Ruth Kaplan | Bathers

21 June - 26 July 2003

Opening Reception: Saturday, September 21, 2-5 pm

Exhibition Dates: June 21 – July 26, 2013


This body of work began in the late 1980's when Ruth Kaplan became intrigued with the steady tension between the communal setting and the private atmosphere of public pools. Taking her camera into a local YWCA, she experienced the effect that a photographer can have on such a situation, tipping the balance from intimacy to conspicuous discomfort. Most of the women fled the scene, leaving only her friends remaining to be photographed.


Ruth was intrigued by this response, and determined to delve further into this corner of our collective psyche. She moved away from the self-conscious environment of the change room, towards the more naturalistic lifestyle of spas and nudist camps in California. There, the appearance of a naked woman with a medium-format camera was more easily accepted within a setting that is part therapeutic, part hedonistic, part exhibitionist. The resulting images evoke a sense of tranquillity and introspection, as well as the suggestion that we are witnessing a method of healing that reaches far beyond the treatments that they depict.


The project was further transformed as Ruth began to explore the bath-houses and spas of Europe. Such places serve a different function from their North American counterparts, offering an old-world, physical kind of therapy versus the new-age inner healing more prevalent in her earlier work. Many of the spaces are very old, grandly theatrical venues, where often the treatments and tools of therapy depicted are strikingly discomfiting. A darker side to the work began to emerge, one not unnoticed by the daughter of a Holocaust-survivor, for whom the shower rooms of Germany and Poland could be seen as reminiscent of the gas chambers in which so many people perished. 


Despite such heavy cultural and emotional baggage, Ruth's images are never depressing or dehumanizing. The viewer may feel voyeuristic (or vaguely uncomfortable) as we witness moments of intimacy and physical/emotional nakedness. Yet we are not trespassing upon her subjects, but instead experiencing through them moments of true humanness - whether vulnerability, empowerment, pleasure, or pain - and perhaps re-affirming our own humanity in the process.


This body of work is also the subject of an article in the Spring 2003 issue of the magazine Geist, with text by Robert Everett-Green.


This exhibition is in participation with Water, a project co-ordinated by The Ontario Society of Artists, and consisting of shows at public and private galleries based around the theme of "Water". The project has been generously sponsored by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund.