EK Interview: Bill Durgin

Art Blog - Bill Durgin - Empty Kingdom

Bill Durgin (also featured June 2010)eats 24 eggs a day.  As a snack.  Before his breakfast.  When he flexes his biceps he creates sun flares.  His work is a testament to the fact that when models talk shit to him, he bites off their heads/limbs.  Literally.  Human jaws have muscles they can crush teeth, Bill Durgin can prove it.  But seriously, there’s something incredibly deep to the work of Bill Durgin.  Delve deeper, read on, straight from the man himself:

On your site you mention that you are trying to portray the human body in an amorphic way, but at the same time in many of your photographs you’ve omitted the most amorphic part of humans, the face, can you explain you focus on the body?



This work is my attempt to transmogrify the figure, reshaping it into uncanny forms. By contorting the bodies to omit the head I remove the identity of the figure and focus on the body. This is done through body position and camera angle. The contortions serve to reimagine the body, minimizing and exaggerating certain areas, thus creating an anamorphic form.  I’m not interested in these works being seen as portraits, I feel when you see the face of the figure you start asking questions about that figures identity, who it is, and why they are there. Without their identity the focus can become the body as a sculptural object, one composed of skin, muscle, fat, and flesh.



The composition of your ‘figure studies’ and ‘nudes and still lifes’ are all very stark, featuring clean naked bodies, if there a specific idea you’re trying to convey with this?  What were you thinking when you decided this would be how you composed these photos?


I have a very minimal aesthetic, which is primarily the reason. When making these pictures I wanted the figure to be the focus of the image. I didn’t want to place them on a seamless background,  floating devoid of context, like a commercial product.  I wanted them to be in a setting, that setting being the studio.  This also alludes to removing the identity of of the figure, putting them in a sterile environment, devoid of context, but an environment nonetheless.



art blog - Bill Durgin - Empty Kingdom

Your Figure Studies are very philosophical in their approach to human form, where did you find your inspiration for it?


The Figure Studies series came from an idea I had for a torso without limbs draped over an object. I had been looking at figuration painters: Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, also Surrealists like Brancusi and Hans Belmar. I’m fascinated by how these artists portray and present the body. I wanted to see how I could achieve this through photography, but as a photographer you have to work within the body’s limitations, as it’s the actual body that ends up being the subject. I began working with my own body and with a friend who’s a dancer, and the figure studies series began.



How have you seen models take your ideas and change them or add to them through collaboration?


All of my work is a collaboration with the models. Often my original idea for a pose goes beyond physical limitations, so I work with each individual to see where we can go and what we can do. There are times when what we achieve comes mainly out of my direction but there are also people I’ve worked with understand my aesthetic and are able to show me ways that they can move to achieve a position that works.




What did you study at Tufts for your BFA?  What was your MFA in at California College of Art?


Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts have a program where you take art classes at the Museum school and academics through Tufts. The Museum School is a unique program where they encourage experimentation through crossing genres and mediums. While I was there, I mainly did photography but also took painting, sculpture, drawing, and film classes.

At California College of Art I received an MFA in photography. They also encourage experimentation and crossing mediums but you apply to specific departments and those departments are the ones who give you your degree.



art blog - Bill Durgin - Empty Kingdom

How did those two educational experiences differ for you?  How did each separate experience contribute to your work as an artist?


The Museum school allowed me to experiment and play around and realize that nothing had to be. At times I was focused on a specific project and other times I was just experimenting with different mediums and techniques. When I went to graduate school I was really able to focus on a singular body of work. The California College of Art program requires a tremendous amount of one-on-one meetings with faculty and people in and out of your department. This helped me gain many different perspectives on my work and figure out what to take from those perspectives and put towards my own goals.


How have you seen your work change since you first began?  How have you seen the other work in your field change since you began?



My work has changed a great deal since I began taking pictures. I continue to evolve and grow as a photographer, otherwise it would get very boring. I’m not interested in taking the same picture over and over, I want to push my boundaries and see where I can go.


Photography itself has also changed a great deal since I began. With the advent of digital, more people have become comfortable taking pictures. This allows for many more people showing pictures online, in print and in exhibitions. Right now I think there’s so much photography out there, there will always be people who stick to traditional techniques and visions, and there’s always going to be people experimenting. I think what’s really changed since I began is the growing acceptance of photography as a relevant, interdisciplinary, fine art medium. I am also noticing a lot more nudes which means there is a current interest in the body. For a while nudes were relegated into a sort of sub category of erotic work. Now there are more people using the body in interesting ways.


What have you done as an artist to challenge yourself and stay relevant in an evolving field?


I’m alway trying to see where I can go next, and how I can go farther with what I’m doing. As far as staying relevant, I look at a lot of work both contemporary and historical. I find it most important to look at what’s happening in work other than photography. Performance, film, sculpture, painting, installation, fashion, net art, all of these mediums seep into my work.



art blog - Bill Durgin - Empty Kingdom

Can you remember the first photoshoot you did?  Tell us about it, how did it go?  What were some challenges, what did you learn?


I can’t really remember the first photo shoot I did but the first photo shoot for the Figure Studies was a self portrait. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to work with the figure in this new way and thought there was going to have to be some digital manipulation. As I was contorting to create smooth edges of the body, I realized it was possible to do so using solely contortion and camera perspective. It became much more interesting to have everything done in camera rather than in postproduction.




What about ‘nudes and still lifes’, what did you find challenging about that shoot?  What have you learned from it?


The series Nudes and Still Lifes came about while I was doing a series of subtly grotesque food still lifes to put in my food portfolio. I really enjoyed the process of putting them together and wondered how I could bring them into my artwork. I came up with the idea for nudes and still lives, riffing on classical paintings genres. For this series, I would begin with the nude image and then create a still life to pair with it. It became incredibly labor-intensive. Once I shot a nude image that worked I then had to make not only a really good still life but a really good still life that would enhance the nude, while matching tonally and compositionally. For some of them I had to reshoot the still life three or four times. That’s one reason there aren’t many images in the series, and, while I’m really happy with the results, I decided to take a break from it. I still want to continue doing still lifes but they will probably be presented as individual images.




What’s next for you?  What ideas do you have that you hope to execute within three years?



Right now I’m midst of working on a series incorporating everyday materials such as boxes and tape with the figures. I’m really enjoying working with these new materials, seeing what I can do with them sculpturally and compositionally.  I haven’t put this work on my site as of yet, as I’m still in the process figuring out where it’s going. I have no idea where I’ll be career wise three years from now, but I hope to have a studio of my own by then.

art blog - Bill Durgin - Empty Kingdom

Bill Durgin’s awesome website if you haven’t had enough yet.