I come to photography through music. Composers like Barber, Bartok and Brahms have a particularly strong influence on me with their rich musical textures and complex layering. I am also a composer and have discovered that music can feel as beautiful to my fingers as it sounds to my ear. Certain chord progressions and harmonics reveal moments of timelessness and endless creativity. These are moments of presence that change my life.
Do these moments happen only in music or can light, texture and color create “photographic songs” that can inspire similar experiences?
Like great music, I believe great photographs tell powerful stories that transport the viewer to an experience, an opportunity to connect with the past, present and future, and the chance to better know oneself.
My work begins with questions. What is the essential reality of our being and our relationship with nature? Is it sacred? How is it evident and can I capture it in a photograph?
Is it possible to create sensual and divine “clothing” by layering textures from the natural world on the human form? Can I celebrate the sensuality of the human form without depicting it as merely naked?
For example, layering textures on the human body masks individuality, revealing essences and subtleties unseen in single images. This process detaches a figure from the contemporary context and carries it towards a more timeless and contemplative plane. Ironically, intricate textures and layering can uncover the simple and pure.
I am looking for a photographic language that goes beyond the sentimentality of “oneness with all things” to opening an actual dialogue and learning experience between nature and us. For example, what does the 400-year-old tree bark have to say about my skin? What is my emotional response to decay, age or the lines on my face? Is it a thing of beauty as in the tree?
I think of myself more as a photographic explorer, discovering as much as I create. I am curious about unseen realities. When I dream of flying it seems completely natural, so what happens to that “nature” when I awake? How real are things I imagine, how real can they be? These questions inspire me to photograph the human form in motion and in flight.
Presence can appear direct and immediate as in the images of flying nudes, or it can be subdued and mysterious as in the textured nudes and textured landscapes. Even when our sense of self and presence are overcome by nature, I believe we are present in every element… our story, as yet untold.
I am grateful and honored by the trust given to me by those I photograph because I approach photography as a hallowed act. My work represents these shared moments of “truth telling” and the unearthing of the visible world, for the mystery of the sacred within it.
I have worked as a professional fine art photographer for over 20 years. Most of my photographs are created by superimposing 4-inch by 5-inch photo negatives and slides of natural textures with images of dancers in motion and at rest. I work primarily with dancers, as I am fascinated with motion and the honesty of exression that comes while in motion. When photographing landscapes I sometimes combine several natural images into one single image.
My photographs are unaltered by digital computer methods or printing techniques. They are not computer art. I use special lighting techniques that result in textures that appear to wrap around the body rather than simply lying over it, creating a more natural look and feel – and because I also use strobe lighting, I can freeze the motion of a dancer in mid-air. These are real people and real textures, photographed and layered to create fine art photography.
I use a large photo format, 4″ x 5″ Wisner Technical Field Camera. It looks like the old-fashioned wooden cameras of the early 1900’s. This camera delivers superior image quality resulting in photographs that can be enlarged to wall sized prints without a blurred or grainy look. All photographs are archival, museum prints and limited to editions of 15.
Paul Mahder is available on a commission basis to work in the following areas:
Most work is based upon an hourly wage plus expenses.
Paul Mahder images are also available for commercial use.
Rates and terms vary according to the project and intended use.
Please call (415) 515.1210 or fill out the contact form below for more specific rates and terms: