In 2010, Ruben Brulat packed up his 4-by-5 large-format camera, put some clothes in a backpack, and left on an epic journey through Europe to Asia. For the next 1½ years he traveled by train, truck, donkey, and foot to places he’d never seen before. Along the way, he met a lot of people, both locals and fellow travelers. Some of them became the subjects of his series, “Paths,” which he had had already begun while visiting Nepal.
“When I would meet a person or a few people, we would create friendship. We would share. I would talk about the project. If they were ready, and if there was a place nearby that we could explore—and if the nature was magnificent and strong and overwhelming—then there would be a picture,” he said via email.
Brulat never brought up the project immediately; he waited a few hours or days or weeks before suggesting it. When he did, he said, it was always slightly awkward: His newfound friends hesitated because they thought the nude photo might be pornographic. But they all changed their minds after Brulat showed them photos from his obviously nonsexual series, “Primates,” whose compositions are similar and for which Brulat himself modeled. Making the photos for “Primates” was intensely emotional and personal, and Brulat wanted his subjects in “Paths” to create comparable experiences for themselves.
“ ‘Give yourself away to nature.’ That’s what I would tell them before each shot. ‘Let it go completely and let it take you,’ ” he said.
Though the nudes in Brulat’s photographs might be jarring to some viewers, his intent is not to shock or draw contrasts. Instead, he wants the photos to show the harmony that can exist between people and nature. He also wants them to show how vulnerable people can be in the planet’s grand and sometimes harsh environments, an observation that the nudity helps demonstrate.
“I hope the photos talk about friendship, about the vulnerability of us and of time, about the brief moments of life that fade quickly into memories. We all met sometimes far but sometime close to home, and often then said goodbye to each other forever. It was a quest for the aesthetic journey, through countries far away, through ancient cultures and endless land.”