BELFAST, Maine — When photographer Charles “Charlie” DuFour puts new pictures in the windows of his downtown gallery, heads do more than turn — they swivel.
Galerie DuFour features fine-art photos at his Indigo Gallery of nude women posing in the Maine outdoors. And love them or hate them, DuFour’s photos — no matter how serene the subject matter — are sure to provoke a strong reaction.
“I hear everything out there. The sound comes right in,” DuFour, 49, said this week. “Everything from ‘this guy’s work is incredible,’ all the way to ‘look at the filth’ and ‘this is disgraceful.’”
One person whose reaction to the photos apparently fell into the “incredible” camp is internationally known digital artist John Paul Caponigro, who last month selected one of DuFour’s photos as Best in Show for the Boothbay Region Art Foundation’s 2010 Maine Photography Show.
“I was shocked to win,” DuFour said. “I was speechless.”
The photo, “Taken for Granite,” shows a naked woman folded into the fetal position atop a granite boulder with fog obscuring the background. The white curves of her body are dwarfed by the massive, free-standing stone, but the disparate elements seem entirely natural together.
“That one just impressed me because it had a real classic, photographic sensibility to it,” Caponigro said in a telephone interview from his Cushing studio. “The form is just beautiful, and the light and the form work well. It’s got a real nice, classy sensibility.”
And that’s just what DuFour had in mind when he snapped the shot early one morning at Schoodic Peninsula.
“My overall take is that we’re not on the earth, but rather we’re of the earth,” DuFour said. “The human form reiterates the natural environment. Everything is beautiful.”
While it’s not a universally held philosophy, he’s in good company. DuFour counts among his influences Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte and French artist Henri Matisse, as well as the Impressionism movement in general.
Despite the angry opinions he sometimes hears, DuFour said that his work isn’t pornography, and it isn’t erotica. In fact, women make up 75 percent of his customers — and most of his models are women who volunteer because they like what they see in his work.
“Women are buying my work because they’re very comfortable,” he said. “It’s not meant to be something threatening. It’s not meant to be something arousing. I’m simply one of a long string of artists who has done nude art.”
DuFour takes his cameras and his models to locations throughout coastal Maine and photographs them at dawn, when the light is best and the chance of running into park rangers or random hikers is slim.
His pictures can be dreamlike, with a whole series shot of models apparently hovering in different locations. Some seem as if they belong in fairyland, with models standing in lush green fields of ferns or in shadowy forests. Yet others belie a witty and strong sense of whimsy, as when the women pose among pier pilings or balance on birch trees.
While most of the photos are shot along the stretch of coast between Acadia National Park and Birch Point State Park in Owls Head, the Aroostook County native has made a few treks back to his former stomping grounds to take pictures of women in autumn wheat fields.
DuFour’s journey from Madawaska to Belfast came by way of Pennsylvania, where he was a college psychology professor. There, the avid amateur photographer occasionally helped forensic psychologist friends photograph the aftermath of accident scenes. It was a 1994 plane crash that killed all aboard which led him to become a professional photographer.
“I realized that some of the people on the plane ordered the low-salt meal — and then they were dead,” DuFour said.
It was an epiphany for him. He decided that following the safe, cautious path was not the way to happiness.
“I want my obituary to say a lot more than ‘He taught classes,’” DuFour said.
He returned to Maine in 2001 and started his gallery in Belfast in 2003. He also teaches psychology at the Hutchinson Center there and at the University of Maine.
Although last year he sold a record number of the larger prints of nudes, sales of the smaller prints — the bread-and-butter of his business — have declined sharply. But DuFour gets more out of his work than dollars.
“I don’t have any money, but I’m richer now than I have ever been,” he said. “How many people have people telling them ‘I love what you do?’ I hear it all the time. Money isn’t what makes me happy. This makes me happy.”
Galerie DuFour is located at 94 Main St., Belfast. For more information, call 338-6448 or go to the website www.du4photo.com. A season-opening reception will be held 5-8 p.m. Friday, May 7. Spring hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and varying hours Sunday.