They Took off Their Clothes [EASY WEEK]
And Like Angels They Danced
Gayle Goodrich and “Tango Desnudo” at Flazh!Alley
“…and so things just kind of evolved over the years where I would photograph dancers or the female nude,” says Gayle Goodrich, “and ‘Tango Desnudo’ came about two years ago when I was at an Argentine tango social dance at the San Diego Tango Festival.
“Argentine tango is traditionally danced with a male and a female, but when I was watching dancers in between dancing the tango myself, I picked up the camera and these two women came dancing by in front of me. And,” she pauses, “just what they were wearing, their hair being up and their strands being down on their necks, with their backs bare. It was just really sexy. I thought, Well, I wonder what this would look like without any clothes on at all?”
Getting in focus
A couple of years ago, Gayle Goodrich came to a critical point in her life where, metaphorically speaking, she pulled over to the side of the road and gazed across the horizon. She felt that now was the time to create something that would set her apart from the millions of other people – some of them photographers, most of them not – who can so easily point their cameras or their phones and snap pictures of anything in sight. It had to be something she’d never seen done before, something that represented not only her long-time interests but also the person she was. The end result, “Tango Desnudo” (naked tango), is a collection of 30 sepia-tinted images (piezography pigment prints), and they will be on view through Jan. 12 at Flazh!Alley Art Studio in San Pedro.
There are some artists who will tell us that they knew from birth, if not before, that their mission on earth was to create. But not Goodrich; her fate was to fumble around in the dark before finding the darkroom.
“For many years I really couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do,” she says. “I got a degree in French and Russian from USC, and didn’t really use that except I traveled. But I always liked to take pictures and I always ended up taking the family pictures at gatherings.” In 1974 she moved to Jakarta with her then-husband, and the images of Indonesia she sent back to the States impressed everyone since it’s hard to take a bad photograph in a colorful and exotic country. They returned in 1976, Goodrich continued to taking pictures, and then in 1987 she had a tubal pregnancy that nearly claimed her life.
“I came home from the hospital and I was pretty depressed,” she says. “My husband at the time made me a darkroom because he knew I loved photography. One day he came home from work and said, ‘How was your day?’ And I said, ‘Well, I spent 14 hours trying to get a good print’ And he said, ‘Honey, in order to make a good print you need a good negative.’ So, while I was recovering from the surgery I started taking correspondence courses at the New York Institute of Photography. At that time I also worked out at the Manhattan Athletic Club for Women in Manhattan Beach, so my first photo clients were dancers and fitness instructors.
“That was in ’87. In ’88, ’89, I got introduced to Pauline Barilla, who used to own The Tushery on Hermosa Avenue, and I was doing boudoir portraits for her. At 6 p.m. she’d close the shop and move the lingerie racks out of the way and build a boudoir set. And so I learned about posing women’s bodies from her.”
Goodrich honed her skills as a boudoir portraitist while living in Boston from 1990 to 1995, at which point she returned to California. In 2002 she went to Santa Fe and took a class, “Photographing the Outdoor Nude,” from Joyce Tenneson. That’s one thread she’s followed down through the years. And the other thread? “I’ve always been attracted to photographing dancers because they’re very uninhibited about their bodies.”
Two – or three – to tango
By electing to photograph women partnering other women, Goodrich knew that she was taking a risk by stepping on the toes of an established dance form’s strict protocol. “In the traditional tango salons in Buenos Aires,” she explains, “men dancing together or women dancing together is not allowed.” Her decision to go against the grain revealed that her purpose was more artistic than documental, but in a way she’d placed obstacles in her own path. She couldn’t just bring in anybody off the street to model for her.
“I was losing faith in being able to do this photo shoot because I didn’t know who I was going to find,” Goodrich says, “and I didn’t want to approach people that we know from tango and say, ‘Take your clothes off and do these tango poses.’ The tango community in L.A. is pretty small, and when you go out to the social dances you do see the same people.”
There was a point, then, when it seemed the project might not happen?
