This whole project started because I decided that I wanted to have another gallery showing to use for promotion and leverage for future projects. I had spoken a bit with Andrew Williamson, owner of Black Cat Gallery, and he mentioned there was some free time coming up - I thought what better motivation to have a gallery showing than putting a deposit on a gallery?
Booking the gallery was a great motivation, but also a good source of stress and panic. I had a gallery booked but nothing to show. I had a few concepts in mind but had not made any decisions on what would make for a good showing.
I had the cuddling concept in mind for quite a while but had also recently shot my motorcycle series. I thought both would make for a good showing but decided to show the cuddling series as I thought it would make for more relatable subject for viewers to explore.
With this decisions finally made I reached out to my good friend, Adam King, who produced my first short film to see if he wanted to jump on board. Being a general advocate for producing rad art he jumped on and off we went.
Early in the concept I was mainly interested in the aesthetic, visual interest of two bodies intertwined. It could have just been a look at the human form but once things started moving I started thinking more and more of the concept...
Cuddling is an interesting thing that we, humans, do. We intertwine our bodies and get as close as humanly (hah!) possible. The reasons could be varied - warmth, comfort, familiarity, security, etc. - but I think, no matter the reason, it's just built into our species. We simply crave the comfort of having a loved one close.
With that, I started thinking more and more about the thought that no matter who we are we all still crave that same comfort. No matter your sexual preference, age, job, or drink preference, we're all interested in getting cozy with someone we may think is particularly rad.
The first, and possibly most difficult, step was to find all the couples to photograph. We originally set off with the goal of 20 (completely absurd looking back) and went down to 15 and finally found 10. Originally I was a little nervous 10 couples wouldn't be enough but after seeing how well the images filled the space I'm now completely content with the number.
Reaching out to couples was a hard task. Although we were able to contact a good amount of people within me and Adam's social circles, most people were simply uninterested. We were always very understanding of couples not being interested as I know this is definitely a personal subject for many couples to have to reveal to the public. Cuddling is a personal thing and a lot of people wanted to keep it that way.
So yes, we had 10 couples and after a few weeks of arranging schedules we were set for our shoot date of Sunday, Jan 11th.
Not too long ago I was a studio manager at Silverline Studios and I can personally attest to how amazing this studio and the people behind it are. Knowing the studio well, I was confident that it would be a perfect space to host the shoot as the cove had ample amount of shooting space, but also, had another door and separate rooms for the other couples to wait comfortably. It was important to me that each subject was comfortable with no additional people in the room while cuddling.
Each couple was asked to come prepared with their most common 'position' in mind. It was important to me that I did as little posing as possible as I wanted the series to be a true representation of the various positions that each couple may cuddle in. This became particularly interesting to observe as the different couples posed throughout the day.
We had rigged the camera 15ft in the air and tethered to a local computer to see all the incoming images. All the shooting was done from the computer while I could tweak each couples pose without hiding behind the camera.
In terms of lighting my main goal was to create an even light across the subject while blowing out the white ground (or background) as much as possible. As you can see above, I simply shot soft light evenly from every direction. Although there was still some masking in post I was thankfully able to separate the subjects from the background pretty well.
Creating A Show...
This is completely out of my norm. Planning, printing, mounting, and promoting a gallery show is a big task. Although I love the challenge (... mostly satisfaction) of creating a successful showing, I can confidently say I'm happy to wait a good chunk of time before I do it again.
First off, printing is understandably a full-time profession. There's so many technicalities, steps, and variables that are so easily overlooked. White can become not white, shadows can become black holes, details disappear, colours change etc. etc. Luckily, my college program had a good section on printing so I was able to handle the basics/test prints but even more lucky is that I have a great printer I have been using over the last few years, SML.
SML printed and mounted a big show that Maria and I had at Steam Whistle a few years ago and have been printing small projects for me since. They consistently provide super competitive prices and are always able to work under tight deadlines (common occurrence in my life) while also being understanding when I overlook silly pre-printing steps.
Although there were a few options for hanging, the hand-man and gallery owner, Andrew, brought up the idea to pinch the images between earth magnets and nails and it worked like a charm - thanks, Andrew.
And finally, it's always important to look your best...
Success! The room was full and the response was overwhelmingly positive. People toughed out the brutal weather and still came and seemed to enjoy themselves. With a cold Steam Whistle in hand the room was full of positive vibes.
As mentioned on the mission statement the viewers were "encouraged to compare similarities within each image and make their own conclusion". Basically, I didn't want to implant a preconceived thought into peoples heads - I wanted them to take what they wanted from the images and go with that.
Throughout the evening I had a lot of fun conversations about peoples habits and thoughts on cuddling but one I found most interesting, and perhaps most humorous, was the amount of men that preferred to be the small spoon. It seemed that a movement almost started throughout the night with various guys speaking out towards their thoughts on the stereotypes of males being the big spoon. Everyone just wants to be held the same!
In addition to the images we also decided to implement a small 'selfie wall' with the hashtag #WeHeartCuddling. This created a fun way for couples and friends to get a photo while also creating some buzz on instagram.
I owe so many thanks to so many people but...
Adam King: Huge thanks to Adam for producing the whole project! He's always able to keep the project on schedule and keeping my head on straight. I almost completely bailed twice and he was able to get my motivation back. You rock!
Andrew Williamson: Owner of The Black Cat gallery. I can't get over this dudes passion for supporting the arts in this city. He's so welcoming and helpful throughout the whole process - he could easily have just gave me the keys but he stuck around the long hours setting up the show and provided plenty of helpful tips throughout the process.
Chris Robinson: Assistant extraordinaire! Not only helped me through the admin at the studio but also provided the much needed help during the day of the shoot.
Anthea Mislan: My rad girlfriend and uber talented designer. She was able to throw together all my promo, title pages, texts, and provided feedback as I slaved at my computer during the editing process.
And perhaps most importantly, the couples! You are all so, so amazing for taking the time to come and be part of this project. I understand how this could take some courage to do and I will be forever grateful that you all stepped forward. Seriously.
Thanks so much for reading! Make sure to check out the complete series over on another page here: http://www.dylanleeder.com/cuddling-a-visual-study/