Tag Archives: portrait

Back to Sepia

More portraiture, again from the 1920s shoot with Locks and Lashes.

Locks n Lashes April (1)

I tried a different antique-ing approach here – sepia. Certainly works better for portfolio purposes – at least we get an idea of what the make-up looks like.

And you live and learn, on every single shoot. The set-up here was determined by the space that I had available for shooting, i.e. the backroom of Locks and Lashes’ premises. The space there is about 2 x 3.5 metres. No natural light, some tungsten bulbs. And more or less bare walls. We covered those up with some net curtain – which leaves a nice textured background here to the image. However, not that ideal for the purposes of the portfolio – the frilly curtain design kind of meshes up with the hair. Where do the curls end and the background drapes start? I guess we’ll be back to neutral backdrops next time ’round.

More Antique Portraiture

Bear with me. There’s a number of portraiture shots coming up over the next weeks. There was just too much going on with Locks and Lashes recently *ggg*. They keep me shooting – which is great, btw.

I have always been fascinated by the Hollywood Glamour style of photography. The use of light – or rather shade! – is just so dramatic, and makes the sitters look good in any case. I came across the “inventor” of Hollywood Glamour photography when I was researching for one of my college projects. George Hurrell actually had pretensions of becoming a painter. He initially started photographing as an aide for his painting. Or rather, to document his paintings. Gradually, however, he got into photography, takeing pictures of other artists’ paintings and eventually discovering that he could actually earn money with photography. Hurrell revolutionised portrait photography and famously declared that it was not about where the light was, but where the shadows are.

He also invented possible the boom light. An obvious idea for a photographer to have – easily movable lights that can illuminate the sitter from above, drowning out lines and wrinkles, creating what we nowadays call beauty light. Not only did Hurrell perfect the lighting techniques he pioneered, according to a website I found, he was also a master of retouching. I could go on and on here with more examples of his fascinating work. The photographs are just stunning. And while I am neither a fan of Hollywood nor of beauty as such, this footnote in photographic history utterly transfixes me.

Not that I come close to his work, but it’s certainly an inspiration, and it is fun to play with light and shadow. Here is my take on it:

Locks n Lashes (33)

Light is too soft for Hurrell – and it’s a colour image, too, but I like the shadows drowning the image to the right. It pays to look at the old masters, in any case.

Roaring Twenties

The recent post on Locks and Lashes’ Facebook page has finally shocked me into action again. So much for all my good intentions and New Year’s resolutions of posting more regularly. It’s not that I haven’t been photographing. I have. And I like the stuff that I produce. I am actually more annoyed with some technical blogging snags that keep me from posting more regularly. But well.

Last month, in any case, I was called out to shoot for Locks and Lashes. They were doing 1920s themed make-overs for their own portfolio, and I was thrilled to be shooting for them. Again. I previously had done a first trial shoot which I wrote about here. And in March they booked me for a shoot of a make-over which I haven’t even written about yet.

Doing a 1920s themed shoot gave me a bit of scope to play in Photoshop. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not particularly keen on postproduction work. With this, it was actually fun, because model Chloe in 1920s garb, make-up and hair really looked straight out of a Man Ray shot. You know which one I am thinking about. So add a bit of overexposure, and out comes this:

Locks n Lashes April (10)

Maybe I should have added a few scratches and stains to the image to make it look even older? But that would not help my clients, who want this in their portfolio. In any case, for once an instance where I enjoyed playing around with effects.

Photogenic

One of the big challenges of studio shoots is the distinct lack of context. There are no circumstantial or environmental references available for the sitter – the scene has been deliberately emptied of all outside distraction in order to focus entirely on the face of the subject. Pros are able to deal with that, and know how to provide the photographer with facial expressions. Amateurs, however, often appear like deer in headlight – thrown into an artificial situation with the spotlight trained on them, literally. Well, not so my friend M___ who has sat for me several times for various projects. She is an absolute natural – almost all of her shots come out great. She has that “something” that makes people photogenic – and she is just great at letting go and simply fooling around in front of the camera.

The downside of that is that I have huge problems with the editing. I simply cannot decide which images to post-produce. I like them almost all. Invariably, with M___ as my sitter, I end up with far too many good shots. Which means I have to spend a long time adjusting them all… What a complaint to have… No, it is obviously a joy to shoot with someone like that. Hope there will be many more!

Beauty

From classic b/w over to a burst of colour.

Beauty shot

Virtually unedited. There was not much need. She was perfect the way she looked and the way she posed. She let go and was not afraid to follow my directions. Despite 20 people surrounding us and observing her. The haughty look was just as good as the photos where she laughed and flashed a full-on smile. I took 24 pictures of her in total, and every single one was a winner. If anything was wrong, it was only my technical mistakes – focus off, or bad framing. Amazing. It just proves the point that the best results in photography come out when the sitter is either reckless or self-assured enough to not care what she actually looks like. Or if she trusts the photographer. I hope the latter was also the case.

The State of Portrait Photography, 1987

Recently, I posted a gem horror of a photograph of myself on my private FB. As was expected, the echo was deafening – remainders of a long gone past are always extremely entertaining to look at and invite much comment. And photography does it so well, transporting us back to the place and time where a picture was taken. No other medium can match that – film, although similar, has too much information between moving image and accompanying sound; painting or sculpture obscures the past by layering a veil of art over the documented subject; sound is not as potent as voices do not change that much over time. A photograph, however, puts us right there, back in October 1987, in a small town photo studio.

