Saturday, November 17, 2018

Photographer Interview: SLEVIN MORS by Dave Wolff

Interview with photographer SLEVIN MORS

How did the idea for your latest project Blood gestate, and what statement is it intended to make?
In 2013 I was experiencing a number of significant changes in my personal life. Photography was my primary source of artistic release at that time (and continues to be); a way to relax and unwind while being creative. Beginning in late 2012 and early 2013 I noticed my personal life was weighing heavily on my art and it started to feel stale and monotonous. At the time a great deal of my photographic art was being produced during group shoots because I was having trouble finding the time to put my own shoots together. This resulted in my images being visually uninteresting and dreary, even after I started producing my own shoots again.
After a lot of thought I decided that to break this cycle I needed to challenge myself artistically. Before I could challenge myself I needed to be honest about where I was. I invested a decent amount of time poring over my work from recent shoots and comparing it to my older work. This enabled me to set a baseline of where I was and help me plot a course to where I wanted to be. I created a short guide for me to follow for this project based on my assessment of my own work at the time.
These were the guidelines I used to create this project:
Personal - The subject matter needs to be something that plays to my interests.
Juxtaposition - The idea of combining contrasting subjects has always fascinated me.
Challenging - The subject matter needed to be something I had not photographed before.
Ongoing - The project needed to be something that could be shot indefinitely.
With the guidelines chosen I moved onto creating the actual project content. I tossed a few different ideas around but I ultimately decided on what has become the Blood Series. My main reason for choosing the Blood Series over my other ideas was because all my other ideas heavily involved other creatives and I wanted to make this a more personal project. Blood was chosen because of my personal love of horror movies and darker themes. I integrated both the juxtaposition and challenge guidelines by combining the blood with fine art nude photography. This gave me a contrast between the shock and horror of blood and the beautiful magnificence of the human figure. I challenged myself with nude art photography because it was something that I had not done previously and was somewhat scary for me. By keeping the concept rather simple I have been able to shoot this series on my own (and later with my wife Maria’s assistance) which has let me keep it going over the years.
The Blood Series helped me break free of my rut shortly after I started it. I have enjoyed the series and kept it going over the years because of my enjoyment. I have decided to keep the series nude for two reasons. First the contrast of bare skin and large amounts of blood is greatly diminished with the addition of clothing. Second the blood (in this case Special Effects or Hollywood blood) does not react the same to cloth as it does to the human skin. Ultimately the Blood Series has come to do what I needed it for and more.

The first edition of Blood will be limited to fifty copies upon its release. Whose idea was this and why?
Originally I didn’t want to limit the print run of the book but the first Kickstarter wasn’t successful so I revamped it. In order to get the print costs down I limited the scope of the book. Since it was going to be a small run only I decided to make it limited.

In what ways did the guidelines you established for your work help to improve it? How many ideas did you experiment with before deciding to work on The Blood Series?
The guidelines mainly helped me focus my thoughts. They also gave me specifics to address rather than just approaching it from a scattered set of thoughts. I didn’t really experiment with any other ideas for the series. When I was thinking about themes I reviewed my older work and thought about the work I’ve liked (and didn’t like) working on. I thought about what I’ve done that was difficult or challenging at the time I did it. And then how I could take that to the next level by adding more challenge to it.

What is the appeal you see of the nude female form combined with blood? What sort of an effect do you intend to have on people who peruse The Blood Series?
For me the idea was the juxtaposition of something beautiful like the human form combined with the potentially unsettling blood. Personally I find it all beautiful but a majority of people see that much blood and find it a bit disturbing. The series is also not just the female form as I have shot a male model for the series. I wanted it to be inclusive of all forms of the human figure, not just the stereotypical “pretty girl naked”. As for effect, I always want people to be both drawn in and repulsed by the images. I want the viewer to have a back and forth in their mind between "I can’t take my eyes off of it" and "I can’t look any more”. I feel that keeping a viewer interested in a single image and giving them something to bounce around within that image is what makes for great photography.

