Hayes finds subjects In Own Skin

Bridgewater photographer raises thorny issue of 'body acceptance' in Viewpoint Gallery exhibition

Tuesday, March 23, 2004, The Halifax Herald Limited

By ELISSA BARNARD / Arts Reporter,

ERIC HAYES likes to take his camera where few dare to go.

In the Bridgewater photojournalist's latest exhibit, he takes people on a naturist cruise from Grenada to St. Vincent.

Hayes's black and white pictures depict happy, naked, middle-aged people, mostly in couples, on the boat and on the beach.

"I think photography really succeeds when it can show viewers something they cannot see for themselves," says Hayes.

Not all viewers will want to see these pictures for themselves, but Hayes raises up the whole thorny issue of "body acceptance" as well as celebrating people who are free within their own bodies.

Hayes and his wife, Mary Dixon, also a fine art photographer, had been on two of Christie Musick's naturist Caribbean cruises aboard the S/V Yankee Clipper before Hayes arranged to take pictures.

"I've been a photojournalist all my life. I got pretty frustrated the first couple of times not feeling free to shoot," he said in a phone interview.

"It's so beautiful, it's wonderful. You feel so comfortable. Even at night it's warm. The ships are beautiful, the islands are beautiful and there are all these really friendly, happy, naked people and I wanted to photograph everything."

Before the 2002 cruise, he contacted trip organizer Musick and all the people who'd be on the trip, met with willing people the first morning aboard ship and got them to sign release forms.

Hayes shot 20 rolls of film in a medium format camera, though he used a digital camera for three pictures.

He wasn't totally naked. He wore belt bags holding the cameras and waiting for the right picture. "I would cruise around and if the lighting was good and the people were in a situation that would translate well, I would say, 'This is it, this is the moment I've been waiting for.' "

Many of those moments were in the soft light of early morning or early evening. He photographed a woman who sat on the Clipper's bow every morning at 7 a.m. to feel the sun and the wind. Trip organizer Christie is photographed with a merry smile, her body covered in the black sand of the volanic island of St. Vincent.

Back at his home studio, he scanned in the negatives and used his Epson Stylus Pro 7600 wide-format printer to print the images directly onto canvas, which he notes has a texture like skin.

"I wanted to get the viewer in contact with these people as much as possible. I didn't want to hide them behind glass. There's nothing to hide; let's not put them in glass cases."

Hayes first discovered the joy of naturism when he was on vacation at a Jamaican SuperClub resort that was split between a nude beach and a clothed beach. All the fit, "really goodlooking" people on the "textile" beach were concerned about body image and kept to themselves. At the nude beach "all the middle-aged flabby people had given up on image and were very approachable, very friendly," says Hayes.

The naturist way of life is appealing, he Hayes, because "the practise of communal nudity in a non-sexual context removes barriers.

"It's a leveller where people meet each other without prejudgment by what they're wearing and, in a society obsessed with looking youthful, it's an opportunity to accept each other for whom we've become, scars and all."

He is not worried if people looking at his pictures are voyeuristic. "I don't worry about what people bring to it. That's their problem.

"I'm part of the entire eco-system. I was born naked and here I am. I have no shame about my body, and who I am and what I do.

"I don't need to be a CEO in a big corporation to feel important, I don't need to wear clothes to feel like a human being."

In Their Own Skin is at Viewpoint Gallery, where Hayes is a co-founder and treasurer, Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Hayes will be in the gallery Saturday and Sunday.

Viewpoint, 2050 Gottingen St., started four years ago as of May as a collective of Nova Scotia fine art photographers. The gallery is right now working with other galleries in Halifax on a city-wide celebration of photography as fine art, Photopolis, in the fall.

Hayes also teaches digital photography at the Lunenburg County Municipal Recreation Department and, in his own photography, loves the control digital technology gives him.

Ironically, his wife works by hand with polaroid transfers and emulsion lifts that come out differently every time. "I tend to be digital and she tends to be analog."

Hayes started taking pictures as a summer newspaper job when he was a high school student in Kelowna, B.C. Over the past 25 years he has done work for regional and national magazines such as Harrowsmith, Equinox, Maclean's, Canadian Living, Canadian Business, Atlantic Insight, enRoute and Saturday Night. He won the National Magazine Gold Award for Photojournalism in 1983 for work with Maclean's.

The show can also be viewed online at Hayes's website: www.erichayes.ca/skin.html.

Copyright © 2004 The Halifax Herald Limited

Image: 

Eric Hayes's black and white photograph, Christie, is part of his exhibit In Their Own Skin at Viewpoint Gallery, 2050 Gottingen St., Halifax on Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.