Quite unconsciously, a body/landscape motif entered my photographs, a result of living on islands in Greece during a year’s fellowship twenty years ago. I loved to watch the light change hourly on the mountains that joined the sea like giant birds gliding into water. As my photographic vocabulary evolved during that year, those fascinating surroundings rematerialized within my water nudes. Thus began an inspirational dialogue with nature, continued first in Greece and then on Cape Cod, where my settings grew to include woods and dunes. The infrared images, shot in those new environments, further explore harmonious resonances, as the body takes on the character of dune or atmosphere.

My desire to photograph nudes was born of the water, of a passion for being in and meditating upon still waters. Wanting to make statements about human nature as I had before in portraits and street pictures, I sought a way to photograph people in water to create images of a psychological, dreamlike, and emotive nature. When I began the Nudes in Water series in 1975, I felt that water, the source of all life, should display an equivalent density to flesh, invoking a cauldron of creation and a visceral visual connection between body and nature. These motivations were to become the foundation for all photographs that followed.

Between 1981 and 1988, before resuming the Nudes in Water on Cape Cod, I worked on several other series of nudes. My first experiments with the figure in color used 4x5 and 8x10 Polaroid prints and melded multiple exposures of flesh into literal and imaginery layers. Then, Fusion Forms, a series of black and white multiple exposure solarizations, recombined body forms into surreal sculptures. Interior Nudes, elemental figure studies taken indoors between 1983 and 1986, led to later series of abstract nudes.

In 1986, inspired by the play of light on the southwestern desert, where the colors of sandstone suggest flesh, I began photographing the land directly. I think of these landscapes as studies for my nudes. In 1991, in a series titled Canyon Nudes, the figure reappears as reflections in puddles which merge with clay or rock to form geodes, frescos, or shards of life. Fusing sunlight and bluer shade, these images exist within a surreal color world. But the most constant pulse in my photography is the black and white figure in nature, represented in this exhibition catalog.

A surrealistic sensibility plays in and out of these images—we are so often driven by forces beyond our awareness. Transformation, paradox, and the simultaneity of conscious and unconscious worlds are evoked throughout these pages. They appear in a nude’s white flesh becoming black flesh, in a body’s back becoming the texture of the rock nearby, in underwater and abovewater worlds coexisting, in a human form appearing amphibious, or in water transforming into opaque blackness. Often there is a tension between overtones of life and death.

I consider my images most successful when their “objective” reality is countered with several levels of ambiguity and mystery, so that what they seem to be is stronger than what they are. Water and light are often my allies in reaching this goal of illusion. Together, they create reflections and shadows that transform body, rock, or reed forms; they illuminate transparent underwater worlds or bring into being metallic crucibles of life.

by Karin Rosenthal, from the catalog Karin Rosenthal: Twenty Years of Photographs

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