Photographer Nine Francois’ works focus on the shapes and contrasts of her subjects, while washing out the context. (Courtesy of Nine Francois)
Photographer Nine Francois' works focus on the shapes and contrasts of her subjects, while washing out the context. (Courtesy of Nine Francois)
Nine Francois' photographs are different than those of other photographers.

While she captures a subject, she doesn't capture a setting. With her "Animalia" series, she frames the creatures and overexposes the film to bleach out the sky.

"I put in the form, but take out the context," Francois said during a phone call to The Park Record from her home in Austin, Texas. "So, you could say that I take the stories out of the works."

A selection of "Animalia" is now on display at the Julie Nester Gallery, 280 Iron Horse Dr., and will be up through Aug. 26. Next week, on Friday, Aug. 15, Francois will be at the gallery for an artist reception and artist presentation.

In addition, 10 percent of the art sales will be donated to Friends of Animals Utah, a nonprofit organization that rescues abused and neglected pets.

Francois said her fascination with visual art runs in her family.

"I come from an economist mother and an engineer father, who were both great at drawing," Francois said. "My brother was an artist and my sister does fabric arts, however, my brother went the arts route in college and when it came my turn, my parents didn't want more artists in the family."

So, Francois got her undergraduate degree in political science.

"I thought if I couldn't do the arts, I would like to travel and thought I would go work in an embassy somewhere in the world," she said.


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One of her first jobs, however, was stateside working at the Louisiana World Fair in 1984.

"I was the liaison for the fair and the people of New Orleans," she said. "I dealt with local politicians and that cured me of wanting to work in politics."

So she got a masters of art degree from the University of Texas in Austin.

"While at school, I fell madly in love with a boy who was an illustrator," Francois said. "I was doing pencil and watercolors and it took me a long time to do my craft.

Nine Francois creates her photographs by lulling the animals to relaxation by humming. (Courtesy of Nine Francois)
Nine Francois creates her photographs by lulling the animals to relaxation by humming. (Courtesy of Nine Francois)
That was demoralizing because I was hooked up with this guy who was so crazy creative, funky and cool. So I took a course in photography."

While Francois didn't grow up with a camera in hand, she does have a photographic memory.

"They way it plays out in photography, I would look at people's photo albums and really get into the story I saw in these pictures,' she said. "I would piece together lives through the chronology of the photos, and that attracted me."

Francois' technique of photographing animals developed over time.

"When I started taking photos, I was a documentary photographer," she said.

One of her first projects came after her grandfather passed away.

"He was a director of a sugar mill in Southeast Louisiana, and I got clearance from the mill and went in to take photos, trying to find my his story," Francois said. "I would photograph people and a story would come up from the people I photographed."

Shortly afterwards, the photographer began experimenting with her photos with an idea she learned in school.

"I started a self-motivated project called 'America the Beautiful' and traveled to little towns in America to photograph the rituals that we do to become beautiful," Francois remembered. "I would go to beauty and barber shops, body-building gyms and tattoo parlors."

During a stop at a beauty school in Yuma, Arizona, Francois was approached by one of the students.

"She asked me to take her photo for her parents," Francois said. "She had a disfigured face, and I took a photo of her in the chair and showed her getting her hair done by one of her fellow students. The photo was shot in the mirror, so I could see their expressions."

A few weeks later, the photo got published in a magazine.

"[The editors] took the liberty of adding a caption that was so denigrating and unfair that I decided not to take another documentary photograph again," Francois said.

So she began experimenting.

"When I was in graduate school, I was taught that you don't touch the photos," she said. "But I started cutting them up and putting them together with staples and thread and that liberated me."

Francois realized that she could still take photographs, but present them in different artistic ways.

"That opened a huge door and allowed me to realize that I could construct my imagery," she said.

These days, Francois makes her photos, which are all taken on film, by focusing on the subjects and washing out the backgrounds, so the focus in on shapes and contrasts.

With her "Animalia" series, the creatures she photographs — including cougars, armadillos, grizzly bears and giraffes — aren't necessarily domesticated, but not really out in the wild.

She takes them at preserves and zoos, but there is still an element of danger.

"I sit with a square-format camera and look down into the viewfinder, and it takes a lot of work and concentration to frame the image into the box," Francois said. "I really have to watch and anticipate the animals' next moves, and that takes away the fear of the claws."

Still, to get as close as she does to the animals, she has to show them that she's not a threat.

"Some are jittery creatures and I have to stay still," Francois said. "Some, on the other hand, I've been able to attract by humming. I hum low as I can go, and then I begin to mumble. And that allows me to get a little bit closer. It's like a game. It's like I'm trying to disarm them."

Once she gets the photos taken, she prints out a contact sheet and selects her photos.

"There are times when it's so evident that I got a good shot, but there are times when I will look at it and look at it and look at it before I can find the right one," she said.

While the whole process seems filled with daunting tasks, Francois enjoys every minute.

"It is absolutely exhilarating to be in the presence of these big creatures, because you feel like there is a primordial connection," she said. "The smaller ones are different. They are so cute that you just want to put them in your mouth and eat them."

The Julie Nester Gallery, 1280 Iron Horse Dr., will present an artist reception and presentation with photographer Nine Francois on Friday, Aug. 15, from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Ten percent of the sales will benefit Friends of Animals Utah. For more information, visit www.julienestergallery.com . For more information about Nine Francois, visit www.ninefrancois.com . For more information about Friends of Animals Utah, visit www.foautah.org.