The ‘Colorful’ Palette of Monochromatic Images: Dale Reid
Article written by Prerna SM Jain on May 4, 2021
“I think that my mind has become much more open. I was a trained accountant, and you wonder that can a trained accountant become really creative.” – Dale Reid
In 1826 when Niépce’s heliographs first came to being, little did one foresee the future of still films that photography is today. The subsequent invention of the daguerreotype to modern photography has been nothing short of a miracle. With it, the monochromatic image has made its journey from its inception to the present date, evolving and transforming its visages to freeze our ephemeral moments. Photography, with its multifarious accents, continues to capture moments, along with our hearts.
Dale Reid’s monochromatic photographs are immersive engagements that lend aliveness to its subjects. The volume of the subject’s forms is preserved while emphasis is laid on structure and texture. The tactility of these complexities seeps through the image, as the support of colors are no longer needed.
Reid’s journey began when her partner was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She found solace in the practice of photography, drawing inspiration from the works of Edward Weston, Mapplethorpe and Ansel Adams. “Photography is an outlet. I was in the corporate world for a number of years, as well as I was caring for my partner who had MS (Multiple Sclerosis). When we travelled, it was something that we could do together. And as time went on, I started looking at it more as an art form. I took one course at Ryerson University here in Toronto called Introductory Photography, and that really got me started. I put a plan together, it was a five-year plan to transition from the corporate world to being an artist. One of the reasons behind this decision was because it allowed me more quality time with my partner”, says Reid.
She says that one of the first photographers that she was following was Ansel Adams, and that she thinks that it was an evolution through which she came up with a style that reflected Robert Mapplethorpe. Whilst recording the three dimensionality of her subjects plays a focus in her works, Reid continues to expand her visual vocabulary. The contortions, tensions within forms, and the presence of an object within a space and its relation to it, are some of the themes that are evident. In her series, Still Life - Pears, Reid has personified each pair’s pear to grant it a whimsical personality who appears to be involved in various activities, such as dancing in the rain, and cozying up on a blanket. The animated characteristics that the fruits share, gives them an individual persona, complete with freckles and spots.
Reid’s photography is reminiscent of the 20th century San Francisco Bay Area photographers who formed the Group f/64 or f.64. The name of this group is derived from a diaphragm number of the photographic lens. Her works share the same photographic style as that of the group, which was marked by sharply focused and carefully framed images. Their formation was an oppositional response to the pre-dominant pictorialist photographic style. The purpose was not to document the actualities but to treat the subject and the image itself as an art. Reid’s photography also strongly reminds one of Edward Weston’s photographs of peppers. Weston was one of the Group f/64 artists. Reid’s attention to the textures and sensuousness of unified contours of mushrooms in her series Still Life- Mushrooms is very graceful, and an example of Weston’s influence on her works.
Referencing her Floral series, Reid says, “A lot of people ask me why I don’t shoot my florals in color, but I find much more depth and interest in the black and white. I focus in on the textures. A few years before I started the course at Ryerson, I was shooting in color and a friend of mine who owned a camera store asked me why I didn’t try black and white. That was when I saw the world differently. I did a lot of floral scenes and you can see the color in it, through the textures. A lot of people interpret my floral images as to have been a painting, and it has a sort of sleekness of it. The work is very interpretive, and I like pushing the boundary that way, making it different from what other photographers do today. I find that digital photography has become more sort of like pop art, like take the colors and blow it out, whereas this, to me, is true art.”
Her work Transition was the first time that Reid chose to appear before the camera. Until this point, still objects were the muse of her images. The shift to figures was an interesting one. “We travelled to the east coast of Canada, and my early work was highly maritime scene. When I left the corporate world, I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a maritime photographer. So, I started experimenting. One of the series I did for one of the first exhibits I had after leaving the corporate world, is called the Mystery Girl series. And they were self-portraits of me, and it provided me opportunity to start coming out as a woman, as people didn’t realize who I am. In one of the shows, I had a picture of my legs there and a couple came up to me and the woman said, ‘compliment the model on her legs’ and I said under my breath “Thank You”.
In Reid’s series of Feast, objects are abstracted. Traditionally painted still life subjects are translated through the camera lens adding a contemporary flavor to it. The isolated forms in the series lack any supported context as they fill the picture frame, devoid of any background. The intense contrast between the background and the objects adds further gravity to the contours.
The visual invitation of feast is amplified through their lack of colors. The graininess of the rice and the compact rich form of the cheese seems to be tangible. The hand here acts as a serving one, a celebrating one. The positioning of the hand on objects like grapes, tease the viewer as it seems to be in the action of grabbing the food. The raw, unaltered food is thoroughly celebrated. “I met Jessica at an auction which held one of my works. She fell in love with my work and shortly after the auction we met. She had several antiquities, she had been collecting serving bowls, ladles, etc. Her concept was to put together an exhibition with my photography and these antiquities. We sat down one evening with her sister and one of her friends and four hours later we the eleven Feast’s pieces. The concept was the presentation of food. The next night, we viewed the negatives, and then thirteen days later, I started printing because I was travelling to Barcelona in between. She saw the final framed prints the day before the show was opening. So, we built a good trust and were working together now. In addition, the exhibition was featured on Artsy and on my web page there is a link to the archived exhibition to view some of her antiquities as well,” says Reid.
On asking about her inspiration from nature and her time spent during this pandemic, Reid responds, “After my partner passed away three years ago, I closed the studio, as it was getting too expensive. I have a space wherever my camera is. As I overlook the city, I see Lake Ontario here in Toronto. With Covid I haven’t felt isolated, I felt very engaging, because I go out for a walk every day to a park. I can walk the same block every day or four times a day, and I will feel something different every time. On Saturdays, I generally go and stand at one point overlooking the city and contemplate. One time, this couple walked by and the woman said ‘I hope that Covid gets over. I’m getting tired looking at the lake.’ and I thought to myself, ‘tired of looking at the lake? There’s so much there’! I did a series in 2006 for an exhibition and it was a series of trees I had shot from mid-January to mid-March that year. And obviously there were no leaves, so I came up with a concept that these are nude portraits waiting to blossom into their spring attire. I currently have an online exhibition titled ‘Nude Portraits in Nature’, ready to blossom into their spring attire. So, there’s so much here that can inspire you!”
We look forward to viewing the natural delights that have been immortalized by Dale Reid’s remarkable photography. Her texture- rich photographs prove that colors are not a prerequisite for capturing a ‘colorful’ image.