I am fascinated by the power of liquid to bend light and take a nude portrait into a fictional world. The ungovernable nature of liquid provides a balance between order and chaos. Although I can predict the general nature of each image, the exact details are left to the randomness of the liquid. A constantly moving mirror and lens, liquids provide intricate visual surprises. Ripples, reflections, splashes, and drops all contribute to a mix of highlights and shadows comprising intricate textures.
The patterns of ripples and waves can seem independent of scale. The effects are fascinating whether they are viewed from close up or far away. The dreamlike nature of liquid can add a touch of the surreal to the photographs.
In these images, a variety of liquids: water, martinis, rain, coffee, tea, milk, cream — each play a distinct role in creating textures, mood, colors, and unpredictable shapes through cascades, splashes, and ripples. There is something visceral and primal about many of these.
This collection of images is arranged into themes, many of them building on the previous. The visual journey begins with swimmers plunging into the liquid, then navigating its surface.
In this selection of images, the vantage point is from below the surface and most of the subject is as well. Underwater images show a world that is somewhat alien to the viewer. Gone are the familiar behavior of light and gravity. The effects of atmosphere on perspective and light are peculiar.
With both the camera and the subject under the surface, many things are different in the process of making submerged images. A change in tools and environment affects the process on both sides of the lens. Circumstances are less forgiving and we must rely more on instinct, sometimes on luck. If working with water is akin to flinging paint onto a canvas, then working underwater is like doing it in a stiff breeze.
When immersed, there is no verbal communication. We work off of a mix of intuition, rehearsed choreography, and shared mindsets. Bodies and hair are buoyant and sometimes appear weightless. The similarities between a figure suspended in water and one suspended in air are apparent in some cases. The metaphor of flying through water is emphasized by outstretched limbs and sweeping motion.
Colors shift with the depth as does the behavior of light. The surface takes on a different appearance. It filters sunlight and provides a mirror of what is beneath it. The surface’s role as a barrier between worlds is more pronounced. Bubbles imply motion and a visual connection to the realm above.
Isolated on Dark
A particular treatment I’ve used is images with a single figure, surrounded by dark, negative space. With an expanse of darkness framing a figure, it emphasizes the contours of the body. In this way, isolating a figure in dark surroundings shifts the intent of the image towards an aesthetic expression that extends beyond the presentation of subject matter.
The color of the body seems warmer and the tones of water seem cooler. Brilliant highlights sparkle like gems on the surface and the inky depths are unknown. A figure laying in the water isn’t just obscured, but fades until it disappears under the surface. Splashes contrast starkly with the dense backgrounds.
The predominant areas of darkness contribute greatly to the mood of these images. Darkness has a somewhat sinister connotation. This section is less whimsical and almost immediately seems more serious in nature on the basis of their darker tonality. The shift to low-key tones further dramatizes the pairing of liquids and the figure. The following selection of images employs this effect to a great degree, but it is used in varying degrees throughout the compilation of images.
Rivers and oceans provide ample opportunity for visual exploration. Streams, waterfalls, and waves on the shoreline offer varied and diverse possibilities. The unpredictability of water is complemented by the wide range of natural settings. Water takes on many characteristics and can evoke a spectrum of emotions depending on how it looks. The surf reminds us of the immense weight and power of water. Even small waves create dramatic splashes that propel droplets of water through the composition. Angry seas and threatening skies caution us how physically insignificant we are in the face of the elements. Contrast this with the placid surface of a river or stream that creates a calm mood.
Splash and Cascade
I am intrigued by the myriad ways water moves when it falls, hits the body, then is propelled upwards and outwards. These behaviors of liquid are what first interested me in photographing liquids that appear frozen as they contact the body. I began with bowls or vases of water that each subject would pour over herself. This type of pantomime performance expresses deliberate, autonomous action. It tells a story in which all is contained in the composition.
This series evolves through a variety of stages. After images of poured liquid are those where the source of the water is external to the frame. Water streams from above, its exact source unknown. An additional change is to have the subject hold a vessel, such as a glass, that water splashes into. This additional element abruptly changes the trajectory of the liquid.
In later images, the direction and source of the water are so ambiguous that the splashes seem to appear spontaneously, as if they came from nowhere. The water bursts or drizzles down the figure, portraying the latter portion of its activity, its origin concealed by the brief passage of time.
Images in this series can be somewhat lighthearted, although others rely heavily on aesthetic qualities for their appeal. Regardless of the degree of playfulness involved, each of these images have a distinct sense of action. These take advantage of the kinetic capabilities of small amounts of water to visually occupy large portions of the composition, often rivaling the central character for our attention.
Up to this point, the images have featured water or other clear liquids. The deviation to non-clear liquids introduces varying degrees of opacity. White milk contrasts with darker skin. Against a dark background, it stands out as a bright flowing line that captures the eye with its energy. Amber spirits from a bottle incorporate a translucent visual element that complements the warm tones of the body. A mug of cocoa contrasts with a pale complexion. Thicker solutions like milk and cream behave differently than water, yet still unpredictable. These liquids hold together as they splash and cascade. All these non-clear liquids do more than just texture the body. The lines, shapes, and edges of contrast all add to the composition in bold ways.