Today Swedish-born photographer Bertil Nilsson gave us a lecture surrounding his photographic works. Nilsson focused particularly on his series, ‘Undisclosed’ and his on going series, ‘Naturally’. ‘Undisclosed’ was made into a book and is the result of Nilsson’s work with 47 circus artists throughout Europe and North America over the course of 5 years. The book is filled with black and white images of the performers, all-naked, working on their skills in empty training spaces. Meanwhile, in ‘Naturally’ Nilsson is creating colour images focusing on the male form only. He takes the performers and places them in the midst of nature, forests, lakes and so on, exploring the ideas between natural and unnatural.
Nilsson’s exploration and documentation of the human form began between eight to nine years ago when he moved to London and shared a house with circus performers. Around the same time Nilsson became extremely interested in photography and began documenting those closet to him: the circus performers, who all worked at Circus Space, a local circus. Whilst there are thousands of images of performers performing or preparing backstage, Nilsson wanted to take a different approach to such physical subjects.
Nilsson decided to strip the performers from all the glitz and glamour that creates the allure of the circus: costumes, make-up, lighting, exaggerated sets, were all diminished. Nilsson decided to photograph the performers naked to reveal the body and physique in its entirety outside of their usual surroundings (on stage, in an arena etc.). The bodies of these performers are the tools in which they use to earn a living and to give an astounding performance and Nilsson wanted to focus on this. The human body is at the centre, the very core, of the circus, which Nilsson has emphasised and reinforced through his images.
On the one hand, Nilsson captures the immense impact circus and acrobatic training has on the human body, transforming the fragility of the human body into something that appears more machine like and strong. On the other hand, his focus on minor details such as the imprints of rope on skin or veins straining as the performer holds an almost inhuman position, shows the risk and pain the performers have to push through in order to mould their body and give a good performance. During the lecture Nilsson said he wanted to focus on the things that performers disguise physically during a performance. Pain, injuries, risk, bruises and permanent damage are all vital elements of being a performer and I feel Nilsson demonstrates this immense physicality really well by focusing on the minor details as well as emphasising the performers ligaments and muscles.
Nilsson spoke of how questions arose when beginning the project such as how does one capture movement through a still image? Or how can we translate a performance into a single image? As Nilsson flicked through his images taken from his series, ‘Undisclosed’ I couldn’t help but notice how structural, architectural he made the human bodies of these naked performers appear. Nilsson catapults the human body into something that seems holy or sculptural, it’s really inspiring and slightly crazy to see how far the human body can change through hard, committed training. I felt this was more noticeable in his very still images of the performers movements, as if he captured them at the most intense moment of the performance that would be gone in a split second, such as a female being suspended in the air, whilst her partner is awaiting to catch her fall. That sense of architecture and sculpture is also reinforced in the images in which the performers are surrounding by structures and sharp lines that possess their training spaces. It creates a really interesting dynamic between something that is physical, unnatural and something that is organic yet appears just as unnatural. Another theme, which Nilsson also explores, is the blur between masculinity and femininity. Females appear strong and muscular whilst males appear fluid and graceful. It’s a really interesting dynamic when comparing the images side by side.
Overall, I really enjoyed Nilsson’s lecture and the concepts that interested and influenced him to create such images. I need to apply this rigor and thirst to convey concepts within my own images for Picbod.