Revealing people for who they are
A talk with local photographer Paul Boyer
Paul Boyer glances through the “Mature Men of La Plata County 2005 Calendar.”/Photo by Todd Newcomer.

by Jules Masterjohn

W ith so much worldy material to be charmed by, it is fascinating to know what moves an artist's attention toward creating. What or who is the muse? Picasso's inspirations were frequently women, mostly his lovers and wives. For local photographer Paul Boyer, it is not women in specific but people in general that "click his shutter." I spoke with him about two of his most recent portrait projects in which community became his muse.

JM: I first came to know your work through a book called One Hundred Over 100 . What was this project about?

PB: It was about 100 people over 100 years old. When I was living in Port Townsend, Wash., a friend of mine, Jim Heynen, was teaching writing workshops in nursing homes. He wanted to do this book ever since he began noticing that old people and young people have different problems. My friend asked one centenarian, "How did you get to be so old?" The guy told him, "Well, you go like this (he inhales and exhales slowly)." Others would tell us that it was hard work that got them there.

JM: Did this project give you a different outlook on growing old?

PB: It gave me a different perspective on death. We realized that each time we saw someone that we were interviewing for the book, that we would probably never see that person again. It made me a little bit less afraid of dying and it made me trust a little bit more the moments that I do have to make something happen. These were very courageous people just getting up every day. And some of them were still very active.

JM: Each photograph is uniquely beautiful and conveys dignity and a sense of the individual spirit.

PB: That was one of the goals we were going for with this project. I wanted to make sure that I was showing these people for who they are. It was a great project, a real growing experience for me, from the standpoint of having to compress everything into a very short period of time and come out with something. And I had to make it happen a hundred times. This project took me away from my standard, everyday approach to photography.

JM: Your current project is certainly not a standard photo assignment. Tell me about the "Mature Men of La Plata County 2005 Calendar."

PB: The idea for the calendar came from the people at Operation Healthy Communities. It's exactly the kind of project that "One Hundred Over 100" was for me. It allowed me to sink my teeth into each photograph. It allowed me to express and have a certain range of creativity. Yet I was operating within the constraints of taking a potentially risqu`E9 subject and making it acceptable, which is a wonderful challenge. The juxtaposition of these ideas is so attractive to me - to take some of the leading citizens of the county and ask them to take their clothes off with the intention to make money selling the calendar to benefit Operation Healthy Communities.

JM: So you photographed 12 distinguished male community members in the buff? Quite a "sexy" project.

PB: Well, yes, and they are all over 50 years old! There are a whole bunch of factors that interrelate and that dictate how to approach the shot. Sometimes I didn't realize how I was going to approach it until I started to work with each person. I could plan the shot out but that would disappear the moment I started. Also, these men have established positions in the community and they didn't want to look stupid. They wanted to make sure there was going to be a certain dignity to the photographs and that was my job also, to import dignity into the process. these were some of the beautiful things about this project.

JM: Sounds like potentially touchy photographic sessions. How did this work?

PB: The folks from Operation Healthy Communities set that all up, and Dennis Lum assisted me with the shoots. I offered what I thought was a successful way of approaching the people most of the men came up with an idea of the way they could be photographed. We always built on that idea and never quite went where they wanted or where I wanted. We always ended up where we both wanted to go in the end. It was one of those projects that really clicked.

What I decided early on was that the most interesting thing about this project was going to be the use of a "hiding device" in each photo, and it would be the most talked about feature of the image. In almost all cases I think I achieved a very interesting hiding device feature - it's part of the dramatic structure of each photograph. One subject wanted to be photographed with his skis, which posed a big challenge because, as a hiding device, a pair of skis doesn't have much volume. In the end, we came out with a really interesting image.

JM: Both of these projects have involved creating intimate portraits. What is it about the human subject that intrigues you?

PB: I think that most photographers of my generation were brought to photography through Ansel Adams' work. What I discovered early on was that I had to be something other than Ansel Adams - that I probably wasn't going to make it photographing rocks and trees. It became important to me to figure out what fascinated me about photography. At the time I had two daughters and spent a lot of time photographing family members. I found myself drawn to the people closest to me. What I have learned to do is simply expand my intimate world to include many others. That's part of getting that trust. That happened with the calendar project.

Paul Boyer's original photographs for the "Mature Men of La Plata County Calendar" can be seen at the "unveiling party," hosted by Open Shutter Gallery, on Fri., Dec. 3, from 5 to 8 p.m. n




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