Sonja 1987

Moi and my twin, 1987

This was not my first visit to a photo studio in order to have a picture made of myself. As a baby and toddler my mum regularly took me to the then ubiquitous “Pixi Foto” studios that were the go-to places for having pictures of your children taken. On this occasion, the photos were intended as a Christmas present for my grandparents, and the local photographer was the professional of choice for the shoot.

It was a memorable experience and I thank the heavens that I was then not yet interested in photography as a career, cos by Cod – if I had decided to become an apprentice photographer then, my aesthetic sensibilities might have been traumatised by that time-warp of vignetted, artificial-pose cheesiness. Even though it doesn’t look it, I had dressed up for the occasion – freshly ironed green-and-white stripy blouse and my dark blue blazer. Invisible in this shot, the photographer actually matched the colour of the background – a translucent sheet of paper with some white latticing in front of it (the illusion of a lattice window, presumably) – by sticking a green gel in front of the light that illuminated the backdrop from behind.

We tried a number of poses – this is arguably the cheesiest one. I am casually lying on the ground, leaning on my left elbow. My blazer is artfully slung over my right shoulder just as you would do if you were lounging on the ground, all debonair. *coughs* Associations of posh Oxford students come to mind, enjoying a summer’s day out, punting on the Thames, picnic basket with a ice-cold bottle of champers at their feet and a few watercress sandwiches – no crust! – just out of sight. “I say, old boy! What a jolly day!”

Is this the ultimate cubist photography that has so far eluded me in my search for artistic expression? Because here we have not only my regal profile but also a near-frontal mirror image of my grin. All made possible by the clever inclusion of a *gasps* mirror. This has been cunningly disguised by some iridescent, clear plastic foil – the height of 1980s gift-wrapping fashion – which snakes its way over the mirror frame, all but disguising the brown wood. *fail*

Are you wondering about my elusive Mona Lisa-smile, full of hidden promise and infinite mystery? Well, there is a reason for that. You see, even at 17, I was already blind as a bat. Minus 4.5 dioptries, roughly. For the purpose of this shoot, the photographer actually sent me to the  local optician’s. Not to have a quick laser surgery of my failing eyes, but to borrow an identical set of my classic 1980s glasses – sans lenses! The clever photographer wanted to make sure there were no reflections from the flash on my specs. For clever read “lazy”! And thus, I lay there, practically blind, trying to react to the photographer’s direction. “Move your chin up a bit. Look towards you left. And now look at my camera through the mirror!” Her camera? Where the fuck was her camera? I could see feck-all in my imposed state of batty blindness. I could literally only grin and bear it. I mustered all the fake confidence a 17-year-old teenager has, applied what I thought was a fitting facial expression on my baby-fatted cheeks and showed some teeth, praying that this ordeal was going to be over, soon. Or at least before my hips and elbow were killing me from the awkward pose on the hard floor.

As was usual in those days, it took a good while for the photos to be developed and printed. No retouching, of course – just check that weird tan line on the edge of my jaw and cheek. I swear, it was the sun – spray tans did not exist in pre-history! When they finally came back, they were presented in a fancy, glossy pocket with embossed shiny gold lines and cut-out oval passepartouts. The apex of photographic presentation of the day. Practically ready to display on the mahogany integrated wall unit in the parental drawing room. This screamed “classy” from the sophisticated pose of the model to the exquisite display pocket. Boy, was this worth the 80 Deutschmarks or so we coughed up for it…

Luckily, this particular image was never deemed the highlight of the shoot by my parents, and thus never saw the light of the drawing room. It languished, forgotten and pardoned, in its pocket sleeve in the bureau-section of said mahogany wall unit. Until last weekend. With 25 years down the drain, I now love the involuntary humour of this shot. A case for AwkwardFamilyPhotos, if ever there was one. Maybe I should submit – I might go viral.

PS: Here is a little bonus story for all lovers of my fancy 1980s glasses, unconnected with photography, but too good to ignore. Big glasses with colourful plastic frames were the dernier cri back then. I always liked to make a statement with my specs, and so the funky blue frames really appealed to me when I chose them in the shop. Only I hadn’t realised quite *how* spectacular these specs were going to prove. – I had had them for a couple of months when I took them on their first outing to the local disco, “Infinity”, a bland, generic country-bumpkin hang-out generally known under its nickname “The Bunkerwhich is a pretty accurate description of its in- and exterior. (Yes, kids, the term “club” in those days was reserved for regular meet-ups of grey-haired ladies playing Bridge, a gaggle of stick-wielding hockey players, or dubious establishments where ladies of the night plied their trade. We knew our dance halls as “discotheques”, preferably in the ritzily sophisticated Francophone notation.) Anyhow, as we entered the disco, I could see a look of surprised horror crossing my companions’ countenances. They tried to conceal their sniggers, but the suspicion was raised. Turned out that my harmlessly blue plastic frames turned luminously bright-neon blue under the customary black-light in German provincial discos. AWKWARD! Suffice to say, my disco-dancing days were over until the fashion in specs changed…