Thomas Dozol: I’ll Be Your Mirror at Opal Gallery

Thomas Dozol, Christy
Thomas Dozol, Christy

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.

Scott
Scott

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.

Michael
Michael

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.”

Kai
Kai
Thomas Dozol standing in front of Kai (Opal Gallery opening night).
Thomas Dozol standing in front of Kai (Opal Gallery opening night).

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.

April
April

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.

Edouard Vuillard, Interior with Worktable, 1893. Smith College Museum of Art.
Edouard Vuillard, Interior with Worktable, 1893. Smith College Museum of Art.

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.

From Dozol's editing notes

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.”

Damien
Damien
Pascal
Pascal
Edgar Degas, The Tub, 1886. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
Edgar Degas, The Tub, 1886. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

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.

Caroline IV
Caroline IV

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.

Chris III

“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.


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Comment(7)

  • Constance Lewis
    December 24, 2008 at

    It is a great pleasure to know that a body of work shown at Opal gallery has incited a bit of conversation ( quite an honor, I believe, for most artists). Some of you have even come in to talk to us at length about our exhibitions. Thank you. I should clarify some details regarding Thomas Dozol’s current exhibition. The body of work is about intimacy and distance. The assumption that the size of the prints “feuled by a commercial sensibility” is wrong. The artist very purposefully chose the format and size of the prints to invite the viewer physically close to the work. The wall image had a similar intention. Thomas was interesed in searching for an authentic moment of contemplation. He is an identical twin. His world consists of many people who are easily recognized by the general public. This question is important to him. And these photographs are authentically about his personal exploration. Its always entirely about the artist anyway , is it not? Whether or not this show is successful is certainly an interesting discussion for us. References to “Target display” simply doesn’t further the dialogue.

  • k.tauches
    December 22, 2008 at

    I agree with ET that the images do imitate rather commercial production values and style. this is especially true of the front image/mural. . .despite any written content in the gallery or online, entering Opal during this show is not a disimilar experience from walking into the some hip retail store at the mall or the bath section of Target. add a layer of celebrity to that. . .and . . .well you’ve got a rather strange art combo. it does have graphic presence, but I’m not sure how meaningful the concept is that drives it . . . perhaps that awkward feeling is what the artist was going for. hard to say?

  • eggtooth
    December 19, 2008 at

    The title of the show,by way of referencing a Velvet Underground tune,calls to mind Andy Warhol,someone who has already shown us far better what an intimate unguarded image can do. I find Dozol’s admission to the initial inspiration for the images to be pretty much where the idea began as well as ended. The only honest moment captured was in his statement. The artist’s found direction was rendered presumptuous and more telling of his interests than in actually doing what the work claimed to do.
    The Nabis reference for the most part seems like an afterthought,even if it was not. Caroline IV brought to mind Munch’s (not nabis but contemporary)1894 painting, Puberty-which of course has an entirely different thematic reasoning & weight- But- as it happens,shows a powerful sense of unguarded (in the fact that the subject seems Very guarded) and intimate. Caroline was a perfect example of a lack of intimacy. It more seemed like she was simply awkward about being photographed.
    The wonderfully clear “beauty” of these images (in production) gets in the way of a rawness that one can associate with intimacy or the unguarded. The print size of the pieces did not help either. Both production choices are something I suspect has to do with a base inspiration that has for so long been fueled by a commercial sensibility,it did not even consider better ways to actually convey the intimate or unguarded.

  • Cinque Hicks
    December 18, 2008 at

    “Images such as Miwa or Caroline IV, on the other hand, are less interesting. The drama is gone; the model seems guarded.”

    This one’s relatively simple: It’s essentially the difference between the men and the women. Something I didn’t get space to comment on in my review. Whether it stems from his relationships, his techniques, or both, Dozol clearly is able to access more intimacy with male bodies than with female ones.

  • Emily Amy
    December 17, 2008 at

    It certainly looks like something not to be missed. I will try and check it out if I can get out of the gallery one day. Also, great review…it was a captivating read after a long day.

  • mike
    December 17, 2008 at

    Everyone seems to like this show. I agree that it is the most successful exhibit so far for Opal Gallery.

  • Jerry Cullum
    Jerry Cullum
    December 17, 2008 at

    Brilliant.

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