Many of the people imaged in Thomas Dozol’s Opal Gallery exhibition, “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” are famous actors or musicians. Rather than dwell on the fact, though, I find myself more interested in Dozol’s inspirations and how these photos came about.
Fortunately, a handy resource comes in the form of Dozol’s photography blog, which not only documents the nervousness of an artist preparing for a show, but also reveals a peak into the mysterious process of photo editing. Plus it doesn’t hurt that I approve of the man’s taste in music; the site features a video montage of the show layout featuring “Magic Spells” by the Toronto electronic punk duo, Crystal Castles.
Dozol’s inspiration began when he remarked the “red triangles marking my cheeks after a long shower.” He writes:
It all started with the landscape of the flushed skin, the blood rushing to the surface, creating patterns both involuntary and singular. I wanted to capture people raw and unguarded.
Wondering what this “raw landscape” might look like? The show features several images of men shaving, which becomes more a compositional device than a thematic one.
In shots such as Michael and Damien, for instance, Dozol uses mirrors and their steel frames to create divisions in pictorial space, resulting in a “fragmented” portrait that, surprisingly, still retains the personality of the model. The colors in Machael are especially strong, holding our gaze with the implied suggestion: this is Michael Stipe, but as a complex human being rather than merely “just another celebrity.”
The “landscape” implied in the portrait of Kai, on the other hand, resembles ground zero of an aborted shaving disaster.
Monumentally reproduced on the central Opal Gallery wall, we see his vacant expression in every pathetic, freshly cut detail. Dabs of lather still cling about his neck (and ears), as a right hand absently clutches the culprit razor.
Kai‘s effect is atmospheric, setting an introspective mood for the space and the small photos installed around and behind the partition.
Dozol continues in his official statement:
My inspiration for this series of photographs comes from the Nabis painters and how they elevated apparently mundane moments through their graphic treatments of interiors.
Les Nabis was a small group of mostly French painters during the 1890s that, each in their own way, followed in the trail blazed by Paul Gauguin. Dozol’s statement observes a beginning point—a certain aesthetic sensibility he brought to the project—but it’s interesting to compare the inspiration to its product.
For example, you’d expect a much greater degree of graphic manipulation from a modern-day Nabis. The Nabis transformed the decorative wall patterns popular during their day into experiments in expressive color.
Of course, a 100 percent “faithful” interpretation of Nabis painting, once translated into contemporary photography, might have been downright obnoxious. Thankfully, Dozol—who returned to commercial work with French Vogue directly after the show—keeps to the mostly tried-and-true techniques of his craft. Even though I can’t fully appreciate the meaning of Dozol’s editing marks, the process reveals an amount of consideration behind each image in “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”
The time spent looking at old paintings, however, was far from a waste. As in works like Edgar Degas‘s The Tub, Dozol takes several opportunities to investigate space in terms of flat areas of color, positioned parallel to the picture plane. In both Pascal and on the right side of Damien, the human body advances to the foreground, becoming less an object to be observed than a subject of emotion or identity.
Presented in simple, square white frames, the uniform format of each photo reinforces the suggestion of intimate space. The effect is doubled by the square pattern of bathroom tiles, as well as the more or less square shape of Opal Gallery itself. Walking behind the central partition encloses you further, putting you that much closer to the scenes depicted.
Images such as Miwa or Caroline IV, on the other hand, are less interesting. The drama is gone; the model seems guarded. In other scenes, Dozol embraces this emotion, using the psychological distance to restore movement to the piece. Unfortunately, he’s not always so successful.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror” is a brave show that, to be honest, surpassed my expectations. The inclusion of tasteful nudity only compounds my impression: Thomas Dozol’s series absorbs certain classic textbook sensibilities and then applies them with a highly personal, contemporary finish.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror” will remain on view at Opal Gallery through Sat. Jan. 10.