So the darkness shall be light, and the stillness the dancing. T. S. Eliot
Drinking in Jeff Bark’s work is like sipping on a mulled wine and chasing it with a dark cherry foam. It’s brooding and sensual, classically ravishing and yet nuanced with contemporary quirk. Bark represents a new guard of photographer who manages to not only lord over both Fine Art and advertising, but also to cultivate an osmosis between. His fashion editorial for magazines like Dazed & Confused, Muse and Another Magazine could quite easily sit in any Renaissance wing. He manages to capture Nicki Minaj in a Mad Men demure. His personal work can look like a slicked up fashion editorial. That is . . . until you look too closely.
Bark is a master at puppeteering light and coaxing artifice into a finely honed submission. Shooting long exposures on a large format camera, Bark tames the light by pairing it back rather than adding to it. Each scene is created in a studio. That’s right – a studio. Everything from the piss drenched sunlight of Californian suburbia, the mood riddled wastelands or the holier-than-thou woods. Everything but the waterfalls. Like the old-school Dutch vanitas every aspect of every shot is contrived. From a blade of grass, to the dirty white sock on Golden Boy’s adonis, to the chemical spills on that swan lake surface. Within a contemporary lens, classical symbols are replaced by subtle comic gestures and a wink to the audience. “Nothing is by chance and everything is deliberate, flawlessly tricking the viewer to believe they’ve caught a visceral human moment.”
And this is one of the keys to Jeff Bark’s magic. Underneath the artifice lies a vulnerable human creature. It’s that carnivorous kind of romance where you can see the veins beneath the skin and an untamed fleshiness. In his personal series, Bark works with real men and women. Even Golden Boy lies passed out next to an empty bottle and a deflated lounge. Part of this fascination with how beauty is defined, comes from Bark’s need to be creatively challenged. Using a model is easy lighting, but how do you reveal the artistry in the curve of a belly or the commonality of a man. “In my photographs you can see the muscles under the skin. The light seems to come from the figures instead of bouncing off”. And it’s not just about the flesh of the bodies, but also the wider world within the frame. As their contexts tumble out all around them, the human element becomes exquisite in all of it’s fragilty.
What you burnt, broke, and tore is still in my hands. I am the keeper of fragile things and I have kept of you what is indissoluble. Anais Nin.