Five by One is where I talk with one artist about five of their favorite creations.
Recently I got to talk with Jingletown artist and photographer Mariah Carle. Mariah originally started creative career on the others side of the camera as a nude artist model. During her years modeling, she worked for over 600 different artists and fine art photographers. She once joked that at many photography workshops she worked at, once her clothes came off, she was often “the only one paying attention to what was being said by the teacher”. Later, she was able to put that knowledge to good use when she opened her own photography studio, specializing in Male Boudoir. Located on 23rd Street Oakland Exchange Studios in Jingletown, Mariah has worked with clients all around the country and has been featured in many juried shows like the Seattle Erotic Art Festival. I dropped by her studio one Saturday morning to talk with her about her five favorite pieces.
1. The Little Black Dress
When Mariah said that the first piece she wanted to talk about was “The Little Black Dress” I was surprised to find out that it was an actual “Little Black Dress”. But as she explained the story behind it, I could understand why this photographer’s favorite creation would be something you could actually wear.
Mariah likes outfits where the detail of the outfit matched the color of the cloth, (such as black on black, cream on cream, etc.). She also like dresses with lots of Sequins and Paietts. This lead her to“… playing around with the idea of using film.” She realized that with exposed slide film you could cut out the images and make Paietts (large Sequins). So she purchased a little black dress and then shot 500 nude images with her Canon AE1 camera on slide film. Then when she got the film back from the lab, she took a ¾ hole punch and made Paietts from it. She later sewed the Paietts on the dress, all 500 of them. “So when you go up to the dress, super up close, you can see that each is a naked person but if you were a foot away, you would not notice it.” Technically, you could go to church in this dress covered with naked pictures and no one would be the wiser. “I like fucking with people” Mariah explains.
Mariah submitted the idea to the Seattle Erotic Art Festival, and it was accepted as instillation art. She got a grant from them to complete the project. As a part of her commission, she was asked to actually wear the dress around during the show while the show was running. Mariah would show up in her street clothes and walk up to where the dress was exhibited. She would then take off her clothes, put the dress on, and walk around the exhibit area for 3 hours a night. People who wanted to see the art would then have to walk around and find “the woman in the little black dress”. When they did, she would reward them by showing the individual images of the dress with a little flashlight she brought just for that purpose. “It was a lot more involved than I ever experienced. It was not just throw something up on a wall and have people look at. It was a whole lot of fun!”
2. Spanking The Monkey
Where the Little Black Dress was a project that took months of planning and thought, Spanking the Monkey was an idea that was literally, thrown in her lap. A Male Boudoir photographer, Mariah was working on setting up the lighting for a nude fine art shoot when another friend showed up at the studio with a sock monkey as a gift. After her friend threw the sock monkey at her, Mariah then tossed it to her male model saying, “Well since you are just sitting there nude already, why don’t you spank the monkey.” The model happily complied and Mariah got a few shots in as he did it. Afterwards they complete setting up the lighting and went on with their planned photo shoot. Time goes on, and Mariah is later submitting images for the next Seattle Erotic Art Festival. She had four already selected but wanted to submit the full five allowable. So she decided to put in the Spanking The Monkey picture as the fifth shot as a bit of a joke.
“Well the joke blew up in my face with several major publications. Everyone loved the image!” SEAF picked the image to be featured on their promotional poster and the Seattle Stranger selected it for print in an article spotlighting the show. The print Mariah made for the show exhibit was bought on artists’ night and all later copies that she had printed for the SEAF store sold out. All weekend, Mariah had people calling her up on the phone wanting to buy copies of it. All the while, she is wondering why? “At the time, I did not even understand why that image was so popular? I thought it was a bit of a farce… (But) it showed me, that if the whole point of art is to make people to wonder, to think, or ponder, then to make people laugh is just as important.”
3. The Ring
As I pointed out in the introduction, Mariah started out as a nude model before she became well known as a photographer. It was as a model that she first found herself in the Marin Headlands posing for Lost Coast Photo one afternoon. While there, they found this large iron ring in a cement wall. Mariah immediately had an idea for a photograph of her hanging upside down from it but it was a dangerous pose (the ring was actually six feet off the ground) and not one that she wanted to do alone.
So six months later Mariah returns to the site with a group of models and photographers. She brought a model to photograph hanging from the ring, but the model chickens out and won’t do the pose. “It is too difficult to climb up there and hold that pose.” The model tells her. Not to be deterred, Mariah take her old Canon AE1 loaded with Tri-X Film and meters the spot where the Ring is. Sets the camera for the proper exposure and hands the camera to the model and tells her to “don’t change anything”. Then despite the fact that she was sick with a 101 temperature that day, Mariah takes off her clothes climbs up to the ring and had the model take three shots. Just after those three shots were done, she climbs back down, gets dressed and proceeds with the rest of the day’s photography. (Later that afternoon, as punishment for not doing what she was told, Mariah found a “lovely” 8 inch Banana Slug, and had the model pose with it on her naked thigh.)
