Human Tooth Studies: Last Batch! by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

After a busy Halloween season filled with lots of art shows and exciting publications, I’m now finally getting back to producing new content. Here are the last few images in my ongoing studies of human teeth; the full set of images of this type is now complete. I have plans to return to teeth as a subject matter, but my forthcoming work will break from the formula that I’ve used in my gallery Dentata so far. Enjoy!

Toronto Bazaar: Thank you! by Neal Auch

I had an amazing time The Bazaar of the Bizarre: Halloween 2018, Toronto edition! Thank you SO much Toronto, your support means so much and is a big part of what keeps art-y weirdos like me in the business of making weird art. The turn-out was spectacular, everybody I met was lovely, and I broke my previous record for print sales, which is amazing. Thank you!

I completely ran out of small format prints featuring skulls from the Catacombs of Paris and I nearly ran out of the medium format for this series also. Apologies to those who were disappointed to not get their hands on one of those; I evidently vastly underestimated the popularity of those works. I'm working to replace that stock right now, please send me a message if there's something specific you are looking for. 

For those out of the GTA: my Etsy shop is now live again with somewhat reduced inventory reflecting the sales yesterday. The stock should be back up in the next week or so.

Thanks all!

My Work is Featured in the Halloween Issue of Propulsion Magazine by Neal Auch

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I’m honoured to see my works featured in the Halloween issue of Propulsion Magazine. If you’re not familiar with Propulsion, they’re an awesome dark art magazine that feature loads of amazing photographers, visual artists, writers, etc. In their words:

Propulsion Magazine maintains an affinity for alternative/occult related art and works depicting deep themes that invoke strong emotional responses. Propulsion does not shy away from counter culture or taboo topics and depictions. Controversial topics and things that start conversations and create questions are always welcome. We encourage individuality and free thought amongst all included.

Check out the Halloween issue here!

Bazaar of the Bizarre: Halloween 2018, Toronto Edition by Neal Auch

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I’m super excited to announce that I’ll be at the Toronto Bazaar of the Bizarre again this year! I had a great time at the event last year and I’m very pleased to be doing this again with so many awesome vendors. You can check out the event Facebook page for more information. (I’ve also cut-and-pasted some of that info below.) Friends in Hamilton: don’t worry, I’ll be doing the Hamilton Bazaar also on the following Sunday! More info to come…


What: A marketplace for all things, different, interesting, macabre, out of this world..."not your grandma's craft show". ;)

When: Sunday October 7th 2018, open to the public from 11am - 8pm 


Where: Pia Bouman Ballet School, 6 Noble street, Toronto

The bazaar remains a true Bazaar of the Bizarre, open to the public with FREE admission, and showcasing a wide variety of independent artists, designers, and crafters.

VENDOR LIST:
Jess Hrycyk
Three on the Treetop
Ilysian Fields
NeoShiki
The Maille Women
Monsterville
Collum Fabrica
Natalie Very B. Illustration
Hedo Cosmetics
GRRRL Spells
Stuffed pain
hugo is a ghost
Thready To Go
William Hayward Johns
Freaktography
Sword in the Stone Crafts
Gypsy Circus  
Art Of Keith Busher: Precious Mutations
The Tarot Boutique
Le Petit Chapeau
The Bottom Line 
Seven Sisters 
Drop Dead Candles 
Lunamoon
Steamgummi
Neal Auch Photography
My Heart & Armour
Lunchbag Letdown
BEE23 Natural Beauty
PRIESTESS jewelry
Black Iris Design
Valkyrie Bone Crafts
Thread and Flash Studio
Monster Cliche
Black line accessories 
Sabrina Scott / Witchbody
Homebody Collective 
Hex and Herb
Muze Creations
Young Pup Lingerie
Fjellstrom Leather
SkullStore
Artisan Maille
Vanessa Walsh Erotic Watercolours
Little Bell
6Whips
The Lady of the Lathe
Revprint studio 205
The Wholesome Witch
Druid Forest 
From the Attic Dark Dolls 
Jool
RONIN FOOD CO
Inspiration Vintage
Plastik Wrap clothing

Etsy Store by Neal Auch

Blatant self promotion time: I now officially have a shop on Etsy!

