|Photo by Rink.
Ending the year of art exhibits at Magnet is â€śBeloved,â€ť a series of photographic works by Jeffrey Larsen on display through December. Larsen describes â€śBelovedâ€ť as â€śan exploration of the human struggle to love oneself and to be loved by another.â€ť Larsen gave Bay Times an interview. He says this series came out of a personal need, having come through a difficult breakup. He started taking pictures of men because he wanted to be around long-term couples.
â€śIt was comforting for me,â€ť he says. Images, he says, started to emerge that he had longed for â€“ sensuous, intimate photos of men. He says his motivation and mission is to portray the love and intimacy between same-sex couples. His works are not pornography, but they are erotic. He does not title his works, because he wants viewers â€śto create their own fantasies,â€ť rather than interjecting and imposing his ideas.
He seeks out real-life couples as opposed to professional models. â€śMy best work comes from couples, and itâ€™s nothing I have to stage,â€ť he says. â€śI just create a space where theyâ€™re comfortable, and then allow the camera to see them.â€ť
Larsen was trained as a costume designer, so he was used to dealing with fabric manipulation. He specialized in designing for dancers, and had expertise as a painter/dyer. When he left the theater and changed careers, he still wanted to continue using his skills, but moved into digital photography. He starts with digital photos that are then highly manipulated through Photoshop to look like paintings. He puts the painterly edges on through a digital program. The fabric is run through a rather costly Epson printer. The inks are more archival than dyes. They are straight pigments. Then he layers the fabric pieces over a photographic print, separated by half an inch, so you see mirror images of each. Because there is some space between, it gives the illusion of a hologram, coming in and out of focus. He compares this technique to the use of a scrim in theater, where painted scenery on fabric looks solid, until the light comes up behind it, creating a sort of mist that fades away, revealing what is behind it.
There is also a similarity to impressionism in his works. â€śThe pieces have a kind of mystery to them,â€ť he says. â€śThey are sort of ethereal.â€ť He takes the photographs through sheer fabrics or through water. â€śPainting on fabric is a very water color-like technique, so it is a medium that I am very comfortable with,â€ť he says. It has been a fifteen-year journey for him to arrive at this technique. â€śI think being an artist is about finding an expression that is the totality of you.â€ť
One example of using water can be seen in the photo of a man in a sort of fetal position. Larsen put him in a hot tub because â€śsometimes my models are cold, because itâ€™s hard to find a pool thatâ€™s warm enough in San Francisco.â€ť The process is not easy. He is usually on a ladder to photograph them, and they are trying to hold their breath underwater and still appear serene.
Larsenâ€™s signature piece, a rather long one, is on the far right of the wall. â€śThere was a certain yin and yang quality to that piece,â€ť he says. â€śOne of their arms curves in one direction and the other arm curves in the other direction, much like a yin/yang symbol.â€ť He says it speaks to his artist statement as being very intimate and evocative. â€śPeople seem to be drawn to that one.â€ť
One of my favorites, Larsen elaborated, is a tattooed man embracing his lover underwater. â€śThere were big, dark symbols, and some were kind of violent, so instead I had his back to the camera,â€ť he says. â€śAnd frankly, he has a beautiful derriere.â€ť â€śThe other man is an African American, so the dark skin against the white skin made a beautiful contrast.â€ť
There is one woman in the series. â€śShe is a dancer, and I wanted to see what might happen if I were to set a dancer free â€“ to dance underwater,â€ť he explains. He used a sheer piece of fabric underwater as she moved about and he hovered with a mask and snorkel to photograph her. â€śThere was a lovely moment in time captured in that shot, where the fabric was swirling about her body,â€ť he recalls. â€śShe really looks like a genie in a bottle.â€ť He says he wants to also photograph same-sex female couples, but hasnâ€™t found a way into that yet. This woman, Namita, was his first female model.
â€śThere is a lot of imagery out there thatâ€™s more graphic, and thereâ€™s certainly a place for that â€“ I consume that as well,â€ť he concludes. â€śBut I like imagery that is more sensuous in nature.â€ť He says he is always looking for couples as models and would welcome them contacting him at jeffreylarsen.com.