Evolving Beauty: Miranda is an exhibition of fine art Nude photographs drawn from images of a single model created over a decade. It is the first time I have focused an exhibition of Nudes on a single subject. The show highlights how much an extended collaboration adds to my process, and shares some of the best images Miranda and I have made over more than a decade of working together (several images included in Evolving Beauty: Miranda were first exhibited in Evolving Beauty: New Brunswick and Evolving Beauty). The 19 page exhibition booklet is available for download.
Miranda and I first worked together late in the summer of 2001. Though she had no experience modeling (nude or otherwise), her body comfort and enthusiasm for the process and results was obvious. By early 2002, Miranda and I were working together frequently, cementing the foundation of a friendship and collaboration that continues to strengthen as time passes.
The advantages that long term collaborations bring are hard to quantify. It is not that it’s easier to work with a familiar subject; many first-time sessions lead to striking photographs. It is not that it’s easier to take creative risks; many of my biggest creative leaps have roots in experiments originating in setting and circumstance. The easiest way to describe the advantage is to focus on the connection created, a rapport based on trust, respect and a mutual drive to create which has strengthened and solidified over the years we have worked together. Without this, I doubt many of the images in this exhibition would ever have been made.
I live for my art and very much see the people I photograph as collaborators, participants in my creative process, as opposed to just the subjects. Without the generosity and commitment of people like Miranda, the work that defines me could not have been created.
Towards the end of this session, I shifted from images of the body in landscape to portraits, which I always prefer to make with soft, even light. There is a lovely simplicity to this portrait of Miranda; when I made this image, I selected a slower shutter speed, hoping to catch the flight of her hair in the wind.
Of all the images in Evolving Beauty: Miranda, this portrait was the first one I knew had to be included. It was made during our second session working together, and her first time modeling on her own.
If someone asked what I sought when photographing the Nude, it would be easy to say I’m usually looking for one of two possibilities; a striking image focusing on the body in the setting, or a strong portrait. This image certainly fulfills the second criteria!
I’d expected to work with the valley of Glen Coe as a backdrop, but the weather and time worked against us. As we clambered up the lower slopes of the mountains, the weather oscillated between rain and almost rain, making working out in the open landscape a challenge. At the River Coupall, however, a canopy of trees kept the weather at bay, letting Miranda and I to make our first images in a new continent.
Miranda had to pose close to the water’s surface for the look I sought, and we quickly discovered that the only angle that worked was with her body parallel to the camera. With the light dropping rapidly (decreasing by as much as 50% in five minutes) Miranda and I had to work as fast as we could. By the time the light had faded to a point where it was too dark to work, Miranda was pretty chilled, and ready to come out.
This session was idyllic; the day was solidly overcast, providing great light to work by, but wasn’t hot enough to become uncomfortable. As we moved down the beach, I alternated between photographing in the shallow ocean and on vast planes of unbroken sand. For this image, I was drawn to a dark patch of sand, and how directional it was within the context of the beach.
When making this composition, I purposely set Miranda‘s figure against the white water flowing behind her, using it to separate her from the background. The results were even more successful than I had hoped, as her wet hair almost blends in to the rocks and dark water below her.
This session was on an inland lake, working at the end of the day as the sun moved lower in the sky. I knew the low light angle would work wonderfully with Miranda’s body emerging from the water, but hadn’t counted on the fine water grasses growing right by the shore.
All through the Bouctouche session, Miranda was collecting shells and making small treasure piles on the beach. At one point, she came over to show me her favorites. I couldn’t resist photographing them, and, much to my surprise, one of my favorite images of the day was of Miranda’s shell, surrounded by the beautiful chaos of her hair, swirling around her in the afternoon wind.
Flat level beaches are difficult to photograph on; there is little in the way of landscape to inspire, so most of the images from this session focus on the anomalies - driftwood, old dead trees, and other debris on the sand. Because the light was so harsh, it was difficult to compose images - often the best angle photographically had the wrong lighting, so many of the images were compromises between the best angle and the best light.
For this session, after discussing my previous explorations, and looking through the results of earlier bathtub photos we’d made, Miranda and I investigated the possibilities offered by her sitting in the tub, as opposed to lying down. Right away, I saw potential; this pose, with her knee up and head bent forward, was very classical, and the highlights of the water running off her body were quite beautiful.
There’s magic in working with new models, but there are advantages to long-term relationships with models, including their tolerance for testing. In this case I wanted to try my multi-image digital stitching technique indoors (by this time I had already used it with great success outdoors). Miranda was happy to help me with the experiment, even though she knew it would involve longer poses as I made the numerous exposures necessary for each image.
Initially, the contrast between Miranda and the window was too high, but once I hung a translucent cloth and asked Miranda to move behind it, everything changed. The late afternoon light reflected off the cloth and illuminated Miranda’s torso from the side, balancing the wonderful glow from behind. Miranda and I explored a number of different poses, ranging from her being completely behind the cloth, to this image, with a wonderful balance between being concealed and revealed.
For years, my default process for indoor Nudes has been to cover whatever space I’m working in in white sheets, both to even out the light and to create a “neutral space” as opposed to a personal/individual space, which would detract from the focus on the body’s own beauty.
On the day this image was made, Miranda and I had planned to work on the coast, but the weather had different plans, so we had to find a location to work out of the rain. I asked if Miranda would be up for revisiting Spion Copp, even though she’d modeled there before, and she was more than keen (for one thing, it meant no modeling in the rain).
In many ways, Iron Angel is a symbol of one of the longest, most subtle shifts in my work, away from androgyny and gender neutrality, and towards imaging the body in a more confident, gender specific manner. I couldn’t have made this image a decade earlier, as the bold, confident pose Miranda is in would have been too direct and strikingly female for my earlier self.
Initially, I thought I’d set the pole and Miranda against the background of the Petitcodiac River, but try as I might, I couldn’t find an angle that worked. Changing my approach, I found that with careful composition, I was able to isolate the weathered tree trunk in the landscape, simplifying the background to the sea of grass and focusing the image on Miranda, the pole, and the grass.
Made during a weekend of photography with four models in the south-eastern New Brunswick landscape, this image is unusual for me. In over twenty-five years of work, I can only think of one other set of images of the Nude set on a vehicle (which either points out vehicles are not very aesthetic when mixed with the Nude, or I am blind to a whole potential direction for my work).
Miranda and I worked hard with this space, trying to deal with the harsh light and the shape of the machine remnant, both challenges that took some time to overcome. The sunlight gave some very nice highlights to the edges of the wheels, but plunged the rest of the machine into dark shadow, and the hard, unforgiving iron edges proved a little uncomfortable for Miranda to pose on. In the end, working just to the side opposite the sun, and having Miranda lie back across her clothes solved both.