To Seattle photographer Nichole DeMent, the figures she depicts in her fine-art portraits are influenced as much by their environment as they are by their own personalities. These selections from two of her recent photo projects show DeMent's affinity for juxtapositions and her belief in the inner duality of the human subconscious.
Her 2003 series, "to anima, to animus," is based on the Jungian psychological theory that all people share masculine (animus) and feminine (anima) characteristics, regardless of their genders. By photographing androgynous models in contrasting red and white color palettes, she creates a dialogue between the two attributes that help determine personality. "I wanted to blur the lines between male and female," she says.With most of her shoots, she uses friends and other nonprofessionals as her models. In fact, the woman in "Embracing Innocence" is a barista whom DeMent met at a coffee shop.
Though she earned her bachelor of arts degree in 2002 from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., DeMent is old-school in her approach to photography. She is familiar with modern digital technology but prefers using film and her trusty manual Pentax 35mm SLR. "I love the challenge of working in the darkroom," she says. "I want to really make the image."
Her facility with advanced darkroom techniques, such as cross-processing, layering images, and painting, scratching or puncturing negatives, is most noticeable in "The Essence of Being," a continuing environmentally themed series that began three years ago. These surreal 30x45-inch prints are made by sandwiching negatives of human forms shot in a studio with other images taken from nature. In "Female Reaching", she used lipstick to add the white highlights in the lower half of the image. The cascade of cracks was made by placing the negative on a piece of broken glass she found in a junkyard.
Not everyone agrees on the meaning of DeMent's work. The "anima/animus" series, she says, is often mistaken as an examination of religious icons of good versus evil. "I used red and white angels only to represent the spirit," she explains. "Some saw devil imagery in ‘The Gift of Animus', but I did not have a religious aspect in mind at all."
Such accidents of interpretation are not only tolerated but celebrated by DeMent. This embrace of serendipity extends into the creative process in the darkroom. "Wrapped" was in some ways formed by happenstance. After capturing the vague image of the human form with positive film, she began layering the photo with other images of trash and twisted wires near a railroad track. In the final print, she says, "I loved the way the model looked wrapped up in the wires," and the way the railroad ties formed an unplanned hairline on the figure's head. "I like the works that have a subconscious creative aspect."
In addition to pursuing her own photography, DeMent is the gallery director for the Steven Fey Gallery in Seattle.
In May, DeMent will show selected images from "Essence of Being" at Caffe Bella in Seattle. This fall, she says, more works from that series, plus some of her new photographic projects, will be exhibited at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
To see more of DeMent's art, visit her website at nicholedement.com.