I have long thought of photography as an egalitarian art. With such forms of artistic expression as drawing, painting and sculpture, one must be gifted with the physical dexterity of hand to excel. Of course, in addition to that, one needs to have the artistic vision to match.
With photography, it’s all about vision. The camera, giving us what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “instant drawing,” makes us all equally dexterous of hand. Even people who can’t draw a straight line have a chance. That’s a powerful tool, and how we use it is up to each individual to decide.
If I were to divide photographers into two types, I might choose those who depict the world as it is and those who depict the world as they would like it to be. I definitely fall into the latter category. The world is (and, I suspect, has always been) a place where one feels helpless to change things. With a camera, I feel empowered – not to change the world, but to create my own world on film and paper.
In a world that often seems chaotic, I try to give my images a sense of beauty, of elegance and of grace – hence the name for my website, Figures of Grace. While this may apply literally to my work with the nude figure, my aim is to instill a sense of grace and elegance into all of my images.
There are many photographers working today who try to change the world by showing others how it really is. Many risk their lives to do so, and I salute them all. They are certainly needed. My goal, however, is to show that there also exists a world of beauty, something to show that life is worth living – and I think that’s a thing we all need, too.
The first “serious” photography I undertook was in that circumstance where everybody else takes photos – on vacation. Beginning with my first solo trip in 1980 – a trip to England, Greece, Israel and Egypt – my motto became “Have Camera, Will Travel.” Seeing the world just didn’t seem complete without a lens to look through, or, more importantly, the opportunity to capture and record that world as my vision saw it.
I still get a thrill each time I set out for a new destination or try to find something new during a re-visit. Some things have changed over the years. In my early days, I used a 35mm camera with color slide film. I’ve now moved up to a larger format and mostly use black & white film. The latter change is especially important, as I find the type of vision needed for black & white to be quite different than that for color. Part of the reason for switching to black & white has been a growing love for the monochromatic image – its use of tones, textures and shapes – and the fact that I can make the final print myself.
When I began working with the nude figure, I had no realization that it would become a long term theme. I’d attended a weekend workshop in upstate New York in 1995, and it might have ended there had another photographer not invited me to participate in some private photo sessions with models during the ensuing months. Through these events and with the encouragement of others, I found that I enjoyed photographing the nude. It is, admittedly, a pleasing subject – but I also found that I had some talent in doing so. As a Classics major in college I had studied classical art, and I began to also view the nude as ‘living sculpture.’
It was also something very different from what I had been doing. While my travel and nude photos are similar in that they share a common vision, the two are very different in one manner: my travel photography is reactive, while my nude work is proactive. In my travels, I search for scenes that interest me visually, which I then try to frame in a strong and interesting manner. I have no power to change the basic elements in that scene. For a nude photo to be successful, it is equally important to find and frame a visually interesting background, but I also have the ability to alter a key element by placing the model where I choose.
My work with the nude figure also receives the credit for turning me into a primarily black & white photographer. I decided from the start to photograph this in black & white as the masters of the genre had primarily done. This led to me doing my own developing and printing and coming up with my own vision for black & white. Now when someone asks me why I don’t photograph in color, I simply answer, “Why should I?”
Equipment and Process
Nearly all of the images on this site have been made with medium format photo equipment. (The exceptions are those photos made with Kodak’s 35mm infrared film.) My primary camera is a Pentax 67 SLR, supplemented by a Fuji 6×7 rangefinder, a Rolleicord TLR and, most recent, a Holga. Even though it is bigger and heavier to carry around than 35mm gear, the increase in image quality makes the medium format equipment worthwhile.
I print all of my black & white photos myself, as I believe this is important to being a complete artist. If an artist is someone who creates a work of art – a tangible, physical object in the case of photography, painting and sculpture – then a complete photographic artist is someone who not only captures the image with a camera but makes the final print, as well.
Some people have asked me why I have not switched to digital. The truth is, I do use digital technology to a certain extent. I now scan my negatives to make inkjet prints to send to models and for publication when required. It is, indeed, more convenient than making each print by hand or even sending it out to a lab.
Even so, creating a work of art should not be about convenience. A work of art should be made by people – not by machines. I am committed to the creative process. When I make a print, I can hold up the final product and proudly say, “I made this!” I do not feel nearly the same sense of satisfaction holding something that’s been spit out by a machine.
- Dave Rudin