Obviously I've been in the print sales business for some time now, but thus far I mostly focused on selling at events (gallery showings, bazaars, art crawls, etc) or else doing custom orders through my website. I've decided to supplement these activities with an online store where the process is more automated and streamlined. For the time being the selection on my Etsy shop is pretty limited. This is a deliberate choice: I want to keep shipping times very fast and I want to be printing/assembling the pieces myself (rather than using a 3rd party to fill orders). To this end, all the pieces listed are already printed and assembled and ready to ship. The downside here is that this approach leads to a lot of overhead costs; to keep that under control I'm focusing on a small selection of my more popular images. (There are literally a fuck load of images on this website, it's just not feasible for me to make prints of every single one.) If you want to purchase something that's not in my store I am more than happy to make custom orders, it's no problem whatsoever. I am also happy to offer different sizes, papers, etc. Honestly, whatever you're looking for I can probably accommodate, just send me an email or reach out on social media or whatever.

Over the coming weeks I'll be adding some new images, including a selection of my human tooth studies. Stay tuned!

New Teeth Photos! by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

My latest batch of photos of human teeth is now complete and has been added to my gallery Dentata.  Last time I spoke a bit about how these new works slot into the general theme of Memento Mori that permeates all of my creative output in one way or another.  Since I plan to return to this subject several more times in future blog posts, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit for this update and instead talk a bit about the technical aspects of what goes into photos like this.

Extreme close-up photos like those in my galleries Inside and Dentata are usually called "macro" photography by camera nerds, and there are a number of technical complications associated to this genre.  First off, you either need a specialty lens, or else extension tubes to even be able to focus at such close range to the subject.  (I've used both approaches in my career; currently I'm shooting on a 60mm 2:1 macro lens but if you're on a budget then extension tubes plus prime normal lens is a great hack.)

The most interesting technical issue surrounding close-up work is the problem of depth of focus.  When you shoot at high magnification you will end up extremely shallow depth of field for pretty much any choice of aperture, meaning that only a teeny tiny sliver of the image will actually be in sharp focus.  If you like that look then fine, enjoy it, but I personally don't care for that aesthetic at all.  (I've never understood the fixation some photographers have on bokeh; to my mind this look is way overdone and is often used as a crutch by lazy photographers who try and clean up a messy composition by blurring out all the distracting crap in the background rather than taking the time to compose a simple shot free of distractions in the first place.)  To circumvent this 'problem' I will typically take 50-100 exposures for each image, with each exposure having a slightly different focal point.  Then these images need to be stacked and blended together in Photoshop to produce the kinds of shots I like, which are sharp and in-focus across all (or at least most) of the subject. 

Aside from the extra computing and shooting time needed for this approach there are other issues.  Getting close-up tends to cut down on the light, so to get a good image you'll need slow shutter speeds.  Of course, this means everything needs to be locked down on a tripod (which is also necessary because of the stacking and shallow depth of field).  All told images like this take about an hour each to shoot, plus 1-2 hours of editing time to get the focus stacking and aesthetic editing done correctly.  So...  It's a bit labour intensive.  But I love the results.  Enjoy!

New Project: Human Teeth by Neal Auch

“My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions.” ― James Joyce

I've been hard at work on some new material over the last while. Here's a sneak peak, showing some preliminary work in progress from my studies of human teeth. This project slots somewhat nicely into my general fascination with portraiture of the dead and, indeed, I've long been fascinated by teeth. There's a certain intimacy about doing this kind of close-up work with something that used to be a part of a person. I love getting up close and personal with all the little markers of scum and wear and decay; those tiny little details that might be invisible under normal viewing conditions and that mark the passage of time. Lots more to come. In the meantime: enjoy the tooth decay!

