Setting up camp on a hill, deer roaming in the valley below. A peaceful country scene: ducks languidly swimming in a pond with marsh grasses at its edge. Golfers caught in a sand trap. Kayakers enjoying a leisurely paddle. Mountain climbers going higher, step by step. Elephants enjoying a drink at a watering hole, or horses riding over the English countryside. This is the landscape photography of Allan Teger. Or are they really landscapes? Look closer and you will see things aren't always as they appear.
Photographer Allan Teger's Bodyscapes series flips perception and presents two different realities at the same time. That said, of course perception is always subjective: two different people will see two or more different things...
Playing with these ideas and more, Allan Teger uses the nude body as his landscapes and figurines as his focal points – the subjects in the scene – making it easy to not even realize that a body is in the photograph. We talked to Allan about his work and how it all started.
"I remember the moment that the idea for Bodyscapes® came to me," Allen Teger tells us. "I was thinking that the shape and structure of the universe repeated itself at every level and suddenly I had the image in my mind of a skier going down a breast. This was it – the universe repeating its shapes – a body looking like a mountain. It was also an example of two realities coexisting. The picture could be seen as a landscape and it could also be seen as a body. Although they were different, both perceptions were right at the same time. I knew instantly that I had an entire series of images waiting to be captured on film."
Babies on Tummy
One of the things that jumps out at you with Bodyscapes is how realistic the figures look in Allan's images. You can quietly contemplate the golfers or the babies playing on a sand hill. Allan shares how he goes about creating such lifelike scenes: "I place the toys on the body, and use backlighting. The backlighting keeps the little toy dark, and the only thing you see is the silhouette of the object. If I lighted the scene from the front, then the toy would look like a toy."
Nothing in his photographs is computer generated or the result of double exposure. Allan believes that unless the toys are really on the body, their impact will be lessened, and he still uses a traditional wet darkroom and film: "The more the field of photography becomes digital, the more I find that the public appreciates the fact that I am doing it the way I am. They appreciate that it is "real", not created in a computer with Photoshop. The fact that I actually place the miniatures on the nude body seems to give an authenticity to the work...
Explains photographer Allan Teger: "The fact that the entire setup is done as a single shot is also very different than Photoshop. Again, to use a musical analogy, my single image is different from an image created in Photoshop, just as a live recording is different from a studio session where musicians lay down tracks to be combined in the end. Also – the whole point of the Bodyscapes is that we can choose to see our reality in different ways. That point would be lost if the image was something that only existed in the computer."
Allan Teger's black and white images create a sensuality and a simplicity all of their own. We asked him why he chose that medium: "I tried color a few times many years ago. When I used the normal lighting, the skin looked like skin – and that ruined the illusion – you never saw it as a landscape. Then I tried colored lights and that helped somewhat, but it was too confusing. Sometimes I used colored lights to imitate a sunset. That worked the best – but I didn't want a whole body of work that had sunsets! In the end I decided to stay with black and white because it was simple, graphic, and ultimately more sensuous. Also – there was enough to deal with in looking at a Bodyscape – seeing landscape, then seeing the body – I didn't want people to then have to figure out what the colors were all about."
Allan has created some new series, challenging himself to go beyond the original Bodyscapes, and he talks about two in particular that relate to "landscapes" and a third called Series II which is more conceptual and surreal. He does those in limited editions of 30, and Apricots and Peaches is an example of one.
Apricots and Peaches
"The second body of work I did in recent years utilized two bodies at the same time. I am amazed that I didn't think of this earlier! I had used one model at a time for over 30 years. Then I had some ideas for Bodyscapes that required more depth – more levels to the landscape. I wanted some things in the foreground, and others toward the back. There just wasn't enough room on one body to do all of what I wanted to do," says Bodyscapes creator Allan Teger.
The photographer continues: "As soon as I stared using two bodies, I realized at once that I had shifted gears. Now I was not only placing things in the landscape, I was designing the landscape! I could add a hill where I wanted one. This was a different kind of art form. In a way they worked better at creating the illusion of landscape, because we aren't accustomed to seeing two nude bodies together in the same image as I have done here. That makes it a bit harder sometimes, to recognize that the landscape is in fact, one of bodies."
"Another recent body of work are the images with the Asian theme. I have always loved that aesthetic, but I had only done one image with an Asian theme (see the photograph: bridge between the breasts!). The series that I did more recently – the Buddha, old man, Asian fisherman, rickshaw – I think are some of my best work," says Allan Teger.
Allan's background was in psychology. He has a PhD in this subject area and spent years teaching, with photography as his hobby. Since then things have turned around and photography is his career with some part-time teaching of psychology. Along with the influence of his psychology background, Allan is also influenced by Japanese art, and he compares the creation of a Bodyscape to Zen miniature landscaping, "where the miniature world represents the larger world," and of course is always aesthetically pleasing.
The models for his images are mostly volunteers. He doesn't need fashion models, just smooth skin and curves, and has found that everyone has some good parts for his photos. He will use one model for one body part and another for a second, making the best use of each model's attributes.
He does get requests for images using some other areas of the body: "I have a lot of requests for such things as ears, feet, etc. in a Bodyscape – but it's hard to do that and create an illusion of a landscape. The trick to my work is to create the illusion of landscape which is then replaced by the awareness of the body. One customer told me once, and I totally agree, that my work 'makes us feel sensuality, before we realize where those feelings are coming from'! That is it, in a nutshell. Not all body parts create a feeling of sensuality, though!"
"My psychology background was important in generating the whole idea for the work – but I am not sure how much it comes in to play now. It's true that I walk a fine line between blatant sexuality and clinical close ups – but the use of the little toys and figurines takes the "edge" off of it – and makes the whole thing humorous. Once you see the photo as a landscape, sexuality and clinical imagery seem irrelevant. But sometimes the images are more sexual – such as the crane lifting the penis... But – the bottom line is that the image has to stand on its own as a piece of art, even if you don't know that there is even a body there. My psychology background, at this point, is more useful in helping me think about multiple realities, perception, and visual experience," explains Allan Teger.
There was once a time where these images would be shocking rather than mainstream. Allan talks about the enjoyment he gets from viewer reactions to his work, especially, with today's more open society, when children enjoy the images too. "The most fun in showing the work is when the viewer initially sees it as landscape and suddenly discovers the body in the photo. I have been happy to see that there has been a change in the way people respond. Years ago when I began, parents would pull small children away, to prevent them from seeing the nude body. Now parents tend to pull children into the booth and help them discover the body in the photo! Times have changed!"
"It is always fun and interesting to see people discover for the first time, that the landscapes that they were looking at were really human bodies. Some people never see it until their friends point it out to them. Some look at the whole collection and then ask me what I mean by "Bodyscapes"®, or ask me which mountains I photographed. It's hard to keep a straight face as they puzzle over the photographs – knowing they are missing something and looking for clues to the answer.
My favorite story is about a couple with a young boy who appeared to be five years old. His parents asked him if he knew where the photographs had been taken. He answered with great certainty."Yes", he said, "California"! Some parents use the photographs as a teaching opportunity – pointing out the beauty of the naked body as a landscape. Several times I have seen young children explain to their older, less observant parents, the hidden truth of the images."
Allan's work brings us back to a more joyous time, when we took pleasure in simple things. A curve, a landscape, innocent perceptions. The beauty of the nude body alternating with the image of a kayaker going through rapids or a fisherman quietly sitting and waiting. It proves, as Allan says, that art can be fun and serious at the same time.
A very special thank you to Allan Teger for his kindness in allowing the use of his images and taking time to answer questions. To see more of his work (and there is so much more), go to Bodyscapes.