Exploring the Landscapes of Human Terrain

Paul Gowdie calls his latest work “physical landscapes”.

Rich digital prints in blacks and whites and hints of sepia tones are simply adhered to the walls of Arts Underground, with flathead pins, as if floating away from the surface.

Each depicts a minimalistic and intimate gaze at parts of the human body – from the contours of a female’s breasts and stomach, to the textures and curves of a man’s stretched back.

It’s easy to see why Gowdie translates this photographic series, entitled Skin, as physical landscapes. Their stark, clean lines chart the arches, imperfections and subtle details of the human body’s terrain.

“I just like doing nudes,” Gowdie says with a boisterous laugh.

“I do commercial photography as well but, in terms of fine artwork, what I end up doing are a lot of figure studies and social commentary of certain things.”

Wide arrays of habitats and happenings in the Yukon have been captured through Gowdie’s lens since he arrived over 10 years ago. But he admits the artistic medium is a difficult one to break into locally.

“There’s some really talented photographers up here and a lot of them are surviving mainly on tourism, for one,” he explains.

However, capturing the beauty of the great outdoors is not something Gowdie favours.

“I just seem to have bad luck. You pack up gear and go to a glacier and anytime I did something like that, I’d get up there and it is overcast and grey,” he says, laughing once again.

When asked to pinpoint when photography became a passion in his life, Gowdie says he’s somewhat stumped.

“It was probably a combination of things – early upbringing in photography and I’m probably a bit biased in terms of pop culture and fashion.

“When I initially took up photography, I think that was what I was more geared towards.

“And then it kind of crept further over into fine art.”

Gowdie is certified through the Western Academy of Photography, in Victoria, but he also has an extensive background in cinema. And he repeatedly draws upon the connections between film and photography.

“For me, I like studio. And it comes down to the same thing as cinema. Cinematography and film is predominately studio. It’s working with lights, manipulating the lights – very controlled.

“You either have the patience or you don’t have the patience.”

The images in Skin came out of recent studio sessions of Gowdie’s where he played with poses, light and close-ups to focus on body parts rather than full-nude figures.

One image concentrates on a woman’s breast cupped softly by her hand. While the nipple is sharply in focus, the details and shapes of her fingertips quietly fade into the background.

It all boils down to a specific imagery that Gowdie says he’s experimented with and continues to develop within his work.

“Find your style. Define your style. Once you’ve learned the rules, you can start bending them and breaking them.”

Gowdie admits that, for some, the exhibition induces blushing.

“During the opening, there were definitely quite a few people … it’s almost like a shame.

“The body is a bit of a shame to some people, to some degree. And our society is fairly conservative about the body itself,” he says.

“It’s debatable in terms of how much is too much and how much is not enough. Nothing here is too risky. I think the show is actually tame.”

Skin is on display at Arts Underground until March 4.

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