In my photography I submit myself to a number of self-inflicted constraints. I shoot on film, not digital, most of which I process myself at home. I use available lighting rather than constructed studio set ups. I don’t do any post-production on my photographs beyond the simplest of tonal adjustments. Any dust left on my prints or negatives is left as I found it. I shoot the vast majority of my images on the same few types of film that I’ve used for years, in the same way that I use the same select few cameras and lenses again and again.
These restrictions present a challenge. They slow the process; I must think carefully about every frame, studying the light, considering the composition and scrutinising my subjects before opening the shutter. At the same time, I rarely if ever plan much of a shoot in advance. Whilst I restrict myself with regards to my tools and materials, I also give myself the space to make mistakes, to improvise and to collaborate with my subjects.
I want the subjects of my photographs to be active participants, not passive objects. All of my strongest photographs come from building a relationship with my subjects, whether that be just for the duration of a shoot, or for a lifetime. My subjects are my friends and my collaborators.
I am interested in the human details of my subjects; the textures of their skin, the folds of their flesh, their scars and freckles and dimples. I shoot a lot of nudes to bring these details to the fore, as well as stripping my subjects of the social associations embedded in their clothing. Shooting nudes both unifies and separates my subjects; they are together in their nakedness, but their nakedness also reveals their individual features.
The way I shoot the nude human form both references and defies the tradition of nude figurative art. My use of natural and available light directly references traditional painting and the concepts of beauty associated with it, yet I refuse to turn my subjects into idealised versions of themselves, or into archetypal forms removed from the individual. I find beauty in the unadorned details of bodies, using the mechanics of my camera to draw focus upon them, then using painterly light and shadow to emphasise them, to explore them, and to invite those who view my photographs to explore with me.
As I draw attention to the surfaces of the skin of my subjects, I also draw attention to the surface of my photographs, through the presence of flaws and defects; specks of dust, film grain, the occasional light leak or chemical quirk. In a world increasingly filled with incorporeal imagery everywhere we turn, I want my photographs to be seen as objects as well as images, with a physical and tangible presence. This is also why I choose to use analogue photographic processes in an increasingly digital age. The tactile nature of such processes brings me much more satisfaction than sitting in front of a computer screen ever could. I prefer to end up with a physical object in my hands, created with light and chemicals, which echoes the physical presence of the subject of the image.
- Selina Mayer