Figure studies usually transform the human form into something either less or more familiar. But rarely do figure studies, particularly photographic ones, transform the human form into something both more and less familiar. For me, Bill Durgin’s figure studies do just that. They remind me of: strength and fragility, sexuality and chasteness, shadow and light, the hidden and the revealed. Equal parts Hans Bellmer and Ansel Adams, Durgin’s figure studies indeed appear both “abject and marvelous”.
Durgin’s artist statement for this 2008 series of figure studies notes:
“My photographs reflect a fascination with the body as form. The complex figurations, undulating arrangements of flesh, as the body seems to collapse onto itself, image an almost abstracted figure lacking appendages and hair. The physical structure becomes not just a shell, but a moving sculpture of skin, muscle, fat, and bone.
The gesture within each photograph is created through exploring my own physical limitations and collaborative improvisation with dancers and performers. Often I will come up with a pose and demonstrate it and then ask the model to repeat or respond to it. Each pose transmogrifies the figure towards abstraction; exaggerating or diminishing the skeletal structure until it approaches an amorphic form. I want the bodies to be recognized as bodies, but also to be detached from common perceptions of the figure. Bound within each singular view, the uncanny figures convey the body as both abject and marvelous.
Composed through a 4×5 view camera, I place the figure within the location and select an angle to shoot from. I remove furnishings to create a perspective which foregrounds the rudiments of the architecture, the light, and the figure itself. Each space is empty, but not anonymous. It is a setting not a set, within which the figure is grounded in a particular environment revealed by the traces of the doorway, ceiling, or floor. Suspended along the edges of the space, along the edges of figuration, these photographs also move along the edges of the photographic genres of narrative, portraiture, and environment.”
All below images culled from Durgin’s figure studies: