In Toronto, the Izzy Gallery is holding a retrospective of fashion photographer Melvin Sokolsky. In the following words, the American talks about the different aspects of his practice.
I have always been fascinated by the way light can change the mood and meaning of a situation. As a boy, I remember my mother lighting a candle after sunset and the excitement that I felt when the mood of the room suddenly changed, bathing her in the warm, gentle light. I would venture to say the success of an image is based on the harmony between the idea and the lighting. There is a right light for everything. I do more lighting in the twilight of waking up than when I’m taking pictures. A rose, freshly observed, is sure to change the face of photography. Ideas are not digital.
Next to my bed I keep a notebook that I write in sometimes while I’m half-awake, early in the morning, when a dream takes me to a place or world I have never visited or seen. With my eyes closed, I scribble into the notebook and then go back to sleep.
I have always been attracted to everything nature has to offer. I cannot think of any plant, animal, or creature that inhabits this planet that has not fascinated me. I have never thought of any being in the universe as superior to another. There is no living thing on earth that I have seen that is more or less beautiful than another, though it is true that I am attracted to some of the inhabitants on Earth more than others. As a photographer, I indulge my affinities until I am ready to move on and explore new challenges because I have visually exhausted my vision on a given subject. I believe personal affinities are genetic idiosyncrasies that are unique to each individual. In my life, indulging my vision has brought many surprises that I would have never thought of consciously. It is this chemistry that I believe is the creative force in all of us palette.
When we look at an image that has a unique presence, the usual question is ‘How was it made?’ I am less interested in the how and much more interested in the what that inspired the image. Many of the turn-of-the-century masters went into the darkroom and coated their own glass plates in order to create a personal palette. Today, most photographers are limited to various manufactured films that I characterize as the emulsion of the day. When photographers gave up making their own film emulsions and embraced commercially manufactured films, the palette of some of the greatest image makers had become somewhat standardized at best. Even Steichen no longer looked like Steichen. I have always been interested in the palette of my images and have experimented with many filmstocks and techniques to create a personal palette. I have recently embraced many of the productive tools that have evolved with the computer and in the print-making arts. I have no doubt these new tools will aid photographers in the creation of personal images. Now I do not have to accept the emulsions of the day such as Velvia or Provia, when I can create Melvia on the computer.
I believe taking someone’s portrait is an unspoken conversation in a shared space where the sitter and the maker reveal their being in a kind of silent dance of escalating expectation. When the fascination of the maker and the sitter inspires empathy or antipathy, the portrait may be enlightening. It is the mission of the viewer to decide if the resulting image is transcendent. We look at each other and dream about each other, and those dreams never ever meet except in the photograph.
I have always loved telling stories. Early in my career, I found myself compelled to tell stories with my pictures. Stories about people who breathe and feel and suffer and dream. Stories that explore and create different worlds within the world we all live in.
Melvin Sokolsky, Retrospective
From January 19th until February 11th, 2017
1255 Bay St
Toronto, ON M5R 2A9