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Interview: Chris Enos

Untitled from Nude Series – Chris Enos

Our current exhibition, The Nude – Classical, Cultural, Contemporary, explores the many ways in which the nude form has been depicted in photography. One of the artists in the show, Chris Enos, explored the nude form with her camera in the 60s and 70s – a time when gender and sexuality demanded new meaning in the changing cultural landscape of America. I asked Enos to offer some insight into her working process, background and inspiration. -- Erin Azouz

Erin Azouz:     You received a BA in Sculpture from SF State and an MFA in Photography from SFAI. Can you talk a little bit about how your studio art practice led you to photography?

Untitled from Nude Series – Chris Enos
Chris Enos:     A year before I was to get my BA in Sculpture I took a photography class from Jack Welpott. I loved the independence of photography. I could shoot, develop film and print all on my own. In sculpture, I always needed help lifting heavy things and the attitude towards women was discouraging at best. I liked being out in the world instead of in the studio. I was also intrigued by how conservative photography was. I felt that if something had been done before, there was no reason to do it. Photographers all seemed to be making photographs like Weston and Adams. Fortunately for me, Jack encouraged my crazy work and even provided paper for me to do a full size male nude with all four sides. I went on to get my MFA in Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute.

EA:     It is interesting that you mention the discouraging attitude you faced as a woman when you were working as a sculptor. There seems to be a similar imbalance in photography — not as many women are working in the medium as men, though I think this is starting to change. What do you think?

Untitled from Nude Series – Chris Enos
CE:     Sculpture is particularly a macho medium. Much of it is physically difficult. I disagree that there is an imbalance in photography. The majority of my students over thirty years were women. The imbalance is who gets shown. Remember that there were very few women in Beaumont Newhall's History of Photography, which was the only photography history for a very long time. Also, John Szarkowski rarely recognized women in the field. Look at the major photography galleries today and you will find that men are mostly represented but this clearly does not represent important photographers fairly. It is still a man's world and it certainly pisses off many of my women (and some men) photographer friends.

EA:     You photographed nudes from 1967-1975, during a time of political unrest and sexual revolution in America. How did that influence this body of work?

CE:     I photographed nudes for eight years. It represented freedom and independence from the moral judges. The feminist movement may have served as a support, but I think I was a feminist from birth. I have been in trouble for being outspoken most of my life.

I was living in Haight Ashbury and all that you can imagine that entailed. I thought that if an artist had anything to say that was unique and could make a contribution, the work had to reflect one's times. I often told my students that if their work was boring to take a look at their lives. My life was not boring. We went to nude beaches, free Dead concerts in Golden Gate Park, protested the Vietnam War and experimented with psychedelics. I also held down two jobs and went to school full time. We had very free sprits and believed in peace and back to nature stuff.

EA:     In your Nude series, human forms take on sculptural qualities. Can you talk a little bit about the intersection of photography and sculpture?

CE:     The sculptural qualities in the Nude series probably have to do with my background in sculpture. I found while teaching that many students did not see dimension. They saw the world as a flat screen. We did exercises to develop their sense of space. There is even space behind us.

EA:     It seems many photographers are feeling limited by the medium alone, and are turning to painting, sculpture and video to further their photographic practice. A lot of your work similarly merges more than one medium — painting and photography, or sculpture and photography. Can you talk a little bit about this?

CE:     I started painting on and collaging my photographs in the late 60s. Why not? I have never been big on rules and restrictions. I always told my students that if there was a rule – break it. It is also easy to feel that everything has been photographed and maybe we don't need more of the same. Adding and subtracting to the photograph can allow for exploration and unintended discoveries. I also like to get physically involved with my work and see what can happen. Photography historically has attracted control freaks. I have always wanted to explore the unknown to see what is there.

Untitled from Nude Series – Chris Enos

EA:     Who and what are some of your influences and inspirations?

CE:     A few of my early influences were Bill Brandt, Robert Heinecken, Kathe Kollwitz, Dorothea Lange, Eva Hess and Rauschenberg. I was also influenced by conceptual art and the lack of humor in art. Music and film has played an important role for me. I am interested in what an artist has to say and how they use whatever medium to say it. Many photographers know little about painting and sculpture and other art media. It can be a very narrow field.

Untitled – Chris Enos
EA:     You talk about how an artist’s work should reflect one’s times — an important idea with which so many artists struggle as they create new bodies of work. Can you talk a bit about your current work in this context?

CE:     My current work has to do with body parts and death. This certainly reflects this time in my life. It doesn't take long for conversations with my contemporaries to involve health issues, what is falling apart or needs fixing. I am using collage, photographs and encaustic. I have no idea where the work is going, but it is going.

A selection of Enos' work can currently be seen as part of The Nude on exhibit at photo-eye through April and features the work of fifteen photographers. Her work in the show can be viewed here.

For additional information about Chris Enos' work or to acquire a photograph, please contact the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202 or by email.