Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beneath the Surface: Gary Schneider

Gary Schneider’s mode of photography is highly unconventional. His subjects lie in the dark for hours while he traces their bodies with a pencil torch, illuminating their flesh in front of a camera lens positioned above them. One would expect the result to be a disjointed, if not incomplete, long-exposure photograph in which areas of the body might be left concealed by the dark.

Nevertheless, these studies – such a long-winded and obsessive process could only be deemed a study – appear fairly conventional – aside from the dark patches that fall strategically on parts of their bodies. These shaded areas aren’t accidental; they are all calculated to create depth and visual interest. The interplay between dark and light is particular to photography, but this curious type of photographic approach evokes not only a painterly quality but a painterly mode, which is also rooted in negotiating the balance between darkness and lightness.

In effect, Schneider paints with light; his strokes, if you will, are visible on the naked flesh of his subjects. In this way his invisible gaze leaves a trace. Like a painter he conjures his subjects from the darkness or nothingness  – although, obviously in this context they are fully formed before he encounters them. Nevertheless, painters are also bound to their models and their idiosyncratic features that must be rendered authentically in order for their act of mimesis to be convincing. Schneider might be restricted to his subjects, but he has freedom to decide what parts of their bodies to enhance through his choice of what to illuminate and what to leave cloaked in darkness. Consequently, he gives life to subjects in a manner that defies traditional notions of photography.