French Twist: A New Photographic Series
WORDS Bob Doerschuk
A round nine years ago, after two decades in Manhattan’s corporate world, a sojourn to Sedona, Arizona, and a brief return to New York City, Carla Ciuffo moved to Nashville. Her plan was to open a massage center in East Nashville. It’s still there—the O.Liv Body Bar on Main Street.
Ciuffo, though, isn’t. She spends her days now at home in East Nashville, in a somewhat cramped studio, working on projects that synthesize different new media, most recently through her work as artist-in- residence at an unlikely learning center: Harvard University’s Disease and Biophysics Group.
One recent sunny morning, on the patio at Barista Parlor, she revealed the results of her explorations. “These are nanofibers,” she says, opening a plastic container and removing a small patch of white material. It’s thin, almost translucent, nearly weightless, deceptively strong. “See how it almost feels alive, the way it bounces around in your hand?”
Ciuffo seems to be in a state of perpetual enthusiasm. That, however, is understandable. Though she never formally studied art or photography, she felt inspired when she first picked up her mother’s camera, in 2006. “My mom had just died a month or so before,” Ciuffo remembers. “And I became obsessed with her camera. I couldn’t put it down. I started experimenting and seeing all the fantastic things I could do to create my own world.”
Perhaps unfettered by training, Ciuffo followed her own instinct and imagination. These led her to connect with Kit Parker, professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Harvard and a friend of Nashville gallery owner Susan Tinney. While Parker’s goal was to apply nanofibers to healing wounds and regenerating tissues, Ciuffo sensed a more aesthetic potential.
For example, in her French Twist series, Ciuffo applies her appreciation for nanofiber to a series of photographs featuring Becca Place from Nashville’s New Dialect dance collective. “I really longed to put the nanofiber onto an actual human being but I couldn’t get enough of it—it takes a year to make a fishbowl- sized amount,” she says. “So we wrapped and veiled Becca in gauze. Veils can be symbols of oppression or they can be sensual. I had this incredible day, capturing Becca in movement with this beautiful imagery of trailing gauze.”
There was one technical problem. “I inherited all these slides from my parents, which I brought to the shoot. They’d traveled all over the world and gotten all these cool images, which I wanted to project on this blank brick wall behind Becca. But the slide projector died, so I had to digitally scan those slides to get the imagery you see now.”
Even now, in this series, Ciuffo senses the presence of her parents, as much as she felt the camera had connected her to her mother. “This work is very intense for me,” she says. “The French Twist series is like a spiritual collaboration with my mom and dad. It’s a lovely feeling to integrate them into what I’m doing.”
Styling, hair and makeup by Caitlin Hart