Thursday, July 4, 2013

Earthly Embrace: Aaron By Gordon Nebeker

When I was viewing these magnificent images of Aaron, I could not help but remember one of photographer Gordon Nebeker's quotes from his 2010 book Men To Match My Mountains. Although published almost four years ago, long before this shoot, there was almost a competitive feel between model and the environment which surrounds him. A virtual fight or sorts, although a pleasurable one, but a battle none the less to see which subject, man or mountain will win more of the viewers attention.

Although born and raised in Utah, in Men To Match My Mountains, Gordon says that it took leaving and living away for many years to truly appreciate the unique beauty of the majestic mountains and desert landscapes. Gordon's task in photographing this location was not an easy one, finding models strong enough to match the beauty that surrounds them.

'How can one even begin to capture its magic in a photograph? Then it hit me! The landscapes needed a worthy foil; someone in the scene to give it scale and relevance. In short, a man to match the mountains.'

Aaron clearly holds his own. His strong stance and incredible ability to pose not just on, but in and with his environment, provide the breath taking mountains and landscapes a worthy opponent for the viewers attention. Aaron and Gordon however know that there is a natural symmetry between model and mountain and skillfully blend them together so seamlessly, even down to Aaron's skin tone against sand and rock. You are visually rewarded, wherever your attention is drawn.

The Shoot:
By Gordon Nebeker

Whenever I go to Utah, I try to carve out some time to do a shoot which is what I did when I was last there several weeks ago. A good friend (and well known photographer) Tom Clark who lives there introduced me to an excellent model, Aaron, who happened to be available. We spent a day in Southern Utah photographing in slot canyons (deep narrow sandstone canyons formed by years of flash flooding) and rugged areas nearby. I had been there before but it was Aaron’s first visit to that area.

I loved that we just went for it and hit the road for four hours one way to arrive at a splendor that I hadn’t had the pleasure of enjoying before. It was breath-taking out there amongst the formations rising from the earth, seeing the awe of years upon years of erosion and plate shits and sediment layers. I am truly grateful for the experience”.

Aaron is remarkably gifted as a model and an absolute pleasure to work with. He started modeling about a year ago doing mostly art modeling for painters and sketchers and then as a photographer’s model with Tom about four or five months ago. “I enjoy the challenge of moving my body into positions that will be at least somewhat captivating for the artists or photographers in the moment as their muse.” I asked him what was the biggest challenge to him personally as a model. “The biggest challenge for me has been overcoming insecurities about myself and just surrendering to a vulnerable state. Also being aware of your body, learning what draws the artist’s and photographer’s eye has been a great learning curve.”

I am a great believer that good photography is a collaborative process involving the photographer and the model. I asked Aaron what he felt he brought to the process. “Not too long ago, I would’ve said I don’t bring much. But there has been a recognition through others of an essence in me that resonates from within, and I have begun to acknowledge that. I bring a body awareness and a willingness to be vulnerable, to attempt a release of ego while in that space. I take direction well, and I am open to different perspectives and opinions that may contribute to personal growth. I enjoyed our whole collaboration.”

And I enjoyed it too. Aaron has not had much training in dance and yet he moves with the self-awareness of a trained dancer. He just instinctively knows what to do with his hands, for example, and how to mold his body into or against the rocks he was posing with. He really looks like a natural part of the landscape in which he is posed. His skin is naturally tanned and blended well with the color of the rocks and his eyes are just amazingly handsome. I asked him which are his favorite photographs from our shoot. “The one in which I’m almost in a fetal pose, seemingly in a womb of stone, the flow of the layers of erosion following a curve around my body in an earthly embrace.”

And speaking of tinkering with the camera, I have to give a shout out to Fuji Cameras (I am not affiliated with them in any way other than owning one). I usually shoot with a Nikon DSLR system but when shooting on location and having to hike in, a smaller, lighter, but quality system is heaven! I decided to go cold turkey on this shoot and ONLY use my Fuji system and it didn’t disappoint me in the least. For the photographers out there, I was using a Fuji Xe-1 with 14mm prime, 18-50mm zoom, and 55-200mm zoom lenses.

And how did Aaron enjoy working with me? “I thoroughly enjoyed working with you, Gordon. "I didn’t feel any awkwardness in our interaction, nor did I feel like I had to guard myself in any manner. You were really open and interested in sharing some of yourself with me, and you took a genuine interest in me as well. I didn’t ever feel ill-at-ease or that you were just a guy with a camera. Thank you for trusting me on this grand adventure.” And thank you Aaron for trusting me and giving of yourself to create photographs that I feel we can both be very proud of. I hope the FH audience enjoys them!

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