L.A. Photo Curator: Global Photography Awards - 'Where Photography & Philanthropy Meet' FIRST PLACE: RALPH MERCER - RAYANNE'S DREAM
RAYANNE'S DREAM by Ralph Mercer
(Click on image for larger view)

Review by Curator Emma Powell: "I found this image to be a particularly strong representation of the act of dreaming. The lack of external context, and closeness of the framing, separates the figure from her specific surroundings, implying an internal dream-space rather than literal environment.

The use of a warm black and white tones reinforces the image as a representation of dreaming rather than a window into reality. It is clear to me that the artist paid close attention to lighting, using delicate details such as illuminating the line of the chin to separate it from the dark shadow of the neck to emphasize the figure’s dimensionality.

The light also appears to be direct and angled in a way that suggests a spotlight adding, to the mystery of this image.

I find the swirling lines surrounding the face suggest the fog of sleep or the beginnings of waking. The movement of these lines implies the restlessness that can come with dreaming.

This image stood out above the artist’s other submissions because of the way the additional effects were used in the composition. In this case they are integrated in a way that looks natural and three dimensional.

While possibly not aware, the figure appears to be gently engaging with the movement of the lines. The addition of the hand adds slight depth to the image and helps to integrate the swirling lines. I was intrigued by the figure’s subconscious gesture.

The face alone appears to be almost too perfectly pretty and peaceful, yet the hand breaks the composition with an almost protective gesture. This could symbolize the vulnerability that comes with sleep.

The hand also suggests that this figure may be encountering something that she needs to protect herself from within her dream, asking the viewer to imagine what that dream might be. It is the juxtaposition between the soft expression and the subtly direct gesture of the hand that starts to hint at a deeper meaning.

This image continues to intrigue me the more I examine it, leaving me with more questions than answers.

Powell asks Mercer, "Did you have a specific emotion or story in mind for this image? When you were shooting the original portrait did you have specific effects in mind and is there an intentional goal or meaning behind how you are using lighting in these portraits?"
Mercer says, "The original concept for the photography session was to juxtapose the woman with nature, using a leaf as a prop. However, Rayanne’s dreamlike presence led me to consider utilizing light reflecting on water to enhance the ethereal quality. 

Although I did not have a literal story or narrative in mind when I produced the shoot, I approached the photography with a desire to depict humanity’s distinctiveness and integral role as part of the natural world. I wanted Rayanne to move within the picture’s ephemeral space, like light playing on water, analogous to how dreams fluidly move in psychological space.

In daydreams and slumber dreams anything is possible. Our meditative dream state invents a narrative and even calls ourselves into existence. The photograph invites the viewer to fall into the picture space like Alice into the rabbit hole. What happens next is the viewer’s own narrative and belongs to them alone. 

As a model, Rayanne had a quiet, centered, and contemplative manner of appearing to the camera. She perfectly embodied the dreamlike feeling I knew the final photographs should express. Her closed eyes and raised palm gesture allowed her to reveal her future (in as much as palmistry is prophetic) and simultaneously conceal her self. 

The lighting was a single narrow light source which complemented her face, had a moonlit quality, while creating mysterious shadows."

More about Mercer:

Mercer says, "Photographing my daughter’s first pregnancy and contemplating her beauty and the fullness of her potential, I had an epiphany.

In this illuminating awareness, I imagine her standing on a matrilineal continuum with a long line of women from her past, standing as an icon of her unfolding future.  It was like observing a timeline of human history. I suddenly had an intuitive understanding of women perpetuating humanity.

My own part in this, albeit in a supporting role, of son, husband, father, and grandfather became clearer. This was the revelation that stimulated my exploration of the feminine and these women as classic ideals for the Myths series.

Contemplating the form of my daughter’s body and her procreative potential encouraged research into the powerful archetypes of womanhood. Informative readings in anthropology, mythology, and religion helped me transform personal intuition into a more concrete understanding. 

Joseph Campbell’s brilliant and exhaustive study of archetypes gives credence to our innate knowledge that seems to well up from deep inside, like one’s awe of nature and the mysterious truth embodied in dreams.

The title “Myths” speaks to the allegorical nature of the stories depicted. The series seeks an innate understanding of my original epiphany. The female figure and the natural world provide the subject matter and the resulting compositions illuminate these stories of fantasy, memory, mystery, transformation, desire, and reverence. 

My process utilizes the camera and digital manipulation to visualize musings of the feminine archetype. Files, newly captured or harvested from the archive, are the raw material. The digital medium allows me extensive control over the visual product and the gratification of creating a compelling visual statement. The evidence of what I know and what I simply feel to be true is woven into the photographs."

Ralph Mercer is a New England native and an alumnus of Rhode Island School of Design (BFA, photography) and University of Massachusetts (MFA, visual design)

A former commercial photo-illustrator, he now specializes in creating fine art photography with an emphasis on the figurative and the landscape. His digital photo-collages have been published widely and exhibited in a variety of venues including a recent solo show at the The Griffin Museum of Photography in Wincester, MA and The Rhode Island Center for Photographic Art in Providence, RI. Ralph was a semifinalist in the Critical Mass competition 2016.

His photographs depict the human figure, nature, and the everyday environment, interpreted with his sense of visual poetry, whether they be figure studies or abstractions of the visible world.