Most recent posts here have been in support of upcoming shoots and of the informational variety for the studio. This isn’t. This is my thoughts on a gallery show I recently had work in. Friday January 6th I took part in Scott Church’s 10th Annual Legacy show at the Mulberry Arts Studio in Lancaster PA.
For those who don’t know the name, Scott Church is a Lebanon PA based photographer who enjoys quite a bit of renown and whose accomplishments if listed would run on for days. Let’s just say his work has graced the covers of Penthouse, and Hustler (this year). He doesn’t just shoot that stuff, he does families, weddings, you name it. I was first exposed to his work years ago, easily 10-15 at this point, via Model Mayhem I think. It was, and is, the sort of work that stays in your memory. About 6 years ago I reached out to Scott as I was putting together the Taboo Editions of my magazine Retro Lovely, the naughty stuff. I was excited that he was supportive of it and agreed to permit me to include some of his work. I remember a phone conversation we had where he recounted some early group books he put together. It turns out one of those very books was the first publication to feature the work of the now very well known Viva Van Story. Viva’s naughty work was also well represented in the Taboo Editions of mine. Some months later when one of the issues with Scott’s work was ready and printed I stopped by his old studio in Lebanon to drop some off. It was my first time meeting him in person. When you meet someone vs. just correspond it’s always interesting in how your perceptions can change. In person you can instantly see how Scott’s personality is a huge component of his success. It’s not just his work. It’s him. And the two aspects combined become greater than those two parts. I’m not trying to blow smoke up his ass either, just sharing my thoughts (I think he’d appreciate that statement) . As smartphones began to replace physical print publications and magazine sales were decimated… I lost touch with Scott and have not been in touch in years. Here and there I will work with models he regularly does as well, Millie Mie, Ludella Hahn, Shanin Jean, and when I do I will always tell them to say hello for me the next time they work with Scott. But I’m not checking in with him myself, not engaging online. I know he’s busy. I’m busy. I also very well know what it is to be in a position of influence and be overwhelmed by people wanting to be your best friend because they want something from you (I’ll wager he’s gotten more than two inquires of “how can you get meeeee in Penthouse”). It’s why I began using the name Victor Devilbliss for my photography. That’s a whole other story which also deserves a post, but not here.
Some months ago I noticed Scott mention there were still some spaces left for his annual art show. Something struck me to get off my ass and take part. The last time I had printed work hanging in a “gallery” was I think… in 1995 or 1996 (I am old) and given those dates, that work was shot on film. It was manipulated mind you, other worldy in fact and in time, some of the very those became album covers for a dozen or so releases from the Cleopatra family of record labels of California. That’s it. That was the last time work of mine was printed and exhibited on a wall somewhere other than my own space. Scott shot me a message and said “you’re in, two pieces any size. And that’s the extent of the conversation.
The show was January 6th. I ordered the prints December 30th. They arrived the week of the show. Yeah.
To be fair I was having a hard time choosing what I would include. What size? Framing? Print type? I also had a lot going on with clients at the time as well. Still do. I had several images I was considering. Narrowing that down was tough. I had a lot of strong work with Millie Mie this past year and I knew this gallery would be a perfect showcase for them but I also knew that the walls would be covered with many shots of her as she’s worked with tons of the people included in the event. I actually spoke to her about it as we were talking about the show in the weeks before. I actually felt for the sake of variety i really shouldn’t use one of the many fine pieces we’d
done. One thing that kept playing on my mind was this one frame I have. Well painting in a frame. It’s this large portrait of Jesus Christ. A classic. In fact the whole thing is a vintage mid-century modern thing I’ve seen many times in varying sizes. This particular one was by the Turner company. A well known wall art company of the period. The print area was 30 inches by 40 inches.
On one hand it pained me to cut away the paper backing with the manufacturers label as that just killed it’s value as a mid-century classic, but…. that frame tho…. Knowing this would be my main piece I began to review images for this frame. The colors. The size. The size was a tricky thing as this particular ratio is nearly a classic 4:5. That’s tough for me because I have noticed over the years I typically compose for the frame I am in. With the 35mm equivalent camera I use that means most of my shots tend towards its 2:3 ratio… meaning longer or taller depending on orientation. Many images I thought I would consider looked odd to me when cropped down to fit this frame’s ratio. To be honest it was depressing and nerve wracking. I did have a few contenders from a shoot I did mid-year with my very good friend Miss Claire Marie. A session we did that formally kicked off my use of the third floor of the studio and an area of it that’s become home to a series of work I’ve been calling “The Curiosities”. This as the space is not pretty. It’s rough. It’s in disrepair. And for myself and others, it’s perfect. One of the rooms has specifically been dubbed “Der Fetisch Klinik” as the walls have cabinets and these large paneled doors that make it feel as if it could have been some sort of medical clinic. Add in the exam table I found at a shop (very near where Claire lives coincidentally) and there you have it. The next decision was which shot. There were several that would work. One I kept coming back to was Claire standing between the large double doors between two rooms. She struck a pose that had a beautiful form to it. Everything about it was “on”. One thing though, was that she was facing away. Several others that were contenders showed her face, and most who’ve seen it agree, it’s a good face (I actually just chuckled). But the one between the doors had a lot of things I love, there’s a light behind her casting a near halo around her head and providing rim lighting on her figure. You can see some smoke around her head from a cigarette and in the air here and there are specks of dust frozen in the light that the camera caught. The angles and lines of the doors, shadows and paneling created nice geometric shapes, virtually everything in the image except for Claire is straight lines. I’m not going to be arty-farty and claim to have planned all this. Hell no. The general “look” yeah, that I planned and we got it. But the details of this shot no. I think in the course of the few hours we shot I took over a thousand photos but that’s because Claire and I work well together and she moves through poses in such a way that there’s just too many opportunities to capture some magic. We had plenty of those moments too as I will show below. So, even though her face was obscured, I decided to go with this shot for that large gold frame. The next thing that pained me though is that cropping business. As shot, there’s more image at the top and bottom of the image I had to crop away in order to fit. I love how the image looked as shown at the gallery, but I love the original more. Have a look (you can click these to see them larger) this is the crop I made the print from.
