Best known for his work as a commercial photographer, Peter Dazeley has always found time to produce personal projects that give him the opportunity to experiment with new techniques and styles. For the past seven years he has been working on a series of fine art photographs of two distinctive themes: the female nude and flowers. Later this year he will be baring his soul in his first solo exhibition, which he sees as an opportunity for his work to be taken more seriously in the fine art arena. He is, however, realistic about the critical response he may receive: ‘The problem with wanting to be recognised as a fine art photographer is that I don’t think you can have a commercial life, because the establishment won’t let you’.
The notion of creating a photograph as art has fuelled endless debates with theorists defining ways that photography can be justified as art. Holding an exhibition increases the kudos of the photographer, and the value of a print is also seen as intrinsic to the fine art aesthetic. Platinum printing is an expensive process, the result of which is a highly desirable product. Dazeley has chosen platinum to enhance the fine art status of his personal work and he sees the use of this process as an extension of his own creativity. ‘All my platinum work is printed by 31 Studio and I see it as a way of using someone else’s skill to embellish my work and move it on. Platinum printing is an incredibly tedious process and I have no desire to do it myself. I can buy a printer’s skill and ability and he or she will often suggest something that I might not have thought about,’ he explains. The archival benefits of the platinum process make it the only choice for Dazeley when it comes to selling his work. ‘I am surrounded by people selling inkjet prints and I am not sure what the resale value really is because they do fade over time. I certainly know which one I would prefer and platinum is what people should be buying rather than something that will fade in a few years time.’
Dazeley has chosen to reproduce in platinum two subjects that clearly lend themselves to the process. His anamorphic nudes have a surreal quality to them. The lens has distorted the female shape in such away that the accentuated arms and legs seem alien-like on a human form that is in every other way familiar to the viewer. Dazeley describes his nude photography as non-sexual; this proposition is supported by there being no female gaze towards the camera. Dazeley’s method of working gives his models the freedom to suggest poses and he is keen for them to feel comfortable with their bodies. ‘My work is really an appreciation of the female form. I am looking for a facial expression, a hand gesture or an awkwardness to the body. I shoot a lot of Polaroids and let the model see them; she can then decide what she likes about her body.’
Because this is a shared decision it is not exclusively Dazeley who determines the frame of reference. All of his models look as though they are in control of the situation, retaining power over their own bodies. Several of his female nudes are pregnant and the effect of the anamorphic lens is a reduction in the size of the ‘bump’. ‘I love the idea of manipulating things that don’t look weird but obviously suggest that something is not quite right.’ Masks are a reoccurring theme in his female nudes. Its effect can be interpreted in many ways: a mask can create a new identity, conceal the truth, or allow the model to remain absent because the face cannot be seen, and so no facial expression is interpreted by the viewer. In Dazeley’s work the mask combined the anamorphic technique creates a form that viewers can no longer compare with their own bodes leaving the identity of the model in crisis.
In contrast to the distortion of his nudes, Dazeley’s floral prints are a pure form that is in keeping with early definitions of fine art photography. Each image is a study of shape and texture and is an appreciation of the perfection found in nature. ‘There are some beautiful flowers and the way the structure is recorded on film and platinum is amazing. When I shot the back of a sunflower there were these wonderful shades of grey,’ he enthuses. By taking away the colour, Dazeley has concentrated on the minute details of the structure of each petal on a rose, drawing the viewer to an appreciation that might otherwise be missed if it were anything other than his chosen interpretation.
There is no strict agenda in Dazeley’s personal work - he treats each shoot like a blank canvas, letting the process evolve. This personal work contrasts greatly with the tight schedules he follows in his commercial life. ‘Part of what I do as a commercial photographer is constantly to look for new ideas and new processes: I am always striving to take pictures for tomorrow and not last week. There are always lots of creative people to bounce ideas off, but with my personal work I just like sitting down with all the ingredients and seeing what happens.’ His motivation for both his commercial and personal work is always imagery and the endless possibilities that his skills with a camera bring. There is no clearly defined path to the final images that he creates: ‘I like to keep the spontaneity and I just love taking pictures’.
The platinum process is pure in form, and to photographers like Dazeley it is a welcome change from the mass production encountered daily. The title of his forthcoming exhibition 21st Century Platinum reflects his passion for the process that has influenced his work since 1994: ‘I guess I am making a statement about the value of the platinum process to photographers of today’. The process of exhibiting is a personal experience, which he hopes will bring him a step closer to recognition as a fine art photographer. He is however frustrated by the idea that money and notoriety play a key role in who makes the grade as an artist. ‘It seems that Charles Saatchi decides whether art is good or not and if an artist is acceptable.’
Despite his protestations against the fine art establishment, Dazeley knows his personal work is much more than a visual delight. Viewers of his platinum prints will be enriched by the work’s capacity to provide a fresh insight in to his chosen subjects.
Liam, AG photo