Naked Punch

Blake Fisher's nudes in nature pack a wallop.

Blake Fisher — with the help of some scissors — discovered early on what would become his calling.

At an age when most kids would be playing catch in a sandlot, Fisher could be found holed up in his room with scissors and a stack of magazines, squirreling away pictures that fevered him.

Coral Back: That's one reef that deserves protection.
Coral Back: That's one reef that deserves protection.

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Through March 29. Miami Center for the Photographic Arts, 1601 SW 1st St, Miami; 305-649-9575, www.mcpagallery.com.

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"I would comb through the magazines voraciously and clip out the best images," the 48-year-old Minnesota native laughs.

When his parents came across holes in the pages of their National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and fashion magazines, they knew little Blake was the one who had purloined the pictures.

"It drove my mom mad," Fisher says. "I covered the walls of my room with them."

By the time he hit high school, he had become serious about photography. After graduating, he attended the Hennepin Technical College in Minneapolis, where he majored in it.

Fisher, who has worked as a freelance photographer in fashion and advertising for three decades, says that although he earned a decent enough living to travel the world, he often found the work boring.

"I was shooting pictures of food and cell phones for advertising. The fashion work was much more fun, and I got to live in Europe for five years, spending time in Milan, Paris, Athens, and Madrid," he says.

"One of the most intriguing fashion spreads I worked on was a James Bond-like shoot in Marrakesh where the men were dressed in tuxedos and running around alleys with plastic pistols. We even used snake charmers and camels in the photos."

While the work paid the bills, Fisher craved the creative freedom he had experienced when he first began studying photography. He started asking models from his fashion shoots to pose nude for him in exotic outdoor settings. The results were a revelation for him.

Over the course of 20 years, he has developed a body of black-and-white photographs, which are on exhibit in "Female Nudes" at the Miami Center for the Photographic Arts in Little Havana.

His fetching silver gelatin prints are reminiscent of the photography of Bill Brandt and Lucien Clergue, and exude a timeless quality.

Some of his models are bathed in soft, natural light, while others are cloaked in a dramatic chiaroscuro.

Fisher's images are often rhythmic and fluid, his models beautiful and athletic. The women stretch out like felines or strike knotted poses. One dangles precariously from a high-voltage electrical tower; another suns herself languorously on the bank of the Mississippi as the Minneapolis skyline rises from the far side of the river. In most of the photos, the subjects' faces are concealed or their bodies truncated like classical Greek statues. In some, the natural landscape claims the thunder, swallowing the women. The works are uncontrived and have a strong universal appeal.

One of the more arresting of the 50 works on display is Coral Back, in which a model's sun-dappled back fuses with brain coral as her lithe haunches buck above the seawater. The hollow of her back traps a spit of the ocean while her goose flesh mimics the coral's texture. The image is so savory you want to tear off your shoes and dip your toes in it.

In Canyon Passage, snapped in the American Southwest, Fisher's model is dwarfed by colossal corkscrew stone formations she pushes against. The entire physical substance of her muscle and bone is oddly angled as she groans against the imposing structure with the futility of Sisyphus.

White Sands Trilogy features a model in three separate pictures taken at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. The shot on the left captures the woman lying on her back on a milky sand dune. In the middle, she bends backward and reaches behind her head with both hands to grasp her upward-angled leg like a contortionist. To the right, she is captured face down in the powdery grit as the clouds spread above her in a lacy, curdled-buttermilk pattern.

"We spent two days at White Sands and it rained the whole time," Fisher rues. "We had a 15-minute break when the sun came out, and that's when I was able to get those pictures."

Another image Fisher quickly captured is Snake Bitten, snapped on a walkway above a busy Tucson freeway. The overpass is shaped like a rattlesnake; one enters through the mouth and exits through the rattle. In the photo, a woman hangs backward off the structure's steel mesh, its diamond-shaped ribs catching the sun and reflecting off the model's body like snake scales.

"I had to hurry," recalls Fisher. "People driving by were honking the whole time."

Among the images employing lighting with gorgeous results is Reflection IV, one of the largest photos on exhibit. In it, the fragment of a woman's torso is reflected upon itself from a mirror placed next to her body. The white flesh of her breasts starkly contrasts her nipples, making them look like baked beans balancing on saucers.

Other standouts include a ballerina clad only in toe shoes, her legs splayed like a wishbone as the sun cascades across her through a window. Another is of a woman bobbing on her back in a wetland marsh tidal pool as the sun ripples in the water, crowning her in a halo.

Perhaps what's most amazing is that this exhibit, only Fisher's third, marks his first major solo show. Though the subject matter is not fresh, it does convey a sense he is blessed with more than just raw talent.

For those who might think the photographer squandered his vision as a shutterbug hack chasing a paycheck, think again.Several of the photos have already sold and been replaced with others. A hole was left in the exhibit when an out-of-town collector became hell-bent on taking one of Fisher's seductive pieces with him.

The empty space is reminiscent of how the photographer's parents must have felt after Fisher made off with their magazine pictures.

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