“Yes,” Goodrich replies. “I turned my back on it several times in the last two years and pretty much gave up on it. It was my boyfriend who said, ‘When are you going to do this shoot?’ And I go [in a dragged out voice], ‘I don’t know.’”
Without telling her what he was up to, her boyfriend telephoned one of the models, told her, ‘You know, there’s a sense of urgency here,’ and the model in turn rang up Goodrich and said she was ready. But we all know the saying, It takes two to tango, or, to mix up my metaphors a little more, one swallow doesn’t a summer make.
“I booked the studio for the photo shoot before I had the other two models,” Goodrich says. “It was blind faith. Three days before the shoot was supposed to happen I still had one person. And I thought, Well, I’ll have other people, but some models will not be in a picture with other women naked. You just have to respect all these differences.”
The model who had already signed on for the shoot dances the tango, and so does Goodrich’s boyfriend. This is where the authenticity in the poses comes from, because each of the 30 images does show an actual tango movement, frozen in place.
“The other two women who were involved in the shoot are dancers, but they’ve never danced tango,” Goodrich says. Even so, and because she wanted to safeguard her concept and not risk alarming the tango community, she swore her models to secrecy until they got to the studio. “You’re going to have to do a dance, and nudity,” she told them. “You’ll be in very close proximity to one another, and you’ll be shown what to do.” Fortunately, she adds, there was trust.
The stars aligned
On the day of the shoot everyone met at the studio in El Segundo. Goodrich explained to her models that in order to protect their anonymity she’d show their faces as little as possible. She explained why there would be a male present, who he was, and they were fine with it.
Having thought about the shoot for so long, Goodrich came in fully prepared.
“I made a shot list of the different poses and different movements in tango that I thought would have particularly striking lines and not show frontal nudity, just to be tasteful and yet honor the female form and also the technique of tango in its purest form.
“It required some legwork – no pun intended – and the other unusual thing is I had never done a photo shoot with nudity involving women and had a male present. In this case I had to because my boyfriend, who used to dance with the American Ballet Theatre in New York, is very much a dancer and he’s been dancing tango for a long time.”
Also, Goodrich points out, “I wanted to make sure that the technique was spot-on. I knew I could handle everything professionally, with the bodies, and work them into a pose, because he and I demonstrated each movement and how to get into it. Because they were dancers they got it like that.” And she snaps her fingers.
Goodrich was able to complete the entire shoot in two-and-a-half hours. Asked if she’d figured out the crucial lighting beforehand, she replies:
“I had it worked out for two years in my head. I just needed the timing; I just needed for everything to come together. I knew I wanted the hard side lights and then the top light, just a little bit. Again, the faces were not the key here.” In short, after having envisioned it so thoroughly, “I did exactly what I wanted to do, and it worked.”
A month later, she took her images to Flazh!Alley and showed the proprietors, Joe Flazh! and Sidney Lanier.
At first they didn’t say anything, Goodrich recalls, but then Lanier announced that they wanted to collaborate on putting up a show. “And Joe said, You know, this is the most ready-to-hang body of work and the most focused group of work I think we’ve ever seen.
“Because it was really focused,” Goodrich says, “and it is very, very focused.”
With that focus, and that intensity, they decided to bill it as a photo essay.
“It is, it’s a photo essay on tango, and the titles of the prints have to do with certain specific movements in tango.”
Goodrich is still in awe over how all the pieces came together in the end.
“What I hope for from this exhibit,” she says, “is to be able to shoot more of what I love to do, which is to photograph dancers and the female nude.”
Tango Desnudo, a photographic essay by Gayle Goodrich, with a book signing for her newly published coffee table book, soul2soul, is on view from Dec. 3 through Jan. 12, with public receptions from 7 to 10 p.m. on San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walks, Dec. 6 and Jan. 3. Otherwise by appointment only. Flazh!Alley Art Studio is located at 1113 S. Pacific Ave., Suite B, San Pedro. Park behind Ramona Bakery at Pacific and Eleventh and enter the gallery from the alley. (310) 833-3633 or go to flazhalleystudio.com.