BIOGRAPHY - Fine Art Photographer Hera Bell
by Val Tannage (2014)
If one wanted to make an argument for alternate universes, we could start by examining how Montreal's coveted Fine Art Photographer, Hera Bell, views the world and translates it through her work. Her comprehension of the depths of the human psyche, her mélange of artful whimsy, and her ability to provoke relegate her to an ethereal yet dichotomously edgy place in the world of international art photography.
A native of Istanbul, she had the good fortune to be born into a progressive family, her father being an architect engineer and her mother, a lawyer. From her earliest recollections, Hera was attracted to the finest aesthetics; a black and white film about a fashion designer that she saw as a child set her on a path to emulate a life in the fashion industry.
Innately eccentric and extroverted, Hera Bell's first creative endeavours as a child were manifested through the written word as an avid poetry writer. Self-assuredness prompted her to enter her work in many competitions, writing largely about the notion of love, though she only achieved publication the moment she created a non du plume, Verda Bel, to hide her Christian Armenian identity.
Subsequent to a French education, Hera Bell moved across the Atlantic to complete her certification as a fashion designer at Montreal's LaSalle College, unveiling a line created completely in pink as her graduation project. To say the least, her self professed "need to be different" was fulfilled when she was informed that her work would not be a part of the graduating class's show as it did not conform. The rebel in her took her collection home, but somehow her taffeta evening gown ended up in a solo parade and was the talk of the show. The next dozen years were spent designing successful clothing lines, working with cultures on five different continents, and this era of her life completed when, in 1992, she married Anthony, the physician she had been dating for four years.
Hera spent the next few years in exploration, seeking another fuse to ignite, but in the midst of this down time, she never remained idle. It was during this period that she created a series of limited edition bronze sculptures, a craft she learned at a private studio in Montreal.
Our destiny being a reflection of all roads travelled, Hera's art of today is certainly a direct result of the next stop in her life's itinerary, when she landed the position of Canadian Editor of the European high-end fetish publication, "O". That fertile imagination of hers, coupled with a curiosity to understand the driving forces beneath the BDSM lifestyle, led her to create and become Editor-in-Chief of "Le Fer Rouge" under the same German publisher. Without a knowledge of the German language, leave alone that this alternative lifestyle carried the stigma of all that is taboo, Hera and her team broke ground when "Le Fer Rouge" became the first publication to make its way onto a North American university bookstore shelf.
And how did it all merge together, this affinity for fashion and poetry, a CV that included comprehension of underground lifestyles, and a clear talent vis-a-vis imagery and aesthetics? Learning the art of photography came simply out of an idea that Anthony, Hera's husband, suggested they could do as a couple. It wasn't only the camera that clicked as Hera's mind and soul connected to a new passion in a darkroom at the Saidye Bronfman Centre one Sunday afternoon, in the first of an 8 week course on black and white photography that led to a future of increasing acknowledgment and praise from her peers and clients.
With a borrowed Canon AE1 running on manual, a 50 mm lens, and an invitation to "the beautiful people" who enjoyed celebrating their bodies to be her subjects, the unforgettable images began rolling out. Word of mouth on her artful product spread quickly, and the rightful business of Hera Bell had officially been launched.
After the first two years, Hera opened a downtown studio and quickly made headlines for her glamorized nude photos including, to her surprise, the more conservative PBS (USA) stations.
Amazingly, it is only at this point that we reach the digital era, which provided the ultimate playground for Hera's infinite imagination, and where she carved a signature style by juxtaposing her subjects in fantastical scenarios using personal photos from her travels. She gave up her downtown studio and once again set up shop in her home, where increasing numbers want to cross her threshold and become her muse.
In addition to being the coveted photographer of physique-focused professionals such as bodybuilders and models, Hera has become the go-to Fine Art Photographer for anyone who desires a session that will not only capture their essence but further the experience by tapping into unknown parts. Her conceptions of light and framing, colour and form, and her interpretation of the uniqueness of her subjects are derivative of worlds as diverse as the erotica of Anaïs Nin, the artfulness of Vanity Fair, and the technicolour of Disney. Her clientele now ranges from A-listers to those seeking a mind-blowing alternative to generic family portraits.
In her own words, "A successful photo has to create an emotion, positive or negative. In a world where we are inundated with imagery, be it in magazines, TV, Internet, if anyone can notice and stop at your image, look at it and feel something, you have created something unusual. I seek to beautify my subjects, tell a story, make their fantasies come true, instigate strong emotions in the viewer."
It is truth that as witness to Hera Bell's edgy, provocative, fantastical, or just simply beauteous images, we are left with the feeling of desire, a desire to not only be her subject, but as is the legacy of the truly gifted artist, a yearning desire to want to see, and be, more.