Would you consider paying for being a model? In all honesty, if anything, models get paid rather pay to be in a photograph. And heck, I’d rather not be a model at all never mind getting paid, or paying or not. But sometimes you make an exception if there is some kind of reward in it. And thus my friend A___ and myself jumped at the chance of posing for photographs despite having to pay for the privilege. It was, after all, a worth-while campaign we were lending our faces to. The NOH8 campaign for equality made a stop-over in Dublin on the occasion of Gay Pride. NOH8 has been going for five years and is spear-headed by photographer Adam Bouska whose signature portraits are the mark of the campaign. From its beginnings as a response to a proposed law in California, banning same-sex marriage, the NOH8 campaign has grown into a movement that fights discrimination of any kind and advocates universal human equality. Bouska still shoots all of the portraits of the campaign, and A___ and myself figured our photo fee would not only go to a good cause, but it would also allow us to take a look behind the scenes of an international campaign. In short: as curious photographers we wanted to see how celebrity photographer Bouska works.
The shoot was an open call, so all that was needed was to turn up and cough up. Well, and prepare in terms of “styling”. Bouska’s portraits are strictly uniform: The subjects are always dressed in a white shirt and their mouths are covered with silver duct tape. They display the NOH8 logo “tattooed” on their cheek and are shot in front of a white backdrop. With the mouth as a metaphor for communication having been covered, the message of the image is conveyed by the logo, they eyes and the hand gestures that are allowed in the frame.
Much to our surprise/disappointment, the venue of the shoot was not exactly teeming with participants. Well, it was teeming alright – with lots of bubbly teenagers who are part of the theatre school in whose premises the shoot was taking place. But there was no waiting whatsoever – after the applying of the logo, we were immediately walked into a dance studio that had been turned into a make-shift photo studio. NOH8 chairman Jeff Parshley acted as the assistant – applying the tape across my mouth, and off I popped in front of the backdrop. As I had not done my homework, I was surprised to find Bouska such a young man. He briefly said what he was going to do (“Just stand here, I’ll tell you how to pose and take the pictures.”) and off we went. He took about 4, 5 shots per pose, interspersed with his commands, me reacting by peering over my glasses secretary-style, glaring dead-pan, crossing my fingers over my (covered) mouth, doing that Japanese photo/smile gesture. Done in about 5 minutes max. Very efficient and work-flow-friendly. He showed me a quick glimpse of the shoot on his camera – pretty much already as they appear when finished: White blown-out background, head-and-shoulders portrait of the sitter. The lighting in the images is exclusively done by a ring-flash, no other lights.
As the discomfort of being in front of the camera took up most of my attention while modelling myself, it was much more interesting to observe the process when he shot A___ after me. Short, clear commands were given to his sitter “look here”, “chin up”, “stretch your arms out”, while Bouska moved animatedly with his camera. There was no need to adjust camera settings. Presumably, once it was all set up at the start of the shoot, all he had to do was point and release. With the sitters uniformly wearing white tops, there is probably little variation in terms of light reading, so it’s almost an automatic shoot. – Discussing how the shoot went, I complained to A___ afterwards, that there was very little interaction going on between the photographer and his sitters (apart from the posing commands). Well, A___ had to point out to me that communication was actually impossible, as we were gagged. Haha, strange that that had escaped a chatterbox like myself…
According to the NOH8 website, the campaign is on-going, and there are no deadlines or plans to stop anytime soon. The sole photographer for the campaign is Bouska – good for him, there’s a steady job. And yet, one wonders, whether the whole thing becomes a bit of a chore and a drag after five years and 35.000 photos? While the recognisability of the campaign rests entirely on the logo and the uniformity of the portraits, photographically it must have lost its shine and its challenges for Bouska long ago. Maybe my concern for Bouska’s own amusement and work satisfaction is cynical, but quite frankly, they could probably build a big white box, mount a camera-plus-ring flash on a stand, play a tape with posing directions on continuous loop and remote-release the camera automatically.
Nonetheless, in conclusion, it was an interesting insight into the workings of what could be a major shoot and campaign. No doubt the NOH8 logo and campaign is much more visible and loud in its home environment over in the States, a fact that is also reflected in the amount of “celebrity” participants who mean absolutely nothing to me. Over here, it was remarkably quiet, but then again, people may also have been put off by the fact that you had to pay to take part. As this was more than a modelling session for me, I was happy enough to fork out some money. I wanted the look behind the scenes almost more than being part of the campaign, as much as I endorse the message and goals. In return, I will also be given one retouched image that was taken of me. So I will be able to say that I have been photographed by a celebrity photographer. I hope you are all impressed!