Over the last eighteen months or so I have called a halt to model photography of all kinds, in recognition of COVID-19. Clearly there have been much more serious issues for many people, but it has to be said that getting out in Nature and shooting with a model, whether working on my ongoing body of work of nude figure studies in nature, or doing a shoot with a specific purpose, is one of the things that keeps me feeling grounded and that I am creating work, expressing myself and caring for my artistic side.
Late on in 2019 I found myself getting back in touch with a handful of people I went to primary school with, and one of them in particular has become a regular correspondent and co-conspirator in fun. Odette and I have been conspiring to do some photos of her doing Yoga in beautiful places for her website for some time and this last weekend we finally got around to doing it.
So, you can see her site here and over the next few days it will be becoming more of a site and less of a holding page, but here are some highlights from our day of shooting…
There is something very special and rare about the kind of photography that I do. I realise that I would say that because of how important it is to me and how much of myself goes into it, even if few other people ever see quite how much.
Photographing models is a very personal and intellectually intimate process one that in almost all cases, no matter the specific genre, is a collaborative and shared experience between me and the people I am working with. This is never more true than when I am working on nudes, and this is at its zenith when we are shooting outside, whether in nature and wilderness or in the heart of an urban locale.
The relationships and experiences I have collected by creating this kind of work with some truly fascinating, talented, expressive and beautiful men and women are precious and delicate and are honestly very hard to describe and even harder to have them understood.
More often than not people misunderstand – they are put off or flat out disgusted, or they assume that there is something furtive and / or sexual about what is going on, or they are just confused by it simply because both posing in this kind of way and being the photographer both represent completely alien ideas in their experience of their lives. I am not here to defend the artistic, emotional and human truths of what I do and what both I and the people I photograph hold so dear. I am going to say, just once, that it means something, in fact it means a lot, and unless you are a liberal minded person who is comfortable with the idea of nude art, or you are someone that is involved in the creation of nude art you are either going to have to take my word for it or not, and that is ok by me as long as you are prepared to save your judgement for another time or place.
Stephanie Dubois was a true artist, in every way you or anyone else can imagine. A model, a photographer and a writer and on top of all that a happy, friendly, open, generous soul who was loved by so many, models and photographers alike, and I am truly saddened that I will never see her again.
We met “online” as is pretty much par for the course amongst creators in the photography and nude art world these days, having friends and associates in common and a shared view of the creative process. We got on pretty well, swapping comments and chatting a little and quickly arranging to work together in my home area, which was at the time Strathard in the western reaches of the Trossachs. This was a really special shoot for me as Stephanie was the first model I was able to shoot in the landscape around my home and I will treasure these photos forever as the start of what I hope will be years of building a body of work in and around Strathard.
The day of shooting with Steph was a true joy. We shot all over the place, from the glen below Glen Arklet, to the shores of Loch Katrine to the hillsides of Glen Arklet, the shores of Loch Arklet and indeed the immediate area around my home along Arklet Water, the burn that runs past my house and separates it from the road. Clearly some of the time was spent dodging the rain in my car and in the Pier Café at Stronachlachar, and we talked and shared stories and the combination of simple fellowship and creating together left me with a real sense of the kind of instant friendship that I have often felt and found through my photography.
My home in Strathard is fairly remote, so the whole day had been predicated on letting Steph bunk down in my spare room for the night after giving her a meal, and so after we finished for the day I made us some drinks and we chatted while I made dinner and Steph chatted to my wife and became fast friends with my kids. It all added up to a perfect day of creativity and fellowship, and the next morning over breakfast my daughter gave Steph a cute little snowflake charm and was distraught when told that Steph had to get going as she was expected on Skye that afternoon.
I drove Steph back to her car and we wished one another goodbye and I promised to be in touch with some images and I waved her off for what turned out to be, from what she told me later, a really great time on Skye.
We stayed in touch, and though we did not work together again we planned to, and we followed one another’s work and it certainly felt to me that we were present in each other’s lives; not best friends, but people who gave a damn about one another and were looking forward to an opportunity to see one another again and make more art together.
