All images used in this post are copyrighted to the individual photographer stated and are only being used for educational purposes.
Many of the exercises in Part 4 required certain times of the day or specific weather conditions that I have found hard to accommodate in the time I have recently had available. Rather than delay submitting Assignment 4, I have read around all the course notes and suggested reading. I have also been greatly inspired by the work of Edward Weston and Irving Penn, in particular the following publications suggested by my tutor. Their work has greatly influenced the way I have approached the assignment and the subject I have used.
Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson
Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen
For this assignment we had to use one object and then apply our knowledge of lighting to demonstrate the following four areas:
Although I still find it hard to arrange a still life as opposed to going out and finding subjects / people on he street, I was in awe of how Weston made his peppers look sensual and alive and how Penn managed to highlight every tiny detail in old cigarette butts. It also interested me that as mentioned in my previous post (https://alisoncheshire.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/research-for-assignment-4-irving-penn-edward-weston-and-paul-kooiker/) Penn and Weston were successful with both still life and portraiture so I did take inspiration from particular images from both of their work and came up with the idea of a mannequin – a sort of compromise between people and still life! After putting out a few feelers to see if any friends had any mannequins lurking in their cupboards, I got offered Betsy!!
Betsy is a hairdressers mannequin and originally had long hair for trainees to practice plaiting and putting up hair. Somewhere along the lines she had her hair hacked off by mistake and has been left with a crude bob, split ends and all!
Betsy has been great fun to work with on this assignment – mainly because it has given me the opportunity to play around with my studio lights – (Mini Pioneer Studio Flash 250DI lights) something I don’t do often enough as I don’t have the room to keep them out at home. For the assignment I turned my lounge into a make shift studio by blacking out the natural light and setting the lighting up accordingly. I also used a selection of filters and a photographic umbrella to act as a diffuser.
Like Weston I enjoyed arranging and re-arranging Betsy until I was satisfied that the lighting had captured her in the most simplistic way. I also wanted her to look natural and alive and tried really hard to capture all the tiny details by highlighting lines and shadows – something that Penn was so succesful at. Rather than be in danger of having 8 photographs of a mannequin head, I also tried to be creative with the use of different props to add interest as well as fulfil the brief of shape, form, texture and colour.
This quality is all about the outline of the subject, so I knew that I wanted to capture a side view of Betsy’s face outlining her profile but retaining enough detail to make it more than just a dark silhouette. In his Book, Photographic Study P.56 (Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen) Weston has taken a portrait of a woman titled Lois Kellog 1923 (unable to source copy online). In the portrait the woman has turned her head to one side for Weston to capture her side profile but he has also captured the beautiful contours and shapes of her neck. Betsy doesn’t have much in the way of form from the chin down, so I decided to create more interest with the use of a black hat. As the background was also black, I needed to create a contrast to make the outline of the hat stand out in the image. To achieve this I positioned the light to the side, raised it and pointed it down at a 45 degree angle to highlight the brim of the hat and face profile
I am undecided about which one of the above images I should use as my second shape image – so will be guided on the advice of my tutor (thanks in advance Keith!!)
Initially, I used this vivid blue scarf to introduce some interest for the colour element of the brief and was experimenting with lighting Betsy from the back through a white muslin backdrop. In the second image I also used a blue filter on the light to create a blue cast to the backdrop. In picture 1 the contrast of the scarf against the background is very vivid and the outline of the face very sharp. In picture 2 I moved slightly round in front of her face to capture a different outline of her face. By doing this many of the facial details have been lost to shadow except the soft curve of the cheekbone and shimmering glitter on the eyebrow yet she still looks very feminine and the outline of the scarf on her head reminds me of a religious Madonna – very mysterious, exotic even!
Form is about how 3D the subject looks and the challenge was how to use the light to emphasise volume and depth by optimising the use of shadows. The smooth plastic surface of Betsy’s skin is very unforgiving and many of the images I took of her looked exactly what she is – flat and plastic! So I set out to light her in a flattering way and make her look more life-like.
Irving Penn took a great image for Vogue of a Mannequin in a Bell Jar, New York, May 1992 (unable to source copy online),(Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson). The 3D effect of the mannequins features are amazing with soft light creating strong contrasting shadows of the nose, eyes and mouth. It was obvious from the reflection in the bell jar that the main light source was the natural light from the shop window and I tried to recreate this by using diffused side lighting that was enough to make the image look natural but which was bright and strong enough to create shadow and contrast of the nose. I also realised to achieve optimum volume it was important to position Betsy so that the line of her nose was against her furthest cheek and not the background of the image.
