models quickly found such a level of comfort that they felt no need for the robe during breaks. We would sit on the sofa, enjoy something to drink (non-alcoholic, as I prefer the model's eyes not to droop and the mind to remain clear), and chat as if we were at Starbucks socializing over a cup of coffee. It is a very unique experience.
Here is another part of photographing nudes where the truth must be absolute. An artist friend once asked me how I get people to pose nude for me and I said that I just ask them. And then I added that you must be sincere about your intent. I have had people respond in such a way that they must have thought I was asking them to do something else. That response is always a disappointment to me, but I can only control my side of the interaction.
What has it been like working with your models? Are they professionals or just "everyday" folks?
My models are "everyday folks" and that is for a couple of reasons. When I first conceived the idea for this project, I wanted everyday people and not professional models. My original idea was a bit gimmicky. I thought I've never done this and my friends have never done nude modeling, so this will be interesting from that point alone. I also wanted to show that we all have beauty just the way we are. After the first few sessions, I realized that faith and trust were the heart of this project. I was overwhelmed by the amount of faith and trust my friends had in me. Consider the title of my book, Would You Pose Nude for Me? Robin, I know you have considered this question since you submitted work for the poetry project, but most people have never been asked this.
Not everyone I asked said "yes." One person said, "No one wants to see me naked." Over the years I have considered exactly what that response means. Of course I can only imagine what he really meant, but I bet it was about his fear. Or it might have been that he just did not want to say "no" and said that instead. Another possibility is that he did not feel safe. I believe that we feel the most vulnerable when we are without our clothes. My friends trusted me enough to put themselves in a very vulnerable place. Some allowed me to blindfold them and handcuff them. If that isn't trust, I don't know what it is!Part 3 of the interview will be tomorrow.