by Devanshi ShahApr 02, 2021
In Rob Woodcox’s photograph titled Time Travel , we see a string of elegant bodies of different genders and ethnicities curve against the wall to the ceiling of a monastery in Spain, some suspended by the support of the bodies below them and other merely by the capturing of the image. For the photographer, their upward motion is symbolic for the artistic community he envisions himself simultaneously belonging to and creating, and their ability to keep each other afloat, while the religio-historical setting for the play of these partially nude bodies becomes a reminder of the significance and acceptance of the human body within cultures of the past. “If you think about Greek and Roman art, the body was always nude and celebrated. We have entered a period where on Instagram people’s nipples are censored. Nudity is censored even when it is art and that is such a shame”.
“When I started exploring photography, I was still living in a very conservative mindset. I grew up very religious in Christianity. Even though the body was created to be used and worshipped and celebrated, I think in modern religion, a lot of the times, bodies are hidden and shunned. People are almost scared of bodies, it would seem, and nobody talks about bodies or identity or respecting different peoples’ bodies and there is a sort of a shame that develops around the body. When I sort of left that part of my life, as I was doing photography, I started becoming aware of my own body. I started doing self-portraits when I was 19 and 20. And when I started sharing my work online, originally on Flickr, I ended up discovering a whole community of artists who were going through the same experience as me”.
Blue Ridge Mountain was an initial milestone in Woodcox’s career when he was able to render an image exactly as he had visualised it for the first time and this, coupled with the image’s popularity, validated for him his decision to pursue a career in the arts.
Working with various movement professionals over a period of eight years has brought Woodcox to an acute sensitivity to various interactions that occur between different bodies, and within his work hopes to create a safe space for difference and individual uniqueness to coexist. The staging and choreography of his photographs and the excursions from which they are brought to completion act as community building exercises for the artist, and it is in the intimacy of this process that the photographer seems to revel in. Woodcox’s respect for the dancers, acrobats and models who participate in his work also comes through when he describes the ownership of the resultant images to be community based, though its nature varying from engagement to engagement.
The relationship between the human body and the landscape is an important part of Woodcox’s work and in their interaction, they often play equally significant roles. In a way they might be even viewed as contrasting creative anchors: if the physical virtuosity of his collaborators allows him to accurately visualise their formations with relative ease, the unpredictability of nature leaves a part of his process beyond his absolute control.
The predominance of photographs taken in the wilderness within his body of work hints towards his affinity for exploring natural spaces and concerns with regard to how humans engage with the environment, and at times they manifest apparently in his work, albeit in subtle ways. Even images created in more urban settings are but markers that are meant to connect the manmade and the natural, through their relationships with other images created by Woodcox, to signify that humankind and its products are not removed from the natural world. While the play of his nimble collaborators, and what it evokes, is the most obvious subject of his photographs, it is also a channel that takes advantage of the social relatability of human images to bring the attention of his audience to other issues as they manifest subtly in the background.
“There is a recent piece where there is a person laying on the ground in a salt flat and a dancer is jumping in the air, and in that photo, there is a wall of smoke. The photo looks like a white plane and then everything fades to grey and it’s actually a wall of smoke that was coming towards us from the wildfires in Oregon. There is a hope of life continuing and thriving but at the risk of losing everything. If things don’t change, what we are seeing now could increase tenfold and we could see more destruction in our lifetime. An important part of my photography is communicating that we have to change and we have the power to change. Having the human form in the landscape makes it more personal”.