We had the good fortune of connecting with Douglas Fur and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Douglas, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
For as long as I can remember I always expected that I would become an artist. Within my family and amongst friends my identity was as the artist, even when my focus changed from illustrator to theater artist, to writer, and eventually to photographer. It has been decades now that I have felt compelled to always have a creative project to work on no matter how silly and regardless if anyone will ever see it. The need to have a constant outlet for artistic self-expression is what gives me my sense of place and purpose.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I remember sitting in college theater classes reading about these artists who never intended to end up in the theater but through a series of events, that’s where they found themselves. At the time I’d already known for years that I wanted to be a playwright and director and expected that that’s exactly what I’d be doing decades in the future. Just one decade later I was a photographer and no one was more surprised than me. In the years in between, I gave up theater, thought writing about music and doing interviews was my passion, only to discover that I was more interested in taking portraits of the musicians than writing about them. Eventually, I realized that I had something of my own to say with photography independent of music and musicians. In the mid-2010’s I’d had this realization that I’d spent so much of my artistic life waiting for just the right conditions, waiting to accrue all the necessary experience before I could put myself out there and make what I felt compelled to make. I’d just been playing it safe, afraid to challenge myself and others, afraid to fail publicly. I didn’t want to wait any longer and wonder what I could have done, I wanted to take the photographs that could say what I wanted to say and put my photography out there for public consumption.
Most often what I want to say concerns sexuality and how I as a male photographer can play into or against the male gaze. I view all my projects as collaborative efforts, I don’t view my subjects as human furniture, I prefer working with individuals who are interested in bringing something personal and vulnerable to the work. For my part, I take immense responsibility to avoid exploitation of the male gaze and instead encourage personal exploration through the theme. Admittedly there have been times when I fail and end up playing right into objectification, but those experiences always lead to me finding a way to remove the shame of the feminine form and find a way to use the male gaze to give power to my subjects and create an empathetic response from the viewer.
The life of an artist is full of rejection and you’re going to be told that you’re work is terrible far more often than you are going to receive praise, even when you have a great community that supports you I’ve found that you still need to be your own critic and cheerleader. I have an informal rule that I take advantage of the opportunities the I am fortunate to have come my way. Occasionally someone will reach out to me but typically I’m referring to opportunities I come across like an open artist call at a gallery or connecting with another artist/designer to collaborate on a mutually beneficial project. As someone who has severe social anxiety none of this comes easy so I typically have to force myself to put myself out there to make these connections.
In 2022 I began working on a project that explicitly explores the male gaze by having my subjects stand nude in Tucson’s Barrio Viejo with little to no posing. Setting the photographs in a public location is both a visual spectacle and contrast to our accepted place of nakedness, and by using minimal posing I’m hoping to remove the distractions of a dynamic body configuration. It has taken me years to be comfortable with my intentions and my ability to defend my convictions, and let the burden of interpretation fall on the viewer. What interests me are the feelings and reactions of the viewer, maybe they see things the way I do, and maybe they have a strong reaction that challenges themselves or my intentions.
I sleep better now than I once did, I have this body of work that I feel proud to have made. I can look at any one of my photographs and see someone who quit waiting for permission from nowhere to tell me it was the right time and instead refused to wait another day and just went for it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My one year anniversary of living in Tucson just recently passed and I’ve taken time to reflect on what makes this place so special. Unlike anywhere else I’ve lived the people of Tucson from natives to recent transplants there is an intense appreciation and loyalty for the people and businesses. Every month you can always find a handful of markets dedicated to local businesses and vendors with artists of all disciples showing off there work. People like burlesque performer Lola Torch and her lingerie brand Hi, Tiger, or Luna Bloom and her stunning hats. There are a number of galleries and art spaces dedicated to local artists who work here in Tucson, places like &gallery owned by Cynthia Naugle, Subspace, The Steinfeld, Untitled Gallery, Groundworks, and the Sculpture Resource center which is home to the Tucson Erotic Arts festival every year. Never have a lived anywhere that embodied the spirt of “buy local” as much as Tucson does.
I most often find myself in the general downtown area, thanks in part to Tucson’s diverse community and being University of Arizona adjacent there is so much to experience and enjoy. To the South is Barrio Viejo which is among the oldest neighborhoods in Tucson, renowned for its colorful contemporary adobe homes. To the West is Mercado San Agustin which has lots of great shopping and restaurants like Agustin Kitchen and Seis. The downtown area around Broadway and Congress st. is a great place to walk around with small shops, restaurants, and the historic Hotel Congress which houses Club Congress and Cup Cafe. Across the Street is the Rialto Theater, and across the street to the North in the same building as the Amtrak station is Maynards restaurant which like many restaurants in the area has made a commitment to obtaining most of it’s ingredients locally. My favorite restaurant is new and just up the street, BATA is the kind of upscale Tapas style restaurant you find in major metropolitans with fun and complex food that is great if you’re showing around vegan friends.
Just north of downtown is the Iron Horse and Pie Allen neighborhoods which house most of the galleries I listed above but is also home to the historic 4th avenue with Antigone bookstore, the Food Conspiracy Co-op, and a handful of vintage shops. This neighborhood is home to two coffee roasters that could easily stand up to any coffee from my native Seattle, Exo and Presta Coffee Roasters, these are my favorite places to sit and spend some time editing my photography.
That feels like a lot but I’d highly suggest driving down Speedway or Grant because there are plenty of great restaurants to enjoy and classic Americana architecture to take in. It’s also worth it just to drive around for a while and enjoy the public art, Tucson is a city of murals, you can see them everywhere, big beautiful representations of the city. Just a twenty minutes drive outside the city you can get to two national parks, Saguaro Nation Park East, and West. There’s also the desert museum, or to the south the gorgeous San Xavier del Bac Mission.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
In 2016 my wife surprised me with an Argus C3 35mm camera for my birthday, I think she thought it’d be something pretty and fun, but it turned into my entire life. Going back to 2011 when I lost mind numbing day job it was my wife who supported, inspired, challenged, and constantly encouraged me to make the art that I was passionate about. Really you have to take it all the way back to 2002 when I first met the woman who would become my wife to find the person who has been there for all of my successes and my many, many failures, but who has never let me give up.
Douglas Fur @velvetandshadow