By the way: if there's anybody out there with some dentistry expertise who can help me identify these teeth, please send me a PM. Ultimately there will be about a dozen distinct teeth in the gallery -- with multiple views of each -- and I'd eventually love to have the correct technical names attached to each image. If anybody is interested in helping me out here please send me a message, I will repay your kindness as best I can.

Decaying Mountains: Close-Up Views of The Lamb's Teeth by Neal Auch

"My mouth is full of decayed teeth and my soul of decayed ambitions." --James Joyce
 

These two images are the last of my close-up studies of the lamb's head, this time focusing on the teeth.  In my last post I mused on the similarity between close-up work and landscape photography.  To me, these images seem to suggest mountain ranges.  Part of what's so fascinating about photographing teeth is getting to capture the wear and decay and scum that come along for the ride with the daily ritual of eating.  I have plans to revisit this same idea from a more human perspective in the near future, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime: enjoy the weirdo teeth mountain range imagery! 

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Strange Landscapes: Close-Up Views of the Lamb's Mouth by Neal Auch

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“I wanted to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.” ― Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers

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This series of images continues with my studies of the lamb's head. All of these shots explore textures and structures in the beast's mouth (mostly tongue and lips).

I find it interesting to bounce back and forth between still life and macro photography since, although I treat the same subject matter in both cases, these two genres of photography are almost perfectly opposite. In still life everything is rather literal, and the game is all about composition and lighting. Close up work is quite different: composition is almost nonexistent in some of these shots, and the lighting is almost always straightforward. Instead, everything is about abstraction and the focus is all about technical stuff in post-production (focus stacking, etc). I'm sure I'm not the first photographer to note an analogy between close-up work and landscape photography, but it does seem very apt in terms of both the final results and also the creative process. (For whatever reason my impression is that landscape photographers seems more interested in exploring the breadth of their subject, but that's a rant for another day...) Anyway, enjoy the weirdo close-up lamb mouth imagery!

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Diseased Flesh: Close-Up Views of Sores on Chicken Feet by Neal Auch

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"I know what the disease wants." --Seth Brundle, dialogue from Cronenburg's The Fly (1986)

DISCLAIMER:  I have been doing this project long enough to know that a significant fraction of my viewers are interested in the aesthetics of my work, but rather less interested in my concerns about the ethics of eating animals.  And that's absolutely great and a perfectly valid way to interact with the work; I think that all art is open to interpretation and that the audience's interpretation(s) should have no priority over those of the artist themselves.  In discussing my work I'm faced with a bit of a tightrope to walk: on the one hand I don't want to obfuscate my own motivations in making this work, while on the other hand I am aware that there's a danger of alienating members of my audience who don't share my concerns about factory farming.  So I wanted to preface this post with a bit of a disclaimer: while I try to avoid coming off as preachy, the subject of these images is quite impossible to discuss without being kind of a huge bummer about the meat industry.  So if that's not something you're into, you might want to skip this particular set of images.  In the next post I promise I'll have some cool creepy shots of teeth that look like mountain ranges.  But for those of you who are into this kind of thing...

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“What the meat industry figured out is that you don't need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable...  Factory farms calculate how close to death they can keep animals without killing them."  --Jonathan Safran Foer, from Eating Animals

The animals that we consume are sick, but for the most part this ugliness remains hidden from the consumer.  Part of the reason I'm so fascinated by chicken's feet is that they provide a rare example of a food product where sores and deformities and disease markers are easy to see.  These images continue with my ongoing studies of the various visible sores that present on commercially available chicken feet.  It's worth noting that I do not make any special effort to get my hands on diseased animal organs, these kinds of sores are very common.

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The more I look at these things the more visually interesting I find them.  The colours are incredible: that contrast between the deep black at the heart of the sore and the weird yellow skin sloughing off and the pale healthy flesh that surrounds it all.  I have struggled with what to do about that yellow flesh, in particular.  It is such a vibrant colour that it almost looks oversaturated and I'm tempted to dial back the saturation on that particular channel to keep the image from looking too cartoonish.  But, at the same time, this really is the colour of that flesh.  Enjoy!