The other photo that I kept coming back to fared worse with the cropping though. I know some of you might say “no it’s fine” but the version shown on the right…. her head and feet are too close to the edge. It’s crowded. And it’s a pity as one of my beloved mannequins is clearly seen lurking behind a door.
So with the image selected, I ordered some prints. I am a big fan of metallic prints so that was decided. Grrrrr my normal go-to lab does not offer 30×40 sizes. So now I have to find and use a vendor I never have before. How will they handle the color? I know what I get from my normal source. Now I have a question mark there. A bit of shift isn’t too much a problem, but density, brightness. Unknown and a roll of the dice. Well thankfully what arrived was pretty much perfect. I did notice one or two things I should have corrected in the file but was able to actually hand retouch on the print itself.
I got the art framed and had it sitting in the studio just days before the show. During a session a new client happened to see the print and pretty promptly exclaimed “Is that Claire?”. It turns out this person had also done a photo shoot with Ava Dae out of New Hope. Claire does makeup and hair for Ava. But still, Claire’s face wasn’t shown.
Thursday came which meant it was time to take the prints to the gallery and get them hung. I arrived early and already there was quite a buzz of activity. Lots of great images were already up on the walls. I scanned for some empty wall space and headed towards a corner. There was a guy on the opposite side of the corner hanging some things and I noticed a shot of Mille and asked if I might throw my stuff up near him and mentioned having worked with Millie myself. Introductions revealed he was Jason M whose work I’ve admired and have heard good things about from models. I gave my name but then had to add “Victor Devilbliss” to which he then had recognition. Really glad we got to meet.
Friday arrived. After some sessions at the studio I got myself together and set off for Lancaster. I think I got to the show by 7:45 or so. Millie messaged me asking where I was just as I parked. When I made it in it was already bustling with people. Seeing the walls fully covered was amazing too, several spaces at that. I said some hellos, found Millie. Got introduced to some more people and took a stroll through the space taking in the art. There were quite a few things
that really made me stop and study them. Whenever I discuss art, be it music, photography, whatever… I will never say this is “great”, this is “good” this is “bad” rather I will say “I love this”, “I like this” “I wish I did this” or “it doesn’t speak to me” because art is so subjective. There are entire genres of music I don’t think I ever care to hear again that are someone else’s favorite music. So it isn’t universally good or bad… I can say whether I like it or not. Or tell you what I like or don’t about it. At this gallery I saw a lot of work I personally thought was great. There were a number I thought “I wish I took this” that’s about as high a compliment as I can give too, when I am envious of a work.
While at the show it was fantastic to bump into a few people I know and meet some new folks I’ve been wanting to. Of course Millie was on hand (and all over the walls for that matter, which I was right
about) Eventually my studio partner Nicole arrived with short cropped hair and a beard (she was performing drag nearby later that evening, AND KILLED) then Lizz Maldonado (who did Nicole’s styling). Shanin Jean showed up with her husband who I never met previously. Then Claire Marie herself and her friend Amanda, another pal Leo who I did meet before. I also ran into my old friend Dave Deardorff who I have known since my days at Terrace Music in Harrisburg. Who else, Mike Grimm, we had a great chat. Then Jason M again. Millie introduced me to Richard Frost. I also saw but didn’t
get to say hello to Jennifer Burd. And the elusive Larry Bradby was floating around who I spoke with many times while I was in the DC area but never did meet and AGAIN this night did not get to say hello in person. Gary Clark was also in the house so it was cool to see another artist from my parts there. Oh and Lizz’s friend Liz (one Z) who I also had a great conversation with. These are the names I can recall.
So by some point, Claire and I and others were in a hall just outside the main studio space when Millie came rushing out exclaiming “you won, you won!!!” I’m like “what?”. So she grabs me and I tell Claire to come along and we squeeze our way into the room as Scott is on the
microphone announcing the “Best Black and White” award. As he finishes up Millie moves towards Scott and tells him “This is Victor” ( I am not 100% sure Scott has connected the two names) He mentions this to the crowd and though I was late for class he handed me the award for Best Color. I stayed nearby as Scott moved on to announce Best in Show which as it turns out was an image by Richard Frost, which was one of those very images that kept catching my eye all night.
Unexpected. An honor. And again if you recall my little rant about calling art good or bad… something I have to say, could have gone to many other works shown there that night. Something about the night and the timing meant the decision went my way, no our way, it’s Claire’s work too.
Here’s more from the shoot.