Julian Bardin ’16 gives art fundamentals a modern twist in his Studio Art senior thesis. Using photography and slight Photoshop manipulation, Bardin takes theatrical and abstract photos that strip an image down to its basics: light, form and movement.

He is inspired by classical artists, especially Caravaggio (a 17th century painter known for contrasting shadows and light) and the ballerina paintings of Degas. In order to highlight movement and light, Bardin takes photos of dancers in front of a background of trees. It takes creativity, however, to get the exact effect.

Bardin said, “As I started working on this series, I became really interested in contrasting the fluid movement of dancers with the very still, repetitive forms of trees. To up the contrast between these elements, I started shooting at night. I use car headlights as a powerful lighting source to light a forest, turning the trees into graphic, dramatic linear shapes and creating a theatrical backdrop. I use a long exposure to blur my model’s movement, making a contrast with the stillness of my ‘sets.’ I then subtly manipulate the images on Adobe Photoshop, adjusting the lights and darks to further abstract the image.”

Although he does use some Photoshop, Bardin does not produce heavily manipulated images. This is a change of pace from his previous work in high school and at Bates in which he often photoshopped in order to create scenes reminiscent of classical paintings. While image manipulation is a perfectly valid way to create art, Bardin brings his photography back to the basics. He creates the images mostly on set, just as his photos bring out the fundamentals of image composition.

While the photos feature dancers, Bardin himself has never taken a dance class before this semester. Working with models was an enjoyable collaborative opportunity for him. “For this series I worked a lot with Bates dancers and I found it immensely valuable to get their input on my work because of the nature of what they do; dancers have such an understanding of how the forms and movements they are making translate to the viewer,” Bardin said.

Working on a project that involves not only so many technical aspects but also collaboration is not without its challenges. On top of logistical issues, conveying a creative vision just right can also be a struggle. “In the early stages, I struggled with how to make my pieces focus more on the aesthetic elements I was exploring versus a narrative. My work has kind of a mysterious, eerie quality to it that I kind of like. It adds a little dimension to the photographs. What I didn’t want was a body of work that had a suggestive narrative that was solely about people dancing in the woods. There are a lot of connotations with that, and a lot of them have become sort of cliché. So I think abstracting the figures a bit has helped to try to highlight these elements I wanted to explore and to try to make that more apparent to the viewer.”

Now approaching the end of his thesis, Bardin feels like he has learned more from his project than just technical artistic skills. “I also think I’ve become a more confident artist,” he says. “Taking on a project like this can be a bit daunting; there are a lot of expectations and you can start to second guess what you’re making. Sometimes I question my technical abilities and sometimes it’s about my vision for the work. I think some really valuable advice that I’ve gotten is just to execute an idea and keep coming up with work instead of just thinking about it. Sometimes it works, often times it doesn’t. Just trying out new techniques and concepts has not only allowed me to produce a body of work I’m proud of, but it has also helped me become more well versed in my medium. I think that confidence shows in the work.”