Ralph Mercer at Galatea Fine Art
by Brian Goslow
Needham, Mass.-based photographer Ralph Mercer earned his BFA in photography and education from the Rhode Island School of Design and his MFA in visual arts from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. His current show, “Body and Soul: Discovering My Muse,” on view at Galatea Fine Art through Nov. 29, features work from his “Myths” series and “implies a spiritual connection through merging of a human figure with a natural organic subject.”
This Saturday (Nov. 21) at 2 p.m., Mercer will be giving a special kind of gallery talk in which he’ll be staging a live photography shoot and demonstration with a live figure model, then take the final work and combine it with an existing file from his photo archive to compose a final image. A few days prior to the event, Artscope’s managing editor Brian Goslow “cornered” Mercer to answer a few questions about his working style, his current exhibition and what he hopes gallery visitors take home from his work.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST PICKED UP A CAMERA, WHAT WAS YOUR ORIGINAL STYLE AND HOW DID YOU COME TO WORK IN “FOCUSED ABSTRACTION?”
I have been making photographs since I was a boy. My interest in art and photography led to a college photography major, teaching and a professional career as a photo-illustrator. The subject of a photograph is important to me but the way the picture ‘looks’ is primary. This interest along with digital photography’s rapid feedback encourages me to respond to the form, line and color in a subject and create a photo that emphasizes these abstract qualities. Furthermore, the digital darkroom allows an unprecedented amount of control over the ‘look’ of the final photograph.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE “MYTHS” COLLECTION CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY AT GALATEA?
Do people really change? Not really. However, I think they do evolve. I have been making Myths images for decades, although the series title “Myths” is only a year old. It is about a personal spiritual quest and recognition of humanity’s historical reverence for nature. The archetypes of growth and reproduction expressed in the stories and mythologies from human history inform my theme of beauty in nature.
WHAT HAS THE INITIAL REACTION BEEN TO THE WORK AT THE GALLERY?
I have been extremely gratified by the positive reception my work has received. The opening was very well attended and many favorable comments were expressed.
HOW MUCH WORK WENT INTO EACH IMAGE? HAD YOU EXPLORED THE TREE SHADOWS PREVIOUSLY TO TAKING THE SHOT OF THE WOMAN IN THE IMAGE LABELED “UNTITLED 1” ON YOUR WEBSITE? SHE LOOKS AS IF SHE’S LAYING AT THE GATES OF A PALACE AND I SUSPECT THAT ISN’T BY ACCIDENT.
Each image is a meticulous combination of two or more photographs. I pair source images from my files with shots made of models in my the studio and on location. The final composite is refined and polished and usually takes 20 hours or more to complete. “Untitled 1” is made up of two images. Photos of a tree’s shadows were made several years ago. The model was photographed in the studio and later combined with one of the landscape images. Your palace metaphor intrigues me although my concept is not as specific. She is lying in, and merged, with the landscape while the trees grow around her. To mix metaphors, she is a fertility symbol lying before the palace of life.
FOR THOSE IMAGES WHICH SEEM TO HAVE LAYERS OF IMAGES — DO YOU SKETCH THEM OUT IN ADVANCE PRIOR TO TAKING THE PICTURES YOU’LL USE FOR THE FINAL PRODUCT?
Although I may preconceive the form and idea of a new image, I do not put pencil to paper. I usually compose the picture digitally using two or more choices from a large group of source images. This preliminary product is the ‘sketch’. The final artwork may use these same source images or may be constructed with one or more new files shot specifically for the picture.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR MODELS AND HOW IMPORTANT IS THEIR CONTRIBUTION TOWARDS THE FINAL IMAGE YOU SHARE WITH THE WORLD?
The women posing for me are usually found online or by referral. They are essentially collaborators improvising poses based on my verbal directions. Sometimes I show photos to help explain the concept or to describe the desired body language. In each session I shoot a wide variety of images, letting the model be naturally expressive.
WHEN SOMEONE SEES YOUR WORK — OR ATTENDS A TALK AND DEMONSTRATION SUCH AS THE ONE YOU’LL BE GIVING ON SATURDAY — WHAT DO YOU HOPE THEY TAKE HOME FROM IT?
I strive to give the viewer or attendee a ‘window’ on my work, it’s philosophy and it’s method of creation. If they understand me as an individual and an artist, they will experience the work more deeply. Each individual participating in my gallery talk will have many questions. I attempt to address as many as possible.
(“Ralph Mercer: Body and Soul: Discovering My Muse” remains on view through November 29 at Galatea Fine Art, 460 Harrison Ave, Boston, Mass. The gallery is open Wednesday through Friday from noon-6 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from noon-5 p.m. For more information, call (617) 542-1500.)