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Interview: Jock Sturges on Misty Dawn

Eva; le Porge, France 2003 -- Jock Sturges
Jock Sturges has been photographing families in naturist communities in Motalivet, France and Northern California for over 30 years now. Some of his subjects have come and go, but Sturges has worked with many for that entire time period. As most of his subjects live in naturist communities, Sturges typically photographs them in the nude and always with the absence of shame. These images are made with an interest in capturing the ever changing human body, but Sturges also firmly believes that his relationship with his models and their families is crucial element of his work, and that the strong bond they forge is reflected in his images.

A few years ago we exhibited one of Sturges’ photographs of Eva from 2003, one of his long-term friends and muses. At that time I asked him to tell me a little more about the image, and he mentioned that when the image was made he had only known Eva for a few years. Included in our current exhibition is a pairing of two images of Eva, the one from 2003 and one from 2006. Judging from just the photographs, I would have guessed that there was a much larger span of time in between these two images. I perceive a significant transformation — Eva transformed from a beautiful, but somewhat shy young woman to one who is proud strong -- which is one of the reasons why I love this pairing. To expand on this key feature of Sturges' work, I asked him to select three images of one model overtime and to tell us a little more about each of the images. Sturges selected Misty Dawn, who he has been photographing for over thirty years and is the subject of his monograph Misty Dawn. -- Anne Kelly

Misty Dawn; Northern California, 1983 -- Jock Sturges

In the early seventies I discovered quite by accident that my best pictures, or perhaps I should say, the pictures I seemed most often to like the most were of people whom I knew the best and had been photographing the longest. An accumulation of images of a model were telling me a longer story and somehow seemed to encode much more “truth” than single images were capable of. A single image could be arresting and interesting but unless it was followed by more work it seemed to pose more questions than answers for me.

This sequence of images of my model, Misty Dawn, is just such a narrative. The first group picture in which she appears is in fact the very first picture I ever made of her. It was a “take my picture!” image made on a day when I was at a school in Northern California to do an all-school portrait to raise money for the graduating students’ class trip. Once developed and proofed it hadn’t interested me that much, but then my girlfriend Maia came across it when looking through the summer’s work. She stopped on this image and then tapped on Misty’s face and said, “I don’t know who this is but you should find her and work with her again. This is a wonderful face.” Maia was right. 30 years later and now my wife for almost 20 years she is still right about just about everything.

Misty Dawn; Northern California, 2001 -- Jock Sturges

The second image was made during a fashion shoot for ‘Rebel,’ a French fashion magazine. Working with Misty for a fashion shoot advanced two errands. It gave Misty the chance to do something that she had always dreamed about on the one hand and on the other it gave me a modest occasion to demonstrate to the world of fashion that knowing a model well could matter. Misty loved doing the shoot so that was a success. For the shoot she posed with a second model who had been elected model of the year by the VH1 network that very year. The magazine ran over 30 images of Misty and about 12 of the other model so I would like to the think that the shoot worked on that level as well.

Also this picture has as a gentle subtext, a homage to Paul Strand whose image of a white fence stands at the border between photo-pictorialism and photo realism. The formal beauty of Strand’s prints has long been an influence in my work so when I saw this fence I wanted at once to incorporate it.

Misty Dawn; Northern California, 2007 -- Jock Sturges

The final picture in this sequence of three, Misty on her couch with her nephew, is emblematic of the work continuing into her adult life. Misty is well into her thirties now and as important to me as ever. Because I now live in Seattle we do not see each other or work together as often as we once did but we do when we can. I will until time stops me for good. -- Jock Sturges

View Jock Sturges' portfolio at photo-eye Gallery

View books by Sturges, including the oversized (30¼x26¼") limited edition from edition GALERIE VEVAIS

Two of Struges' images can currently be seen as part of The Nude on exhibit at photo-eye through May 10th, featuring the work of fifteen photographers. Two portfolios of work from the show can be viewed here.

For more information, please contact photo-eye Gallery Associate Director Anne Kelly by email or by calling the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202.