The London Paper

The Secret Life of The Artist And His Model

Dec 05, 2006

By Kim Taylor Bennett

He’s naked, in the kitchen, head tilted back, yawning. The outline of his swimming shorts is singed on to his skin after too longin the sun. It’s an intimate moment captured seemingly, in a
painting. But look again. It’s only then that you realize it’s an arduously composed photograph and the disheveled gentleman is taking a leak on the laminate floor.

Jeff Bark started his career in photography snapping for the likes of Victoria’s Secret, Vogue and Sports Illustrated, nearly two decades ago, but now he’s keen to move away from the frivolity and pressures of the fashion industry, and eager to focus on his portraits, which are nothing if not arresting.

Each set is laboriously built, the lighting meticulously controlled and the props strategically placed – with next to no digital trickery.

But it’s the carefully positioned models who hold your gaze. You find yourself focusing on the details – a tensely arched foot, or the dimpled thighs of the woman who stands in a paddling pool, her lips parted in quiet ecstasy.

“I found these people by putting an ad on the internet,” explains 43-year-old Bark. It’s the anonymity of his subjects which allows him to portray them honestly, without vanity, and furthermore he can create their story as he sees it.

“Her name was Misty and I imagined that she was traveling across the States and she became a waitress at a truck stop,” says Bark of his subject in with the hose. “She looked like a regular girl until you saw her polaroids and then you saw the veins
on her thighs which you would never see normally."

Given the exposed nature of the work it’s unsurprising that the models take gentle coaxing into the each position. And for most it seems the process is both liberating and cathartic, one which sometimes involves tears, but almost always engenders a shift in perspective.

“I think everyone, once they’ve done these things, feels better about themselves – more comfortable,” nods Bark.

“After doing these (photographs) I’ll be on an elevator and everyone becomes so interesting no matter who they are. They could be bald, deformed, whatever but everyone has something super beautiful that you could make into a story.”