Coder’s meteoric rise started in 2004 when he won Art + Commerce‘s contest for Emerging Photographers with a nostalgic series of his adolescent years in his hometown, New Canaan, Conn. The haunting compositions and unexpected juxtapositions of the series immediately brought Coder assignments from the top magazines in the country. Coder turned his lens to nature for inspiration, creating a distinct unified style through an extremely versatile body of commercial work he produced in a few short years.
When last year’s economic downturn caused an abrupt slowdown in Coder’s business, he decided to put that versatility to good use by focusing on creating personal art projects. Always fascinated with underwater photography, Coder was eager to experiment with it, but the right camera had always eluded him. He had never been satisfied with the results from his experiments with Kodak’s disposable underwater cameras. On a trip to Hawaii last year, Coder finally acquired an underwater housing for his favorite digital camera, the Canon PowerShot G10, and shot his first “recreational” series of photographs that would eventually culminate into “Coming Up for Air,” the solo exhibition of Coder’s work that Duggal helped produce in New York City in July.
Experimenting with shooting at night with an underwater flash and at sunset with light scattering into a million spectra in the pool, Coder told me he became obsessed with the “spatial consciousness portrayed” underwater and how everything appears in slow motion and otherworldly when underwater. Coder shared these first photos with the Brooklyn Brothers Gallery back in New York, which showed an immediate interest in featuring a solo show of his works, encouraging Coder to produce a full underwater series.
Coder found the perfect pool for his shoot and an unlikely model—his high-school sweetheart. Her poignant personal story of struggles against cancer while they were still in high school and her successful, yet demanding journey through this experience became the inspiration for Coder in creating “Coming Up for Air.” Passionate about the personal narrative that framed each photograph in this series, Coder told me why the idea of coming up for air resonated with him. “The suffocating beauty of underwater photographs reflected what I was personally going through with a sudden challenge to my career and of my friend’s daily struggles against cancer,” say Coder, “so these intimate portraits of her floating underwater convey a deeply personal subtext of both our lives.”
Having trained as a painter at art school, Coder’s study of the female form influenced how he captured the model’s movements in his shots, like fluid paintings illuminated by light streaming through the glistening water in the pool. Shooting these ethereal underwater photographs in both video and still photographs on his G10 camera, Coder also shot his model floating in the air with strobe lights flashing her body as she sprang off a trampoline in the pitch-dark night. In the series, Coder created the unexpected juxtaposition characteristic of his style—imagery of a model, a cancer survivor, floating both in the air and underwater, a deep, personal subtext that’s as poetic as it is mesmerizing.
Faced with the challenge of producing large-scale prints from this body of work for his exhibition in New York, Coder approached us for assistance. Coder had been working with Duggal’s traditional film processing and printing division for his fashion shoots, but he was in need of guidance about his options for translating his new digital images into fine-art prints. He was convinced that his 14-megapixel digital files wouldn’t be suitable for reproduction as large blowups. Working closely with Hillary Altman, one of our senior account reps, Coder was overjoyed to see that we could enlarge a digital 14-megapixel file to a five-foot continuous-tone photograph without any loss of resolution. After seeing the first set of tests that we made for him at full-scale from his 20-plus digital images, Coder handed us the entire show to produce.
Duggal started with retouching all his images to bring a uniformity of tone and color across each picture by calibrating them to our final archival digital photographic printer. We enlarged the photographs to 4×5 feet in size on matte digital-c paper and surface-mounted them to archival gallery mount board with braces to float seamlessly off the wall. By choosing to design the exhibition with giant frameless photographs simply floating off the walls, we were able to complement the elegance and poetry in Coder’s work by presenting the photograph as the sole focus of the audience’s attention. Stephen Rutterford, partner at the Brooklyn Brothers Gallery states, “Coder is able to capture serenity in print. When you enter the space, a great calm immediately comes over you; it’s ethereal.”
The exhibition has been exactly what Coder had hoped for—he reconnected with the passion that had started him on his professional journey, and despite the economic downturn, revitalized his career by infusing a fresh energy of fine art in his commercial work. With agents representing him on both coasts, Coder has received offers from ad agencies that seek his guidance both as a creative director and a photographer. Reminding me that his appeal lies in his ability to elude a single photographic genre in which he could be boxed, Coder confesses to me, however, that he loves the challenge of thinking inside the box when it comes to generating a creative idea for a client. I could not agree with him more when he says, “I think that it’s more challenging to think inside a box because when you have to think within specific guidelines, you push yourself to be inventive.”
Having refused to be boxed into a label for my business for over 45 years, I know that success for an artist or a businessperson depends on eliminating boundaries across everything that’s conventionally expected of them and on experimenting relentlessly with new ideas and uncharted territories. Coder’s renaissance spirit was a true pleasure for us to work with, and it’s a spirit that we proudly celebrate at Duggal Visual Solutions.