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A Close-Up View of the Lamb's Eye by Neal Auch

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"Thus, two globes of equal size and consistency had suddenly been propelled in opposite directions at once.  One, the white ball of the bull, had been thrust into the 'pink and dark' cunt that Simone had bared in the crowd; the other, a human eye, had spurted from Granero's head with the same force as a bundle of innards from a belly.  This coincidence, tied to death and to a sort of urinary liquefaction of the sky, first brought us back to Marcelle in a moment that was so brief and almost insubstantial, yet so uneasily vivid that I stepped forward like a sleepwalker as though about to touch her at eye level."  --Bataille, from Story of the Eye

After having focused on still life composition so much of late, I wanted to revisit my old love of close-up (macro) photography.  The first subject that came to my mind was the lamb's eye, something that I have photographed before but felt merited another investigation.  In the image above I wanted to emphasize the strange somewhat deflated look these eyes take on in death.  In contemplating the strange shape of the dead creature's eye I was reminded of George Bataille's stunning novel, Story of the Eye, and his fixation on sexual arousal surrounding various globe-like elements (the sun, the egg, the bull's testes, the eye of Granero the bullfighter, and the eye of the murdered priest).  I could write endlessly about Bataille's wonderfully transgressive and inscrutable erotic fiction, but that would take us a bit off the topic at hand and, in any case, is probably above my pay grade since I have no special qualifications as a book reviewer or literary scholar.  (Of course this complete lack of qualifications hasn't previously stopped me from posting book reviews and musing about literature, so perhaps I'll revisit this topic again soon.)

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For the above image I decided to focus my attention away from the globe of the eye -- that strange deflated shape that would have interested Bataille so much -- and instead on the boney structure of the eye socket.  I love these strange little ridges and bumps and the texture of the flesh.  Enjoy!

Variations of a Theme: Pig Foot with Tipped Cup by Neal Auch

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"And as in the daily casualties of life every man is, as it were, threatened with numberless deaths, so long as it remains uncertain which of them is his fate, I would ask whether it is not better to suffer one and die, than to live in fear of all?"  —St. Augustine, from City of God.

These new still life images continue with my explorations of variations of a theme in vanitas composition.  Both images use the same basic ingredients, and both speak to the same underlying themes of mortality and transience.  Both images use the same pig's foot and both revisit the "tipped cup" visual metaphor which appears frequently in my work, and in vanitas composition in general.  For the image above I particularly enjoyed the interplay of colours between the pig bowels spilling out of the glass.  These start out reddish, like the gore coming closest to the bottom of the frame, but get increasingly pale and grey after having been thawed and re-frozen over and over and over.  (I reuse the same organs over and over in my shots, replacing pieces only when absolutely necessary, in an effort to minimize my financial support of the meat industry.)

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While I've already spoken at length about the relation of my work with "meat as art" to vanitas compositions, I have said rather little about another, perhaps even more obvious, comparison with art history: paintings of butcher's shops and market scenes.  Such works were a sort of precursor to the golden age of 17th century Dutch still life paining.  The analogy with my own approach goes beyond the simple choice of subject matter, since to some extend a critique of butchering seems implicit in many of these works.  Painters like Passarotti and Carracci depicted butcher's shops and sought to emphasize the rough crudeness and lack of sensitivity of the butcher's assistance.  In the 16th and 17th centuries theologians often viewed a slaughtered animals as symboling the death of a believer and to combine it with the warning:

"You who with much pleasure

Slay a swine of calf,

Think how on the Lord's Day

You will stand before God's Judgement." --Groote comptoir almanach, Amsterdam 1667

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I certainly feel a similar sense of sadness and critique of butchering when I look at Goya's famous still life with the rib and head of lamb.  Of course the state of the meat industry in Europe in the 16th century is in no way analogous to what we have in North America today and I certainly don't imagine that Goya, Passarotti, or Carracci were coming to their subject with the same kind of political biases that I have.  However, I do find it fascinating to muse on what analogies there are.

Enjoy!

