My photographs and those of Wojtek Wojdynski are currently in an exhibition at Through This Lens Gallery in Durham. Reviewed by Blue Greenberg, here is what she said about our work.
At Through This Lens, two views of the natural form
Feb 15, 2009
Through this Lens’ Web site gives the following subtitle to the new exhibit “Natural Forms”: “exquisite photographic prints of nudes and nature by two masters of the form.” The nude is wrought with possibilities, problems and prejudices. There is nothing that causes more controversy than the nude human body, female or male. Whether we are confronting the nude in real life, in classical sculptures, museum paintings or in 21st century photographs, the argument is heated.
There are those who claim these images have only been created because they incite prurient interest and others who understand, as Kenneth Clark proposed, (“The Nude,” 1956) that it was the ancient Greeks who proposed the nude as a form of art, never the subject of art.
Complicating the debate is whether a full frontal view is more obscene than a view from the back. To further muddy the waters modern photographers present the human body as it really is rather than the classical version, sleek, smooth and devoid of body hair.
Although this quarrel seems old-fashioned, conservative tastes still have a strong voice in the Triangle. The nudes in the permanent collections of the N.C. Museum of Art and UNC’s Ackland Museum can be counted on one hand. Even local commercial galleries do not display nudes conspicuously and when Through This Lens gallery director Roylee Duvall was preparing for this show, he consulted a number of women’s groups to see if they could accept these images for their formal elements before considering them in any other way.
Duvall, who has been in photography for years, knows almost everyone in the field, and when Caroline Vaughan and Wojtek Wojdynski came to him with an idea they had been working on for a year, he grabbed it. Vaughan, a local photographic star, was moving to a new residence and needed a solid photographer to print her work while she organized a new studio. She is a demanding artist and Wojdynski was able to meet her demands. Over the year of this technical collaboration, they forged a friendship that supplanted the professional one and the idea for a joint show evolved. Both artists are observers of nature, but what is the most beautiful object in nature? Is it the human form?
Duvall put their differences this way: “Vaughan puts the body into the landscape and Wojdynski makes a landscape of the body.” Their work will be interspersed throughout the gallery, but with a little concentration, the viewers will be able to differentiate. There are, of course, straight pictures of nature, like Vaughan’s watery cascades, and Wojdynski’s scarecrow, silhouetted against a clear sky. It is obvious, however, they are both concentrating on the human form, and it is those pictures that give us the most to think about.
One of Vaughan’s loveliest compositions contains tiny figures placed against dense woods as white accents. It reminds me of 19th century landscape artists who used tiny figures as staffage, making the point that humans are fragile and vulnerable against the might of nature. In another group, Vaughan focuses on the drama of breast cancer, with images usually left in the doctor’s office. In the first picture, we see a slight ordinary woman with a mane of blonde hair. In the next one, we see two views of the same woman, nude, bald and one breast amputated. With her absolute control of her medium and her sensitivity, Vaughan does not ask for our grief or outrage. She simply gives us a record of what happens to a healthy human when cancer attacks.
Her talent and genius come through with her straightforward narratives told in the most beautifully developed images a photographer can produce.
Wojdynski gives us the more traditional female, stretched in full frontal nudity against a backdrop of a small dirt hillock, but then he ventures off into other ideas, like pictures of a nude wiry man, who has scrunched up his body to ride a child’s scooter, and several images of a large woman with pendulous breasts. In one, she sits on a rocky abutment with her sunglasses perched on her nose. In the other, she is presented as an abstraction of line, shape and texture rather than a fat nude woman.
“Close Encounter” is another of Wojdynski’s images; it is a very beautiful portrait of a nude black male in profile, looking up at something beyond the viewer’s sight. As we observe the quiet reverie of the man, the artist makes us feel the special beauty and sacredness of the human form.
Vaughan is a native of Durham. Wojdynski is a transplant from Poland. While they could not be more different geographically, they seem to breathe the same photographic ideas. Both use meticulous technology and both have made a life’s work of traditional photography. Wojdynski is an expert in the printing of very large digital images; he is equally expert in the darkroom. Vaughan sticks to the old-fashioned methods and, in Duvall’s opinion, is one of the best traditional photographers he has ever seen.
This very beautiful show places the human form in its rightful place in nature and into the general context of art. In each image, the artists have used the nude as a form of art, not as the subject of art.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in The Arts. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.
IF YOU GO
“Natural Forms: Photographs by Caroline Vaughan and Wojtek Wojdynski,” Through This Lens Gallery, 303 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, through April 11. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 687-0250.
© 2009 by The Durham Herald Company. All rights reserved.