That Paul Dahlquist, spry and feisty and flirty, has just turned 80 years old is the least of his surprises. Among the others: He is known for his sensual male nudes and has been appropriated as a "gay photographer," yet he is open to the charms of both genders, twice married to women, father of three sons, now cagily identifying himself as "try-sexual—I'll try anything!" Maybe the biggest surprise about the venerable artist is that his range extends far beyond portraits and nudes—a misimpression corrected by a retrospective at Gallery 114, Paul Dahlquist at 80. The show and a new coffee-table book of the same title sample the gamut of Dahlquist's output, including still lifes, eerie cityscapes, candid shots and luminous landscapes, all of which evince his background in drawing and painting, along with a searching eye and a knack for transubstantiating water, reflections, and glinting light into the stuff of magic.
Dahlquist was born in 1929 and took his first photo at age 8, using his father's camera. It wasn't until 1953, however, when he was in the Army and stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., that he had a pivotal encounter with legendary lenswoman Imogen Cunningham. "Whenever I take a picture," she told the 24-year-old Dahlquist with a wink, "it's a little 'I love you.'" He thought it was the most cornball thing he'd ever heard, but as the years went on, he changed his tune. He has spent decades using black-and-white film to say not only "I love you," but also, "I respect you," "I am intrigued by you" and often, "I'd really like to fuck your brains out." Coming from Scandinavian stock, he embodies that region's naturalistic attitude toward nudity and sex, as the best known of his photographs explicitly demonstrate.
Of quick mind and limber stride, having recently lost 60 pounds, he still lives for the next photograph, declaring his mission "a celebration of the beautiful." For the polymorphous, pansexual Dahlquist, that beauty can be celebrated in an early-morning walk through deserted streets, the face of a friend in late-afternoon light or the naked flesh of a stranger. "Eye candy is my drug of choice," he confesses, "and I love to O.D...."
Paul Dahlquist at Gallery 114, 1100 NW Glisan St., 243-3356. Show runs April 2-May 2.