The Ring was later featured in the San Francisco Erotic Art Show, The SF Weekly, another art show in Chicago and went on to be one of Mariah’s more popular pictures. Like her initial experience with Spanking The Monkey, she has tried to understand it popularity.
“Why is one image out of three is more popular with people? With The Ring, it is the rule of thirds. You have light smooth skin against a rough dark background and it’s symmetrical and some people like that. You don’t see the chest or the crotch, which makes it suitable for publication in the press. Also, when people first see it they assume that I am sitting down in the picture. It is not until later that they notice the tension in my shoulders and hands and realize that I am actually hanging.”
Even though you can’t see her face, I think The Ring is a perfect portrait of Mariah. Because it symbolizes the spirit of risk and individual daring she infuses in her art.
4. Women and Wine Series
It seems that Mariah does her best work when she is sick as a dog. This series came about the same time she was fighting “a raging kidney infection”. Urban Legend Cellars in Oakland had put out a call for artists from Jingletown to show their work at the winery. After looking at all three of Mariah’s portfolios, they naturally loved her images. One of the pictures that had caught their eye was of Mariah’s friend, Wara covered in molasses and licking it off her fingers. “The idea of mixing food and women, and sticky goo is rather fabulous. It is messy, fun and people seems to like it. Also Wara loves covering herself in sticky goo!” So she decided to create a new series of photos just for this exhibit on the theme of women and wine. “It seemed like such a natural thing to shoot. I had friends wanting to buy prints of it before I had even shot anything!”
Wara was in the area visiting her at this time. So Mariah just had to borrow a wine cast from the owners of Urban Legend Cellars, buy a bunch of cheap red wine, a combination of fake and real grapes and they were in business. They then proceeded to “destroy the studio” with Wara pouring cheap wine all over herself while sitting on the 120 pound cast. “I’m glad my photo studio floor is cement.” Mariah would later post about the day. The photo shoot idea proved to be so much fun, that Mariah was asked to do it again with another model.
For Mariah, a part of the inspiration for this project was the old Art Deco advertisements of the past. “They always show the bottles lit from the side with center core shadows. If you look at all the wine advertisements, see how all the bottles are lighted. They use a lot of high key highlights and detail in shadow. So I shot Wara the same way. Apparently I have a tendency to shoot human beings like products. What is happening is I am photographing a woman like a bottle of wine.”
5. Luscious Luminaries
“Nothing looks better than a transparency on a light box.” This quote from Dave Levinston would prove to be the inspiration for Mariah’s Luscious Luminaries project. “I love the way that slide film looks, it just glows.” But too often though, Mariah found that you couldn’t capture that same quality when you transfer it to a print. So for years she experimented with different printing techniques for slide film. But none of them seem to get the quality she wanted. Then after doing the Little Black Dress, Mariah took a step back and decided instead of trying to print the slide, why not just use the piece of film itself.
Each of her Luscious Luminaries is a one of a kind image using the slide film itself. Once she decided on how to process the image, the next step was how to provide a light source to make it glow? Inspired by the classic Mexican Jesus candles, Mariah came upon the idea of placing them on frosted glass candleholders. “The great thing about each of these pictures is that I never scan these, I never print these, and each pose is a little different. So each one of these candleholders is a one-of-a-kind item that can never be reproduced.”
Mariah tells a story about when she exhibited her first three of these candleholders at a Jingletown show. A man was upset when he saw there were only three up because he mistakenly believed that they were all sold out. “His wife looks at them (the candleholders) and then looked at him and asks ‘you want to buy a candle with a naked girl?’ When he said yes, she then said ‘okay dear, go ahead’.”
“For Mainstream America, most of the erotic art I do can’t hang on a wall. Part of the inspiration for the original sessions I did, was the idea of the small piece that was slightly dirty but acceptable because it was art. Sort of like the pin-up pictures, that you mom maybe didn’t like too much but would allow your dad to hang up in his garage. These candleholders are small and discreet enough that they can be shown as small pieces of art, but still won’t offend the local minister if he comes by for a visit.”
To see and read more about Mariah Carle’s work, visit her web site, http://carlephotography.com.
You can buy copies of selected prints and her Luscious Luminaries candleholders at her etsy store located at…