Variations of a Theme: Cow Foot with Tipped Cup by Neal Auch

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"You're on earth.  There's no cure for that."  --Samuel Beckett, from Endgame

Memento mori -- meaning "remember that you have to die" -- refers to a medieval Christian practice of regular reflection on mortality, the vanity of earthly life, and the transient nature of earthly goods.  The theory behind this practice forms the basis and logic behind vanitas still lifes, an art form which I've developed something of a fixation on of late.  I've always thought of Beckett's Endgame as a kind of literary version of a vanitas, a stunningly hopeless meditation of the essential themes of the meaningless of life and the transience of all things.  I don't know if Beckett had this connection in mind when he wrote his play, but I like to imagine he did.  (He had a great love of art and was extraordinarily well educated, so it's completely unfathomable.)

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These latest additions to my still life gallery.  Both are variations of a theme, using similar ingredients arranged in slightly different ways.  This kind of variation of a theme is something that I used to avoid in my work, but lately I have been embracing more and more.  In part this is because I think that the repetition helps to drive home the underlying message, and in part this is because I'm more and more aware of the tradition of still life painting from which these works have emerged (where repetition and variation of elements in this manner were quite commonplace).

Enjoy!

A Vanitas Composition for Easter by Neal Auch

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"Now from noon until three, darkness came over all the land. At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah will come to save him.  Then Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit. Just then the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks were split apart.  And tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had died were raised." -- Matthew 27:45-53

Christian imagery shows up fairly regularly in my works, and I've recently developed something of a fixation on vanitas compositions.  With Easter at hand, it was only natural to combine these elements.  As I have discussed previously on this blog, the extinguished candle is a frequent visual metaphor for death in vanitas compositions, and the tipped cup is a symbol of the fragility of life.  The reddish intestines spilling from the cup suggest blood, but also wine, and have always reminded me of the last supper.  I added the intestines draped over the cross  as a final touch.  (Readers who, like me, were subjected to a Catholic upbringing may note that the colour of the draping is off: traditionally the cross would be draped in black on good Friday, representing the death of Jesus.)  Enjoy!

Floral Still Life Compositions by Neal Auch

The Sick Rose, by William Blake

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

This image is my interpretation of a floral still life arrangement.  I've always been fascinated by those old paintings of flower arrangements that were so popular amongst Dutch still life painters in the 17th century.  In part, this fascination stems from the fact that the pretty trappings of such images were ultimately meant to convey a rather morbid message about mortality and the transience of all things.  Here I constructed my interpretation of such an image, using cow trachea "stems,", chicken foot "flowers," and some fallen duck gizzard "fruit" for the finishing touch.  I chose to use only chicken feet with visible sores an disease markers for this shot, in part because I liked how the sores make up the central region of each flower, and in part because I felt like it worked better with the underlying visual metaphor of the piece.  

Initially I composed that image vertically, since most of those old floral still life paintings were composed in that manner.  But, for whatever reason, I just couldn't find a crop that I liked and ultimately I ended up breaking with tradition by adding the negative space to the (camera) right of the image for a horizontal composition that I like much better.  (Probably all for the best anyway, since the web punishes you for shooting tall...)

This wasn't my first pass at building a floral arrangement from those ingredients.  A less minimalist variant is this one:

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Here I kept the same basic ingredients, but also added some real dead flowers and plant life, along with the pig heart and intestines.

Enjoy!

Vanitas Still Life Compositions by Neal Auch

"For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth." Psalms 102:3

The images in this diptych were loosely composed in the style of 17th century Dutch "vanitas" still life paintings, which were meant to show the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death.  Often this was achieved by contrasting symbols of wealth and power (books, expensive silverware, etc) with symbols of death and mortality (skulls, clocks, rotting fruit, etc).

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 To adapt the vanitas to my aesthetic I opted, as always, to come at the underlying themes a bit more confrontationally.  For these shots I borrowed the compositional style from the works of Pieter Claesz.  For comparison I included an example of his "monochrome" work that served as a source of inspiration for me. 

