Monday, August 17, 2009

And reality be damned!

The object matter of the world does not determine the subject matter of a photograph. ~ Joel Snyder Someone told me this morning that they don't see photography as an art because they believe that what they see in a photograph is exactly what the photographer saw in front of him - an image that has lots of shadows was simply shot in a dark room; pleasing light is simply discovered by accident; what is seen in the image was obviously plainly visible in reality. Actually, that couldn't be further from the truth. This is one of the first bodyscapes that I considered a complete success. What you see here is pretty much the exact image I had in mind when I set out to produce it. It’s recognizable as a human form, but I let the details fade into the shadows and focused on form and mood. I think it’s evocative of a landscape of rolling hills at sunset and draws an analogy between the human form and natural forms. Tonal range, ambiguity, visual energy, and aesthetic emotion were all planned factors. I shot from a low perspective and framed a bodyscape that rises from left to right to give a sense of energy and depth, and let the light fall off in the upper right to give a sense of fading into the distance. I used a diffused strobe to overpower the ambient light and feathered it across the model give a gradual transition of tones and capture the form of the torso. Once I had that all set up, I told the model it was time to add the energy, and she would arch her back a bit, lift her feet off the floor and spread her knees apart to add tension to her abdominal muscles and let her temporary lack of balance give a rolling feeling to the "landscape." It took 7 or 8 meter readings and light adjustments to get this just what I wanted it. By the time I got the "keeper" shot I think the model was getting a bit frustrated with me, but she stuck with it and did a great job, and I'm grateful to her for that. Did I just capture reality? Hardly. A person standing in the camera’s position for this shot would have seen the model in a relatively bright studio in front of a green muslin background, her toes curled and arms reaching for the floor as she tried to balance on a narrow bench, trying not to laugh while she tried to concentrate on the directions I was giving her. 99.9% of non-photographers standing in the studio would never have envisioned this photograph when looking at the scene before them. What artistic decisions went into it? I've already said, but I'll list them again:
  • I shot from a low perspective and framed a bodyscape that rises from left to right to give a sense of energy and depth
  • I let the light fall off in the upper right to give a sense of fading into the distance
  • I used a diffused strobe to overpower the ambient light
  • I feathered it across the model give a gradual transition of tones and capture the form of the torso
  • I took 7 or 8 meter readings and light adjustments to get this just what I wanted it
  • I told the model it was time to add the energy, and she would arch her back a bit, lift her feet off the floor and spread her knees apart to add tension to her abdominal muscles and let her temporary lack of balance give a rolling feeling to the "landscape."
As Mr. Snyder to aptly observed, the object matter of the world does not determine the subject matter of a photograph. Documentary photography is about recording [events, truth, reality]. Expressive photography is about exposing [feelings, beauty, surprises] and exploring [possibilities, complexities, subtleties]. I have little talent for documentary photography. My camera has the ability to censor and the ability to embellish, and my vision is not limited by the boundaries of reality. I leave out things that you might notice and I capture things that wouldn’t be apparent if you were standing next to me when I tripped the shutter. As an expressive photographer, I create images with light, lenses, and the cooperation of talented models, and reality be damned. Perhaps it was best stated by Bob Randall, an amazing photographer who has an equally amazing way with words:
I'll make you look the way I need you to look, and I'll get the reaction from you I need to get. I'll make you a corporate vice president, or an 18 year old hooker or the girl next door. I'll make you light and airy and innocent or dark as night and nasty as a mother fucker. When I'm done with you, you'll forget all about every loser asshole that said he couldn't work with you because you don't have the right stuff. I'm a photographer, I'll make you into whatever I want to make you.
Remember that the next time you think that photographers just push buttons to capture images they've accidentally discovered.

1 comment:

  1. Your description of the process of getting just this one beautiful image is one that many photographers need to read, let alone the general public. Well done on both the writing and you and the model on the final result.

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