To some people, ancient myths are dusty relics from the past. To visual artist Nicole Dextras, however, they are living, breathing entities. In part of an ongoing photo series, she reinterprets various Greek myths in her newest work, often placing them in modern settings.
Dextras has always had a fascination with ancient legends and symbols. "I chose Greek mythology because it is so rich in stories," she says of her latest work. "I like to tell stories instead of being vague and obtuse, as so much contemporary photography tends to be."Shooting in various locations around her native Vancouver, British Columbia, Dextras uses models - usually friends, artists, actors and dancers — to represent gods, goddesses and other mythical characters in consciously theatrical setups.
"The Muses" (above right) shows two of the goddesses who were considered the inspiration for the arts in the ancient Greek world. ("There are actually nine of them, but I only had two models," Dextras explains.) Narcissus, a man completely obsessed with his image, appears to step out of his own reflecting pool (below right), which Dextras constructed in her backyard.
"Fire 2" (below left) illustrates the tragic myth of Icarus, who flew with wings made of feathers and wax, but soared too close to the sun, which melted his wings. This version, with Icarus represented by a woman and the sun played by a ring of fire, actually was shot under a bridge in Vancouver, she says.
Dextras' flair for elaborate sets comes from her 10 years of working as a designer in the theater. "It usually takes me about a month to plan and do a shoot because I do everything, except makeup," she says. "I scout locations (and rent or make the costumes and props. I like to make things with my hands."
A graduate of the Emily Carr College of Art in 1986, Dextras also studied dance, sculpture, painting, graphic design and papermaking. She also teaches photo transfer techniques part-time at Emily Carr.
Although she admits to occasionally dodging and burning her images using Photoshop, Dextras prefers old-school technology. She uses a Hasselblad 500cm camera and hand tones her black-and-white prints in the darkroom. "I can see how digital is very seductive," she says. "I still love darkroom work and especially experimenting with things such as toners and hand-coloring. I figure I will keep my hand in both as long as I can."
Currently, Dextras is continuing work on her Greek series, which will be shown at Toronto's Rebecca Gallery next May as part of the Contact Photo Festival. For more information on her work, visit the Rebecca Gallery at www.rebeccagallery.com.