Sunday, March 28, 2010

It Should Have Been A Happy Time

Sunday Evening
March 28th, 2010

It should have been a happy time, and it was.  I was recently asked by the Outreach Manager of the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County if I would be willing to donate "Jody in the Desert" to their upcoming Silent Auction Fundraiser.  I happily agreed.   Joyce and I attended the event, which was held this afternoon and evening.  Here's Ann, the woman who asked me about the donation:

And here's Jody on display:

It has been a strange week.  Several incidents this week have caused me to second-guess myself as a figure photographer.  I have shot landscapes and seascapes almost my entire life, since the age of eleven.  It has only been since February 2nd, 2005 that I have turned my attention to figure photography.  In those five plus years I have worked with over twenty-five models in a variety of settings, including studios, rivers, and the desert.  It has been a wonderful five years of learning to work with models, lighting, and equipment.  I have produced images that range all the way from the explicit and erotic to the artistic and fine art.

Now that I am retired from public education and am living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I have built a saw shop, frame shop, gallery, and studio on our property here in Ben Lomond.  I was accepted into Open Studios last October and will be applying again this year.  During the month of June I will have a twenty-one image one-person show in Santa Cruz.  Tonight "Jody in the Desert" sold and helped raise money for the arts in Santa Cruz County.

I should be pleased, and I am.  But I came home this evening with a deep sadness, and it has to do with people's responses to artistic images of the nude female figure.  I understand people's problems with the explicit and the erotic and I have moved my efforts away from those images and more towards that which can be considered art by a broader range of people.  There is no question that sexuality and women have been victimized by exploitation, to such an extent that many people are afraid to appreciate that which is natural, sensual, and beautiful.

My artistic figure photos have now been on display in three galleries (my own included) and tonight's fundraiser.  When I attend the artists' receptions for these events I observe the differing ways in which people view my work.  Most, and I do mean most, won't even look in its direction.  One gallery owner told me that people would sneak off into a hallway to flip through my artistic figure portfolio.

There was one woman tonight who viewed "Jody in the Desert" in a way that brought me a smile.  Here she is:

I know that artists have to have confidence in themselves as they continue to experiment and grow in the expression of their work.  One artist friend of mine says that when her pieces of art are on display, it feels like she herself is hanging there naked on the wall.  I am just learning all this, and I have to tell you, given the incidents of this past week, it is not easy to remain confident.  Especially in the area of figure photography, with all the hangups that so many people have about anything sensual, I have felt several times like just hanging it up and quitting.

I am currently experimenting with several pieces of software that take a photograph and produce from it images that are more like oil paintings or pencil drawings.  I am very pleased with the results and don't feel like I am compromising my art in doing so.  I see what sells at silent auctions and in galleries and at least in my experience, it is not sharp, clear, lifelike images of the naked female figure.  You can take the same image and remove it just a bit from "reality" and stand a much better chance of having your work sell.

All of which reminds me of the story I heard while working in a photography studio when I was a teenager:

"At first I did photography for myself.  Then I did it for my friends.  And now I'm a whore.  I do it for money."

Would I like to make some money selling my photography?  Yes.  Am I open to experimenting with different techniques that make it look more "art" like?  Yes.  But when the day comes that I am creating an image the way I am creating it, only because that is the way I can sell it, then I will pack up this adventure and quit.  That day has not come, and I hope it never will.

Frank Leonard

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