Do your viewers generally perceive your desired impact when it comes to human figures and blood?
I haven’t talked to too many viewers but those that I have fall into two categories. The first do have the intended reaction and the second seem to just find them beautiful.

How many editions of The Blood Series do you plan to release? How do you expect the first edition to be received by the local Goth communities?
Right now I am looking at only this single edition. I may release a second if there is enough demand for another. I will continue shooting images in the series but they may just be released as prints or in social media. When I would vend at the local Goth clubs the images were well received so I would expect the book to be well received. I’m not sure about the vampire community as much. I haven’t seen a lot of interest from the community as a whole.

How well received has your work been in the local Goth scene since you began vending?
Overall it has been well received, even outside of the Goth scene. I have had interest from people wanting to be part of the series and people wanting to own a piece of it. I think it’s pretty unique out there at the moment as a lot of photographers or models don’t use blood in their images that much.

How did you acquire an interest in photography in the beginning?
I think it was a combination of my parents, high school and my pursuit of art in general. I liked the technical aspects of photography and that it included more skills than just drawing to tell a story. On set as a solo photographer you need lighting, styling and color theory skills. You also need a good personality to interact and pose your subjects. And depending on what style of photography you go into you may also need thinks like prop and set building / design.

What equipment do you prefer to use when photographing shoots? Does it vary from short to shoot or according to what lighting and styling is involved?
I don’t really have a preference in brand but I use AlienBee lights most of the time because it’s what we have in the studio. Realistically I can shoot just about anywhere in available lights or with whatever I have on me. A lot of it can depend on what the final images are for or what the goal of the shoot is. When I used to shoot wedding or family portraits sometimes you were restricted in ways that could be challenging but you have to adapt and make it work.

How long have you and Maria been a photographer and model respectively? When did you both get your start?
I’ve been behind the camera off and on for over twenty years. Since getting back into photography about ten years ago I haven’t put my camera down. When I did get back into photography I started back into portraits and weddings but quickly grew into more fine art / fashion / modeling work. Maria messaged me about five years ago to inquire about having some photos taken of her and things grew from there. Since then she has modeled for me regularly in my projects and worked with many other photographers in the local area.

How many of your projects has Maria modeled for, and who else has she worked with over the years?
She’s modeled for every one of my major projects and quite a few for fun projects. I’d guess we shoot at least once a month or so on something.

Which of your major photography projects has Maria worked for?
I’ve really only done two major projects, the Blood Series and a new series that I haven’t published yet - Death Personified. Other projects we have done are one I wouldn’t consider major but either fun little shoots, artistic experiments or some stylized images. Things we do as the mood strikes.

Is Blood your first series with Maria to be published, or were there others published beforehand? Name some of them and indicate where they can be ordered online?
The Blood Series was my first self-published series. Maria and I have been featured together in numerous magazines over the years. I can’t remember for sure what our first publication was but I think it was Cynical Fashion magazine and was a winter queen feature. Together we have been in many different magazines but I think most of our images have been featured in Gothesque Magazine with Cynical Fashion. Sanctuary Magazine also featured us a few times.

Would you consider Maria an alt model or a goth model? What are the most significant differences between the two? How have the definitions changed since the 2000s?
I would consider Maria an Alt Model since she doesn’t do strictly goth shoots. I would consider a goth model someone who only shoots goth themes. Although I think most models today would be more alt than goth. I don’t think the goth scene is big enough to support specializing so much. Since the 2000s I feel like the alt subcultures have become more mainstream and fashionable. As a result they have melded into a single entity. The different subcultures are still there but they are harder to separate now.

What horror movies did you grow up with, and in what ways were they influential to your work?
I grew up watching everything from the classic Universal Monsters, The Twilight Zone and 80s gore (Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser etc). I think the Twilight Zone probably had the biggest effect on me. It helped me form my view of the world around me. I love the idea of things being just “off” or twisted. To this day I still watch them and always think in that twisted what if kind of way.

