Dreamy, dazzling and decadent is the best way to describe the opulent images that make up White Rhino, one of the exhibitions rubbing shoulders at the Midsumma photo-media exhibition Photo Stimulus. The man behind the camera David C Collins takes Michael Magnusson into the world of his photographs.
Although David Collins hails from Western Australia, his nocturnal, dreamlike images are the last thing you would expect from that sunny state. Instead the photographer takes his inspiration from the past, the spot lit, ‘cinematic’ work of the seventeenth century Italian master Caravaggio or the languid sexuality of the high Baroque.
The impact of the images is instant. Surrounded by richly coloured flowers, fruit, jewels and fabrics, the naked or near naked figures recline or cavort in fantasy surroundings, picked out of the darkness by golden light and greeting the viewer with a calm, even inviting gaze.
“I make a really stylised, theatrical play out of it and, as for the imagery itself,” Collins said, “it’s inspired by classical paintings, Caravaggio obviously was a huge influence. Another thing I love is Central and South American retablos, folk-styled paintings depicting religious scenes.”
Cinema is another influence on Collins and he cites the languorous feeling in the films of directors like Peter Greenaway, or the very matter of fact gaze of Bernardo Bertolucci.
And, just as cinema evolved from black and white film into colour, when Collins first started photography he always worked in black and white, focussing on the tonal contrasts and not noticing the colours. When he switched over to colour he found a whole new dimension to explore.
“It took me a while to adjust my eye to it because, you are suddenly looking at something different and you can be seduced by the colours,” Collins said.
“Now I love it because it is something else I can play with in the image and use to evoke an emotion from the audience as well because we associate different colours with different feelings or different times of day.”
Collins works on a large scale, the prints are well over a metre in height or width, almost in imitation of the paintings that inspire them. Preferring to always capture the models and surroundings in a single posed shot, the challenge is to capture so many layers of detail. Consequently, he finds himself working like a cinema director lighting a set.
“I like film, but I like to think of photography more as painting and drawing than a photograph because the way I work with the layers is similar to painting where you work back into it and highlight something.”
Collins creates a picture through a long process of drawing, the same way a painting is created. He has many sketchbooks and draws and draws until coming up with something he is happy with and wants to produce.
The inspiration for his photographs is always anecdotal material, things that have happened to himself or the people who model for his work. In 'What Yo Pappa Said' (pictured), for example, it’s about the three people’s strengths against the notions of how others think they should be living their lives.
“The girl in the picture represents someone from a very strict, religious family; no parties, no celebrating anything – and definitely no nudity – but the fact that she finds the balance of living that sort of life and at the same time finding a release through this.
“The young, darker gentleman was dating a friend of mine at the time, but she could never meet his family because he was expected to marry someone of the same cultural background as him. So, it’s that double life he was leading.
“The pale young man comes from a strict family. At 15 he came out to his family that he was gay and he had to run away and live with other relatives because they couldn’t accept him.He is bit more subversive to the other two. They had to find a way to hide it in while he had the courage to come out.
“It’s about the conflict in their individual lives and background and that’s what brought them all together in the work and we came up with that composition.
“It’s a celebration, amongst each other they are free to be who they are.”
Sometimes the ideas for a picture come even more spontaneously. One morning at breakfast someone was pouring honey over their toast and said to Collins something they had always wanted to do was take a bath in honey.
“The thing with photography is that you can make it happen and then document it. I will sketch and sketch and come up with lists of what I need and then I just need to get people who want to be involved.”
Anyone interested in being photographed in a bath full of honey?
White Rhino, until February 9, 2013. Edmund Pearce Gallery, level 2, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane), Melbourne. Information: edmundpearce.com.au
(Image) What Yo Papa Said - David Collins