What is a muse? In Greek mythology a muse was/is an inspirational goddess of science and art, a source of fundamental knowledge, an age-old connection with the beating heart of the cosmos. Today, a muse hasn't really strayed far from the original, they might have lost their anchor in the sciences, but muses are still going strong in the arts.
Contemporary muses are more often than not mortal, though I am sure some artists still call upon the ancient Greek muses from time to time. A mortal muse can be the connection between the artist and their work, the artist and their audience, or the artist and muse direct. There is no firm, set relationship, the connection depends upon the artist and the muse, it can be strong and long-lasting, or it can be fragile and short-lived, that it is often intimate and complex, goes without saying.
The relationship between the art photographer Manel Ortega and his muses is always inspirational, always productive, always a step forward in creative self-discovery, and creative self-reflection. Manel, who was born and raised in Granada in Spain, and then worked extensively in his own independent photographic studio in Barcelona, now lives in Brighton in the UK.
A photographer who works across a range of subjects, producing work and projects for a series of different outlets, many of them prestigious and worthy, this is a photographer that never loses contact with his foundation. That foundation is the connection he has between himself as artist and lens, and that of his sitter/model, the muse.
When I invited Manel to be a feature artist, he purposely set about producing an exclusive photoset feature for this site. In particular, he was keen to highlight a set of photos that would project the connection that is most important to him in his work, that of himself as artist, and that of the sitter as muse.
In that respect, Manel has arranged this exclusive photoset around one individual, that of Phil Shaw. Phil is photographed in a variety of poses, in a variety of costumes, and in a variety of conditions. he is shot in black and white and colour, portrait and figure, full front and angled.
Manel says of Phil: "A muse is a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist, this is Phil for me." And it works really well. Manel obviously has a connection with Phil, there is a direct sensitivity to the individual from the artist, which is palpable. But there is also a trust seen between muse and artist, Phil portrays confidence in the artist and lens. It is a relationship that is in a feed loop, artist and muse energising each other, and that is such a great thing to see, and an even greater thing to experience.
As Manel says about the photoset with Phil: "It was very inspirational to work with him to create those portraits for you, a very interesting experience." And that's what it's all about, inspiration and experience. That is why the muse is as important today as it was in ancient Greece. The arts need their muses, and artists need those muses for connection with creativity.
It isn't a matter of artist and dumb, static model, a muse is something else entirely. An artist needs to see and interact with subject, needs to understand that a relationship between the portrait and the artist is possible, even desirable. For an artist to only see the portrait model as a one dimensional tool, a mannequin of expediency is to miss an opportunity to go beyond the norm, to miss an opportunity to project real humanity, rather than creative affectation.
It is whether an artist understands the importance of this relationship, whether they understand that the person sitting for them is actually another breathing living human, and not just an inanimate thing. To see muse and artist as connectors, forging a creative relationship for the project at hand, shows how art can be much more than a solitary exercise. Manel and Phil give a literalness to the age old relationship between artist and muse, and shows that it is just as alive today as it has ever been.
I would like to thank both Manel and Phil for being part of this exclusive project.
All work is copyrighted to the artist. Please ask permission before sharing imagery. Thank you.