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Flight of fancy
With 'Where the Winged Things Are,' SCAD photographer Carly Jurach reverses the natural order
Flamingo - photo by Carly Jurach

Mother Nature takes on a whole new look in the works of photographer Carly Jurach, whose installation Where the Winged Things Are combines ethereally beautiful women with the colorful plumage of male birds.

“I’m juxtaposing nature and our society, where females are the ones that are attractive and put into all the different magazines and everything,” says Jurach, a 21–year–old SCAD junior. “Whereas in nature, it’s males that have to fight for that beauty and that display — to show off all their colors and their worth, essentially.”

Where the Winged Things Are, at Indigo Arts Station April 16 and 17, features 25 of Jurach’s enormous, full–color portraits – alluring and unsettling at the same time, they invoke an alternate Earth where gender is meaningless, and the hushed secrets of nature — fleeting and fragile — are bold and out in the open.

The multi-media idea came about because of Jurach’s interest in fashion. During a shopping excursion, she and a friend discovered a feathered headband selling for $95.

“My friend said ‘We could get those feathers at Michael’s for $3,” Jurach laughs. “And from there, I started thinking about making entire bird costumes.”

Soon, she was downloading photos of richly–plumed birds, and rallying five of her designer friends to contribute to her expanding plan. “With a lot of the designers,” Jurach explains, “I was like ‘This is the bird, just go crazy. I don’t care what you do, just be influenced by the bird. And whatever you think looks good, I trust your opinion.’”

Using fabric purchased on a 2008 trip to India, she sewed many of the costumes herself. “Making it is a completely different ballgame,” she says. “Many things don’t end up looking exactly like the design.”

Then came the beaks. Jurach made plaster casts of each model’s face, then cut away everything but the nose. The beaks – made of tinfoil, plaster and latex – were then sculpted to fit over the appropriate nose, and painted to approximate the bird in question.

“It wasn’t an assignment,” Jurach explains. “SCAD lets you have a lot of freedom. I did it for a portfolio class — and the idea there is, turn in images, whatever you want, however you want, any idea, any thoughts.”

Originally, there were only six bird–women. “All my professors kept telling me keep going over the top, push it,” Jurach says. “So I decided to make it as huge as I possibly could.”

The 25 models ranged in age from 13 to 62; most of them were friends, more than willing to help out. “I’m the kind of person who charges into something saying ‘I know what I’m doing,’ even if I don’t,” she laughs. “The first beak that I finished, I was so thrilled. Because I’d made all the plaster masks, and everybody was saying ‘OK, but I don’t really understand what you’re doing.’ I told them, ‘You’ll just have to trust me. I know what I want.’”

Because the final photos were shot in winter, the natural backgrounds have a distant, dry appearance — which contributes greatly to the startling vision of the bright plumage, and the gnawing feeling in the mind of the viewer that something really unusual is going on.

Photoshop was used sparingly, and only to blend beaks into faces.

The Indigo Arts installation will include all 25 photographs, plus the costumes, the original fashion designs, the original bird photos and the actual plaster beaks.

The artist will tell her story, many of the models have promised to be there, and refreshments will be served.

Where the Winged Things Are is another chapter in the big book of photography–as–art. “There’s a box that you really have to fit inside when you talk about what type of photographer you are,” Jurach explains. “What I do with all of this, it’s not fashion, and it’s not surreal, and it’s not environmental portraiture — it’s like a combination of all of those.

“I love to create things that could be anywhere, or could be part of anything. Things that are timeless, but very modern and very different.

“And I like to work in the unreal, because then it’s my imagination. I don’t have to fit into what other people expect.”

Where the Winged Things Are

Where: Indigo Arts Station, 703D Louisville Road

When: At 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17

Admission: Free

Saturday’s event is the official grand-opening party for Indigo Arts