Jock Sturges

Long known for his radiant black-and-white naturist portraiture, Jock Sturges has also been quietly working in color for more than two decades. Life Time presents a broad range of this color work for the first time and carries forward Sturges extended portraits of families in Northern California counter-culture communities and on French naturist beaches. Working with the same models and their families in his long-term studies of growth, change and relationship, his large format images borrow significantly from classical periods in both photography and nineteenth and early twentieth century painting. The large color plates in Life Time represent almost perfect one to one translations of the original transparencies and are rich with detail and physical and psychological nuance. Sturges describes his work as identity driven because his portraits represent collaborations that stretch over entire lifetimes. The confident ease with which all of his subjects present themselves to his camera evidences a rare level of trust and friendship.

 Callout: My hope is that my work is in some way counter-pinup. A pinup asks you to suspend interest in who the person is and occupy yourself entirely with looking at the body, fantasizing about what you could do with that body, completely ignoring how the person might feel about it. People who make pinup photographs dont care who the woman is, what tragedies or triumphs that persons life might encompass. My work hopefully works exactly counter to that. My ambition is that you look at the pictures and realize what complex, fascinating, interesting people every single one of my subjects is. --Jock Sturges, the Boston Phoenix
Personal Review: Jock Sturges: Life Time by Jock SturgesJock Sturges has always been a fascinating photographer, seeking to do no less than capture the essence of a person, and pehaps move us closer to understanding our place in the universe. While no artist could ever hope to reach this lofty goal, a few artists every few generations are brave enough to try, and some - Vermeer, Renoir, the film maker Ingmar Bergman, for a few examples - have at least come within sight of it. You can add Jock Sturges to that short but illustrious list. As you might guess, I am a fan of his work, and own the four previous books that are still in print (Last Day of Summer, Radiant Identities, Notes, and Misty Dawn Portrait of a Muse), but this one far surpasses any of his previous work.

 I was skeptical that someone who worked in black and white and sepia tones for decades could make a clean transition to color, but any doubts I had have been put to rest. His mastery of color has taken his art to a new level, and his images practically jump off the page like never before. Like his previous work (and almost all great art), it looks simple at first glance - he doesn't mess with the focus, color pallette, or any other tricks many lesser photographers do to make their subjects look more interesting. Nor does he go to wild locations or position his models in strange poses or tableaus. Also, don't expect Paris Hilton, Courtney Love, or any other famous people to make a sudden appearance. Sturges goes the opposite direction - he takes away such distractions, and focuses our attention solely on the model. Most often, it is a single person or a group of people in front of a neutral background in a naturalistic pose. Most aren't professional models, and while they lack the flawless features and idealistic proportions, they are all the more interesting for it.
The book itself is printed on high quality paper, and the images are crystal clear. The tiniest details are visible, and no matter how long I gaze at these images, I always find something I never quite noticed before.   He's found some great subjects as well. Other reviewers have mentioned Adele, and she is a great subject, every bit as interesting as Misty Dawn was and is, and some of his past models have made triumphant returns.
I particularly love Eva and Vanessa, who in their own ways seem to possess something magical, and he has found many other great subjects in Miranda, Maeve, Floss (who apparently grow tall and developed in a short period of time, and endearingly seems as if she is trying to get used to the newfound attention this has thrust upon her), wide eyed Estelle, and surly but lovable little Megan-Tara. Then there's also Camilla, Nikki, Lotte, and countless others, which makes the absence of some of his best previous models, such as Marine, or the under-represented models like Misty Dawn and Maia (Sturges wife) easier to bear.
All is not prefect. Some of his photos have sections out of focus, such as people in the background, or even parts of the subject. This is done deliberately, but when I see the blurred image of what looks like a fascinating person in the background, I can't help but feel a little frustrated. I could also mention the fact that not every page has a picture, or that, despite the title, the oldest photograph dates back to 1998, with a majority falling between 2003 and 2007. Not a big deal, but hardly constitutes the lifetime of work the title promises. Then there's the fact that he seems to prefer the slim, long limbed young girls over older /or more full-figured ones, a preference Sturges himself admits, but I hope future volumes give us more of Camille, a beautiful little redhead we see way too little of, orthe mothers of some of the girls, who are every bit as beautiful and interesting as their daughters. Nevertheless, such complaints seem petty and insignificant in the face of the multitude of things the artist has got right. Some may also complain the book is too big to fit in most bookshelves, or that these are idealised images, and not really representative of reality. The occasional scabs or arm in a sling are the only signs of the harder realities of life Jock allows into his vision, and there are no drugs, alchohol, body mutilation, and the only tattoos you'll see are tiny ankle variety, and ears are the only body part that gets pierced in this world. This presents an idealistic world that is not representative of the harsh realities of daily life. I wouldn't have it any other way. 

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