When Steph emigrated to Cyprus earlier this year I made a promise to myself that I would get out there for a short visit to see her and to work together, and I even mentioned it to her in passing and as I expected she was pleased that I was thinking that way, that I felt we had more to do and that I wanted to just hang out as well.
She passed away, a few days ago now, after a brief and totally unexpected illness and it has taken me a few days to get over the whiplash. Here was this bright, talented, vivacious woman that I had great respect and fondness for that I had simply assumed I would see again and now I would never see her again. It all feels and felt so random and senseless, and at the same time there was this sudden appearance of a very sad Steph-shaped whole in my World. I can imagine that the weight of her loss is far, far greater for her parents who I know from her were a really important and large presence in her life, and for the people in our community that knew her far better than I, and my heart goes out to all of them. If I feel this sadness, I am sure that their grief is far greater and deeper – I do genuinely hold them all in my heart and wish for their pain to pass into the joy that they had her in their lives, as it will that bit faster for me.
These photographs are my monument to her, that and knowing the she carried my daughter’s snowflake charm with her for the three years between making these photos and her horribly untimely death, because every time we spoke she asked me about my kids and told me that the charm was still going everywhere with her.
Farewell my friend, the World has lost a bright and joyful presence with your passing – Rest in Peace and Power and I am sure you are making Art wherever you are and lighting up every room that you walk into.
I drive over The Duke’s Pass between Aberfoyle and Callender quite a lot at the moment, and when I remember I tend to have a decent camera with me, after all I have come to learn that this is likely to provide me with the opportunity to take advantage of the beauty I find.
I was driving back to Brig’o’Turk a couple of days ago when I was treated to this view of Ben Aan peeking through the low cloud, across Loch Achray, and so I pulled over and took a photo.
I realise that Disney / Lucasfilm is a gigantic corporate entity that has already sucked millions of dollars out of the global population for the Star Wars franchise alone, and that they do not need my help or anyone else’s help in perpetuating the presence of this cultural behemoth in the zeitgeist, but…
It really is a nice, fun thing in a World that is locked down and in fear of a virus that has re-written our understanding of epidemiology and our assessment of our own mortality. COVID-19 has changed the World, in a few short months and not in any way wanting to brush aside the seriousness of the situation, or the unmitigated tragedy of the deaths of which a good number may well have been prevented, Star Wars Day has been a pleasant distraction, and so I embrace it.
I posted on Facebook that I chose the young Captain Ackbar from the Clone Wars era (who would later go on to be the Flag Admiral of the Rebel Fleet at The Battle of Endor) to be my character totem for the day. The rich diversity of characters and the epic sweep of time that go together to make up the Skywalker Saga within the wider Star Wars Universe is a joy to contemplate, from the scum and villainy of the Bounty Hunters and Interstellar Pirates to the Clone Armies of the Republic and the Droid Armies of the Separatists to the Empire, the Rebellion, the First Order to the Resistance and the Dark Shadowy Sith, the canvas is vast.
Who would you be if you could insert yourself into the Universe for a day? What would you want to experience?
Would you visit the Night Sisters of Dathomire and witness the secret rites with which they held sway over their World? Would you quest for the Zilla Beast on Malister Prime? My choice for this year is in no small part chosen because of my fascination with underwater worlds, and Captain Ackbar is a resident of the watery Mon Calamari. During the Clone Wars (I forget exactly which season of the show) he fought side by side with the newly crowned King of the Mon Cala against the Separatists under the waves of his planet’s oceans.
These little imaginings go a long way to freeing me, and indeed us all, from the tyranny of reality, even if only for a moment or a few minutes of a daydream, but that is the joy of imagination.
So, Happy Star Wars Day – The Fourth will be with you, always…
So today and tomorrow my chum* Chiara is visiting. It’s the first time that she’s been able to visit since we moved up to Scotland, and I have been showing her around a bit and ‘cos we are both photography addicts this has led to some photos… (*chum, read “best friend”, “bestie” etc.)