To make Betsy look more human I dressed her up for this image and used a brick wall backdrop. To get a 3D effect I knew I had to create some shadow on the wall behind her so this time used a stronger light by placing one directly in front of her. To capture the shadow in the image I had to move and take the shot from a different perspective, achieved by standing in an elevated position, at the side and looking downwards.
The only part of Betsy that has any real texture is her hair! I really liked Edward Weston’s image of Guadalupe Marin de Riveria, 1923, P.55 (Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen). Not a particularly flattering snapshot of the lady but the way the light highlights the coarse texture of her hair is really something special.
Guadalupe Marin de Riviera, 1923. Copyright Edward Weston.
I recreated this with Betsy by facing her towards a natural source of light – mainly to add interest to the mirrored sunglasses (added just for fun!) I then used a direct light slightly above and behind her head to highlight the individual strands of hair.
The second texture image is the only one where I have captured Betsy from the front. I wanted to highlight the coarse texture of the floppy raffia sun hat and the fluid contours of its shape. This was best achieved by using a black background to create a contrast and using a light positioned directly overhead and pointing down so the light filtered through the woven texture of the hat.
In certain light Betsy’s hair is a vivid chestnut colour and tones with the orange-red of her lips. These were the two features I wanted to accentuate for colour and took inspiration from Irving Penn’s picture Summer Sleep (Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson) for the sleeping position.
Summer Sleep, editorial photograph for Vogue, New York, March 18, 1949. Copyright Irving Penn
As Betsy couldn’t close her eyes I used the mask to enhance the feeling of sleep and because we cannot see her eyes the colour of her hair and lips appears more vibrant to the viewer. For this image I positioned the lighting to the side of the subject at the same height.
For me the final image was a chance to get really creative with the use of colour and an even stronger opportunity to make Betsy appear real and lifelike. Again I took inspiration from Irving Penn, loving his image for Vogue, Vegetable Face Beauty Treatment. (Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson).
Vegetable Face Beauty Treatment, editorial photograph for Vogue, New York, November 6, 1995. Copyright Irving Penn
Re-creating the beauty treatment with Betsy was quite a challenge – photographing her directly from above with the fruit on her face resulted in something freaky from fright night! So I knew I had to find a more flattering angle that would enable her to remain the main subject within the frame but at the same time capture the vibrant colours and detail of the juicy flesh of the fruit. I must have spent 90 minutes arranging and re-arranging Betsy and her fruit mask along with the lighting until I achieve this image. She reminds me of how I feel when relaxing outdoors with my face to the sun or having the ultimate female luxury pamper of an expensive facial – so I am happy with this result and think the red strawberry and green cucumber do a lot to enhance her beauty!
Penn, I. 2001. Still Life. London. Thames & Hudson
Weston, E. 1999. Edward Weston (Photographic Study). London. Taschen
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
Without repeating what I have written in the last few self-assessments, I really feel that I am growing academically with new ideas and increasing my skills as a photographer. This particular assignment has made me realise that I do have a certain control over my final images – much like an artist and their paintings, and I can create the effects I want by simply manipulating the light. These exercises and indeed the assignment have made me really think about how I want my final image to look and I have spent a lot more time planning each shot rather than shooting first and asking questions later!
Quality of Outcome
Throughout this assignment, my main objective other than using lighting techniques was to make Betsy look as real as possible. She certainly had the ability to scare the living daylights out of my family when walking into a room and seeing her head on a table!! I did take lots and lots of shots of her and by the end instinctively knew which angles were more flattering and worked best. Therefore it didn’t take too long to select the final 8 images and think they rather do her justice in the mannequin world!
Demonstration of Creativity
I have surprised myself with how much I actually enjoyed the still life aspect of this assignment as I normally favour going out to find real situations / subjects. Once started, I relished the free rein of creativity and freedom that I had with Betsy to do what ever I liked. It was quite satisfying not having to rely upon the subject to pose nicely or wait for the sun to come out for better light. I was amazed at how much time I spent, completely absorbed in the enjoyment of experimenting. Still life is something that I will definitely come back to for another project in the future.
At the beginning of this course, I hadn’t realised how important the research, reading and writing about other practitioners was. I remember saying to somebody “aarggh all this blogging – I just want to take photos!!” Now I cant wait to get my hands on the work of photographers that my tutor recommends. I now get a lot of enjoyment looking at the work of great masters and applying the knowledge I have to their pictures, there is so much that can be learnt from them technically as well as for inspiration.