Unhairy Carey

His body shaven and painted silver, photographer Bob Carey explores upside-down syndrome

Even his long-suffering studio assistant, Jackie Mercandetti, has taken on a talismanic aura.

"A lot of the images are done in tandem with Jackie," Carey says. "I wonder sometimes whether, when she's not able to do this with me anymore, the work is going to stop."

If nothing else, Mercandetti deserves bonus pay for some of the odder rituals she's been required to perform for Carey, who has no qualms about being photographed nude.

Carey Notion: Jennifer, is not a creature from the Star Wars bar scene -- it's Bob Carey's eyes and brow, upside down.
photo courtesy of artist
Carey Notion: Jennifer, is not a creature from the Star Wars bar scene -- it's Bob Carey's eyes and brow, upside down.
Carey used fishing line on himself to achieve the effect of Wrapped Ham
photo courtesy of artist
Carey used fishing line on himself to achieve the effect of Wrapped Ham

"I shave places I can reach," says Carey of the tedious shearing ritual required before most shoots. "My wife, Linda, or my assistant, Jackie, shaves where I can't. If I'm really hairy all over, it probably takes four or five hours straight."

For the Matthews Center exhibition, Carey also made the leap from still to video work, producing his first short 16 mm film, which was converted to digital video and titled East/West. In an endlessly repeating black-and-white clip several minutes long, the ample artist, naked, barefoot, painted and equipped with ear gear resembling alien life forms, runs on a rutted dirt road in the desolation of the desert somewhere past Pinnacle Peak. Lumbering toward the camera, he begins to cry, flounders, then falls to the ground.

"We did a total of seven takes for the video," Carey reports. "During the take we finally used, I wrenched my bad knee during one run, so that's why it looks like I'm in a little more pain than normal."

Carey's deceptively simple short required a full crew of 15 and sophisticated equipment to produce.

"We had a motor home and a makeup artist, a location scout, a camera operator, a director and two monitors, one in the back of the truck that moved as I moved. The most archaic device we had -- since we didn't have a steady cam, a very expensive piece of cinematic equipment -- was a bungee cam the crew rigged up using four rubber bungee cords attached to the camera mount. The camera remains completely steady, even though we were going down a bumpy dirt road."

The fine-arts efforts of Bob Carey, a native Arizonan, have not gone unnoticed in the international art world, a community ordinarily disdainful of those in the commercial realm trying to cross over into the fine-arts arena. Besides museum shows in Arizona, Carey's work has been shown at Galerie Callu Merite in Paris, where controversial artist/photographer Joel-Peter Witkin first saw it. An eccentric master of the morbid with weighty museum credentials to match, Witkin specializes in stunning, overtly religious photographic tableaux featuring, in his words, "the damaged, unclean, dysfunctional or wretched." (A call for models once made by Witkin asked for "women whose faces are covered with hair or large skin lesions and who are willing to pose in evening gowns" and "anyone bearing the wounds of Christ.")

Witkin was especially taken with Carey's Floral Series -- photos in which Carey binds, hides and ties his genitalia into forms suggestive of flowers. So Witkin picked Carey to participate in an all-expenses-paid, weeklong seminar that the controversial artist held in September at the Santa Fe Art Institute. Carey shrugs off the honor with an embarrassed smile.

"My Floral Series was one of Joel-Peter Witkin's favorites. I did it as an investigation, but I also did it to stir things up a little bit, just to piss people off. Everybody investigates their body in their own little ways, but they never tell anybody that. It's one of those hidden things that everybody's done, but they sure as hell won't tell anybody.

"Most of my work is not intended or designed to shock," adds Carey. "It's innocent investigation."

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