Successful art photography creates a bond between the image and the viewer, but an individual’s reaction to a photograph is created in the mind through the lens of life experience; the interpretation of an image is a deeply personal journey, not a collective one. A good image is like a looking glass, through which the lives of the viewed and the viewer become one.
Western philosophical thought about human perception tends to rely strongly on experiential evidence to separate those things that are known and unknown. The most trust is placed on those things that can be known and experienced through direct human interaction with the physical world. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave from “The Republic” illustrates the idea: Plato asks his audience to consider a group of people, living in a deep cave their entire lives, whose actual knowledge of the world applies only to their limited experience. This group of people may see the world exclusively in terms of being dark, and cold, and sterile. We can only know what our life has taught us, Plato would say..
While we all know that humans can learn and internalize knowledge about things they have not directly experienced, the idea that direct human perception of the world is most reliable skews our interpretation of reality toward direct experience. Being limited in this way means humans can be most effective only in areas that are familiar. Think about a man incapable of fear–such a man’s lack of knowledge about fear would make him a poor choice to counsel post-traumatic stress syndrome patients; he might, however, be a good firefighter. Similarly, a man who has never suffered loss probably would lack the empathy needed to help those who are grieving.
Models who are successful at figurative and art photography modeling are those who can overcome this problem by projecting feeling and meaning into the finished images; but Plato would find vindication in his views of the known and unknown because a model’s ability to convey meaning is heavily dependent on individual life experience. Their art is the ability to form a very human connection with an unknown audience, and convey complex meaning through pose and gesture. This is not an easy task, and its not a job for the faint-hearted. As you view the images below, each of them should create an emotional bond with you, the viewer. In each, as you study them, model Gazelle Powers is presenting a piece of herself, a piece of her life experience, with you. The poses themselves are learned, often through an endless series of practice and refinement; yet each carries the germ of an idea that Gazelle at some point understood through the context of her life experience and its possible connection with yours.
The viewers’ interpretation of message through artworks–including fine art photography–is also heavily influenced by individual life experience. Indeed, reactions are highly individual and personal, not collective. My own initial reaction to the images below was probably unique. As I studied the images for the first time, the images for me recalled a specific place and time, part of my own past experience. I recalled the sensations from a moment, long ago, of walking through the heat of the late afternoon in a neighborhood in the Old South of the United States; the air was heavy after the afternoon rains, and the smell of Crepe Myrtle was sticky sweet in the air, hanging like a perfume. I can’t tell you why that connection was made, I can only relate that it was there.
As I looked deeper into the images, I saw something different. Emotions evoking hope, longing, and the scars left over from feelings of loss that probably are taken out only occasionally, and handled with extreme care. I saw beauty, dignity, intelligence and grace coupled with a heavily disguised vulnerability. I wondered how race might play into Gazelle’s sensitive poses, and how my own perception of race issues might interpret how I saw them; especially in these troubled times.
What you see in the images might be different, but that’s simply part of the journey. Maybe the images help you consider feminine strength, our very human frailty, or our flawed perfection. Maybe your mind takes you to considering how beautiful human beings are, or how utterly precious each of our lives can be. Maybe the connection you feel allows you, for a moment, to unpack one of those boxes of past emotions we all keep locked away, hold those emotions in your hands for a few minutes, only to carefully repack and reseal them back where they are more safely kept. Where you go is up to you, and how you see.
Special thanks to model Gazelle Powers for gracing us with her immense talent for this pictorial. Gazelle is an accomplished model at the highest level of the art modeling world; known for her expressive and emotive posing abilities that bring life and energy to the images she creates. Gazelle is based in the Washington D.C. area, but travels throughout the United States to practice her sublime art. [Official Website]