Ruth Kaplan, Bathing Work – Robert Legendre, Looks and Murmurs

[Spring 1996]

by Robert Legendre

To look directly at Ruth Kaplan’s photographs, one must go beyond the “at first glance” voyeurism induced by curiosity. Instead, one must look closely at these works, which portray a world of tranquillity and peace, imbued with tender sensuality, where time moves slowly.

Freed of the constraints of an outdated, and sometimes discriminating, discourse on the body and its representation, Kaplan explores the body with a tender vision mixed with a muted, even involuntary, eroticism, avoiding the pitfalls of objectivity, of the “already said,” and passing beyond the canon of late-twentieth-century popular aesthetics.

Kaplan began Bathing Work in 1989, intrigued by the particularly intimate atmosphere that reigns in gymnasium showers and public swimming pools. At the beginning, her subjects were her friends at the YMCA. As she developed her concept, she became interested in habitués of these places and in people who frequent the New Age temples of spas and nudist camps on the west coast of North America.

Kaplan’s approach was not at all covert: all her work was accomplished openly, with the total consent of her subjects. To photograph, in public places, the intimacy of daily personal-care routines presupposes a constant complicity between the people involved, the camera serving to record with no aggression or violence.

With her mastery of an elegant photographic language, Kaplan offers works in which the maturity of the vision gently envelops people and places in intimacy. Rather than observing, she participates, integrat­ing us into rituals in which one sometimes regrets the time past – time lost – hoping, all the same, to find an irretrievable fountain of youth.

From all of this flows a vision might be called humanist, or even romantic. It must be noted that in such work, we are confronted first and foremost with the photographs themselves; the discourse is subsumed to them. It is the images that we scrutinize, sample, and have the pleasure of holding in our hands.

A Montrealer by birth, Ruth Kaplan now lives in Toronto. She has received numerous grants and awards, and is represented in many public and private collections. Her present portfolio is out of the ordinary.