In what ways did those movies you cited help you form your world view? Did you watch underground cinema at that time, such as the movies of Romero and Fulci for example?
I feel like the Twilight Zone opened my mind to the unusual and strange possibilities the world has to offer. I’m not sure exactly how the others formed my views but I feel like they definitely influenced me. When I look at my work and the types of entertainment I enjoy you can see the marks of early horror, and the golden age of Hollywood all over. The black and white, the monsters and horror the glamour of old Hollywood all show up in my world.
I didn’t watch much underground or independent cinema until around my senior year in high school when I started working at a video rental store. Unfortunately in the mid 90s it was difficult to expand past the mainstream movie culture without connections. Once I started working in a video store I was able to expand into more independent and foreign films.

What were some of the movies you discovered while working at video stores?
I don’t remember a lot of specifics but I definitely was introduced to foreign films through movies like the Three Colors Trilogy and La Femme Nikita. I also had access to independent horror movies like George Romero’s. This was the mid 90’s so finding some of the older, especially independent or foreign, films was rather difficult since we only had limited print runs of VHS tapes. Home video ownership was very limited at the time to big blockbusters.

Were any of the movies you discovered at video stores, particularly of George Romero and other foreign/independent/horror directors, influential to you as a photographer? How about the television programs you mentioned watching?
I don’t think I can say one particular movie or film influenced me over others. I tend to learn from all movies/TV shows, even the bad ones. Sometimes I will watch movies that are visually beautiful but may be light on plot or story just so I can enjoy and deconstruct the lighting, color theory or camera movement. If I had to name a single influence that has had the most effect on my work it would have to be the portraits by George Hurrell and other Golden Age Hollywood photographers.

Do you regret that video stores fell by the wayside from the 2000s to the present? What characteristics of the video store has lived on in one form or another?
I wouldn’t say regret, but I definitely miss them in some ways. I think the availability of movies in a well curated store definitely had advantages over streaming services. The idea that anything is available on demand is amazing until you go looking for a particular movie and can’t find it on the streaming services. Most video stores that were around a while learned that you needed one copy of landmark films available and if it wasn’t they either tracked it down or you could go on a waitlist and pick it up when it came back in. With licensing today on streaming services it feels like there is a lot of things missing. You can always find the big blockbusters but finding classics, cult favorites or independent films is often difficult.

Would you ever consider expanding into filmmaking at some point in the future? If you did, would you consider it a logical progression from photography?
I used to do some videography a while back. I even made a small zombie film for a haunted house I used to work at. I left it behind though because it was too time consuming to film, edit and render. I still do some video work here and there but not that much and usually only for personal projects. I do think it is a natural progression to go between the two art forms. Many people do both I’ve found especially with the advent of things like YouTube and Vimeo and the ability to monetize the videos on those platforms.

Describe the haunted house attraction where you worked and the short film you worked on for it. Was it completed and released after you left it behind?
The haunted house was a small annual haunted attraction in a friend’s driveway. He had been doing it for ten years or more before I joined him. Together we worked to continue growing it over the course of five years or so. Eventually we shut it down when the markets crashed around 2008. I started editing together pieces of horror movies to promote and play at our haunt at first. Eventually we thought it would be fun to get friends and family together and make our own. It was a very short movie we played over the haunt to get people in the mood. We really only put it up on the Facebook page for the haunt. I still have a copy it but I don’t think I will ever share it out again.

How many personal projects are you doing video work for? Do any of them have a chance of being released to the public?
I’m not currently doing any personal projects with video. Usually I just make them for family and such. They aren’t intended for public viewing.

Is there anything you want to reveal about your new series Death Personified before it’s published? Is it going to differ in any way from the Blood Series?
It will be different but I am not ready to say more than it is my interpretation of different ways cultures had personified death throughout history.

How do you anticipate being remembered for your work? Do you want to be remembered for posing any kind of challenge to how people presently perceive art? Or do you express yourself as you feel and let people take it as they wish?
With the current state of art appreciation and social media I am not sure many artists will be remembered for long. Society has moved into an instant gratification mode and the length of time something stays in the collective focus is very minimal. I would like to see that change but it doesn’t seem as if that will happen anytime soon.

-Dave Wolff

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