One of my favourite metaphors for death in these kinds of works is the extinguished candle.  The smoke wisps suggest a life extinguished and even the candle itself is a reminder of the transience of all things: the passage of time is recorded as the wax burns ever lower.

Capturing the wisps of smoke in those images was the only non-trivial part of these shots, from a technical standpoint.  I could have faked it in photoshop, of course, but I wanted to give a shot at getting the effect in camera.  I quickly realized that the smoke doesn't show up in the exposure unless you have a fairly harsh backlight coming in through the smoke.  Since this would have over-lit the scene and spoiled the atmosphere, I opted to do these shots as composites.  I did one exposure with the backlight off to capture the majority of the scene, then another with the backlight on just for the smoke.  It was then trivial to open these two as layers in photoshop and simply paint the smoke wisps from the second exposure into the first.  Voila!

Still Life with Tipped Cup by Neal Auch

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"Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die." 2 Samuel 14:14

The image of a cup tipped on its side is usually a metaphor for death in still life. This composition is built almost entirely around that metaphor. I wanted to create a sense that the image is itself tumbling over, spilling down onto the ground as the eye moves from left to right across the page. I borrowed this "cascading" compositional techniques from still life painting, where it seems rather more common than in photography. The rule of thirds is still operative here, but only marginally so, and the main guiding principle is in creating a sloping geometry from the various elements (cow foot, sheep head, and pig intestines). The sheep's head is, perhaps, a reference to Goya's beautiful Still Life with Sheep’s Head and Ribs, a grim piece of meat art that had a huge impact on me, and is often interpreted as a reaction to Goya's experiences during the war. Enjoy!

Still Life with Rotting Apples and Pig Organs by Neal Auch

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"All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls." 1 Peter 1:24

The idea of confronting themes related to death in still life is hardly my invention; nearly all still lifes include, to greater or lesser extent, a lament about the transience of all things. While those old 17th century Dutch paintings of flowers and fruit baskets can look quaint by contemporary standards, viewers at the time would have understood these kinds of works as a reminder that life, like the fruit and flowers, will soon be gone. Here I played around with the roots of still life, incorporating some rotting apples, in addition to the rotting porcine organs: heart, foot, and lower intestines. The tipped over cup is usually also a symbol of mortality in still life, it's meant to remind the viewer of the fragility of life. The intestines spilling out, perhaps suggesting blood, is my own little touch, because I love me some pig gore in art. Enjoy!

Self Portraits with Pig Organs by Neal Auch

It's just a couple of weeks until the Shadowood Collective's group exhibition Betwixt & Between the Monsters we Dream, and I'm yet again gearing up by sharing some of the images that will be part of the show. 

This diptych consists of two self-portraits, both with pig digestive organ meats.  (That's stomach in the first shot and intestines in the second, for those keeping track of such things.)  These shots are something of a departure for me in that this will mark my first time stepping out from behind the camera and sharing a photo of myself in public.  The idea of temporarily taking on the role of a model was a bit intimidating since I'm generally pretty shy about sharing my own image, the pose here is both revealing and unflattering, and I am absolutely in no way qualified to be a model.  Nevertheless, I decided to push through my initial discomfort and I'm happy that I did.  Indeed, I think a certain amount of discomfort in art is a good thing, and ultimately it was a lot of fun to try something new.  So enjoy the diptych of dick pics!

Studies of the Pig's Head in Various States of Disassembly by Neal Auch

It's just a couple of weeks until the Shadowood Collective's group exhibition Betwixt & Between the Monsters we Dream, and I'm gearing up by sharing some of the images that will be part of the show.  These four images form a series -- a quadriptich? a tetraptych? -- and are part of my ongoing studies of the pig.  Here I've shown the animal's severed head in various states of disassembly.  Moving from left to right we have the head more-or-less intact, a section through the head showing internal organs, the head with the skin peeled off, and the skin mask that was left behind after removing the face.  I don't often work with the square crop, but here I really liked the simplicity of the compositions coupled with the semi-narrative quality of grouping the images together in this way.  Enjoy!