Think of the expression you would make if a bucket of frigid water was thrown over your head. For Caitlinn Mahar-Daniels's series "Baptism," she asked her subjects to keep a neutral face as she did just that, and snapped a photo as the freezing droplets hit their skin.
Don't be thrown off by the title. For Mahar-Daniels, "Baptism" is about the aesthetic rather than the spiritual. The series was inspired by a photograph Mahar-Daniels took of her mother just out of the shower. To Mahar-Daniels, it evoked vulnerability and freshness. "I focused on the cleansing and the purifying aspect—almost like stripping the emotional palette," she says.
Mahar-Daniels directed the models to stay still as they anticipated the cold shock—an experiment to see what emotion would translate. Their expressions ranged from discomfort to bliss and utter ecstasy to despair.
Seating her subjects in a chair centered in a 12-foot kiddie pool, each was drenched with cups, buckets, and even large containers requiring a multi-person effort. Shot in a studio, the volume of water displaced completely destroyed the hardwood floor.
Mahar-Daniels leaves her work untitled. "Titles tell people what to get from it or what they should look for," says Mahar-Daniels. "Even if I simply put their name as the title, the viewer would then have a specific association with that name. I wanted them to have a completely clean slate."
"Baptism" is made up of portraits against a blank, grey background—a style inspired by Richard Avedon's "The American West" series. "His portraits are simple and plain but they have so much depth," says Mahar-Daniels.
Mahar-Daniels's interest in photography budded early on. Everyday for two years she took a photo of the sunset in her hometown of Beacon using a disposable camera. "It sounds cheesy but I was seven," Mahar-Daniels says. Still a firm believer in film, she shot "Baptism" using a Mamiya RB67 medium format camera, with 120mm film.
Mahar-Daniels wants the viewer to relate in someway to the rawness of a candid reaction. "The idea is human beings looking at other human beings," she says.