She walked into the historic church-turned-art-space in an elegant shoulder length coat, flanked by two best friends. Charisma oozed out of this lady and I liked her immediately. Over the next few months, as we sat on wooden chairs and listened to a compassionate Buddhist nun speak of death and the veil of impermanence, I got to know Felice Boucher, the artist. It soon became clear that she was a force to be reckoned with.
Felice Boucher has just been named Maine Photographer of the Year 2012 (she also won the title in 2010). In the past three months she has won a B+W Magazine Color Single Award and has work in the 'Maine Photography Show', the 'Boothbay 2012 Juried Show' and ‘Strangers & Others’ at the Pace Gallery of Art, Fryeburg Academy. She’s also Portland royalty: her son, Todd Bernard, is one of the original founders of the influential SPACE Gallery. After stumbling across her latest series of fine art photography, Deified, I demanded that she drink tea with me.
You may have seen the first photograph in the series, Black Birds. It was a finalist in the 2012 San Francisco International Photography Exhibition—currently on show at Gallery Photographia and won Best of Show at the Maine Professional Photographers Awards 2012. If that wasn't enough, it was also selected for the 2012 Professional Women Photographers 36th Anniversary Show.
A young girl stands with bare feet on a worn, wooden floor. She is doll-like, in a simple black dress with both arms held aloft, a crow upon each wrist. There is something oddly beautiful and powerful about the image, a supernatural force that seems to breathe life into the girl. She comes across as a shaman of sorts. The women that populate the eight photographs in this series all have this mystical, otherworldly energy.
As we sit over tea in my Went End apartment, Boucher begins to reveal the secrets to her process. It is a fascinating mix of master old-school photography with cutting-edge technical wizardry. She explains that she embarks on each photograph as a filmmaker would, choosing the historic outfits, the locations, and the models. Boucher has sought out atmosphere-rich, historic spaces throughout Maine, such as the Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College, vacant ballrooms, historic college halls, fog-filled beaches and deep woods. Places, she says, that have a haunting beauty.
She places her subjects against worn wooden floors and walls, allowing the composition of lines to jar with traditional rules. “The rules are important, and when you break them you know why you’re breaking them,” she says. “You’re directing the viewer’s mind in a certain way.”
Her first step is to flip the image over–so that one side of the body is mirrored. It is a play on the science of beauty, the symmetry that triggers the human mind to see perfection. The symmetry does other things too; it causes hats to turn into mystical headdresses, evoking Buddhist deities or Shaker spirits, and creates a royal presence. This symmetry elevates the women to powerful, archetypal female symbols.
Yet, just as this perfection is achieved, Felice then goes about deconstructing it—adding tiny differences and imperfections. “I’m honoring the imbalance,” she tells me, referencing her love of the Japanese wabi sabi aesthetic, the ‘perfection in the imperfection’. It’s like she is taking reality and upgrading it to the perfection of the gods, evoking contemporary culture’s obsession with photoshopped pantheons of celebrities. But then she brings it back down again to the level of us mere mortals—by adding in the subtle flaws.
Finally, she named this collection of otherworldly women with a wonderfully clever name: Deified is a palindrome, it reads the same way forwards and backwards.
It seems that the nun in the haunted church has been having an effect on Felice's artistic practice. She confides that this new series has been inspired by her meditation practice. “The stilling of my mind has allowed ideas to come in, for new possibilities to emerge,” she says. The images have certainly brought a sense of the new to the viewer—they are stunning, yet difficult to work out.
Felice Boucher morphs photography with illustration and painting, until we can’t quite tell what we are looking at. Like a sitting meditation in itself, the images compel us to stop, slow down and look with fresh eyes. Like ghosts or heavenly deities, the doll-like figures invite us to look beyond the ordinary veil of life, and see a glimpse of the extraordinary.
More info here: www.feliceboucher.com