This was a shoot that I really don’t normally do. Almost all of the people that I photograph I would qualify as normal-ish but in some way exceptional. My subjects tend to live their lives based on what they know/skills or their talents rather than their image. Scientists, artists, maybe the occasional athlete, business people. They are not necessarily uncomfortable hanging out with me and being in front of my lens it’s just that they don’t do that sort of thing very often. Their experience could be a bit off if not handled well on my end. It’s important for me to make them comfortable with me and my goal is to make an image that speaks truly about them as a person while being interesting enough for the average person to want to learn more. “Who is this fellow? … Huh, particle physicist, … facinating” That sort of thing.
I know from years of experience that asking my subjects to do funny things or to take any sort of direction the way that you would expect to do with say a professional model just isn’t going to work. They don’t know how to interpret my even simple directions such as “turn you shoulder more to me and lift up your chin a bit” will be wildly exaggerated and require me to walk over and physically pose them like a human Gumby Doll. Again making them feel awkward. So, yeah I don’t do that sort of thing very often.
Then I got this assignment and I knew that it would happily be the opposite of my usual procedure. Shinesty makes outrageous clothes for outrageous people. Therefor I knew that their president and founder Chris White would be up for whatever I came up with. When a subject asks me “what do you want me to wear” and I think that they have a good sense of humor I will reply “Do you have a chicken suit? Ha-ha-ha! Right, just wear what you want” But with Chris I said, go get stupid. He knew what to do.
I got to work: there was a huge American Flag in the waiting room and a crappy couch. I moved some things around and boom! There was my frat house scene, perfect for Chris and his ensemble. The lighting had to be as unsubtle as Chris and Shinesty are so my main light was my 5 foot soft silver parabolic umbrella placed directly behind the camera.
That’s it Chris, more sleeze … more sleeze, make your grandma embarrassed. Perfect!
My wife and I don’t quite belong in this era. She loves
vintage fashion and often gets lost in the costumes of period movies. While we
are watching a film like Gosford Park,
that takes place in 1932, I can hear her thinking “Oooo! I want that dress and
that one and wow I love that hat!”. As for me I love to tell people that “I’m
totally 80’s … like 1480’s!” meaning that I love to explore and if I were
living in those times I’d be on a ship or land expedition trying to find out
what’s “over there”.
Meanwhile back at the ranch … the editor wanted to do a
piece on the resurgence of vintage clothing. Lots of places are selling
expensive remakes of classic looks but her idea was that we would do actual
pieces from a great local vintage shop. Their store is broken up by decade: 30’s
over here, 50’s over there … of course my wife fell in love with the joint. I
decided that it would be cool to shoot the outfits in a manner that was similar
to how they did fashion in each era that the clothes were from. This is tough
as there were dozens of great photographers from each era along with some whose
work, like say Penn or Avedon, spanned many decades. Still there were common
visual themes to each. I spent quite a bit of time sitting on the couch with
the wife researching this and of course she kept saying “Ooo … now THAT’S a
skirt!” Consequently I now know more about historic fashion photography than I
ever thought that I would. It was interesting to see how the technology of the
day changed both what the photographers could do and how they worked with their
new toys. Complicated lighting of outdoor subjects just wasn’t possible before
modern powerful strobes so the location fashion shoots before the 50’s was
natural light. Even into the 60’s they didn’t light the heck out of things –
that came in the 70’s and especially the 80’s. The color palette was also
different as film stocks changed.
So my idea was to make each shot a kind of homage to how
things were photographed then and that meant a bit of post processing as well. We
were doing 40s-80s and all of that was done of film and the early years were
done on large format. So I ended up putting each image into a film frame and
processing the image to match the era. This was pretty fun project.
40's. Totally ambient light not even a reflector. We got lucky with the lighting here even though I had lots of strobes and reflectors and such just in case.
50's Two lights here. I put my 60" shoot through umbrella way up at the ceiling of the studio to act as a base light for our model and the gray seamless while a small softbox is high and pointed down at camera right. I'm on a ladder above her while my assistant is holding a subtractive card just out of the frame at camera left.
60's. We went with "mod" not hippy 60's as per my request. I wanted that bright look that they used then. Again two lights. A strobe with a 40 degree grid very high at the background to produce the gradation and a medium softbox at camera right.
70's. I wanted the whole over warm with sun streak "Foster Grant" thing here. Getting the sun to splash over her was tough since I didn't want to make it too pronounced. Ambient with a reflector. There were guys playing frisbee just out of the view of the camera here and they certainly gave us the "Wha-tha?"
80's I wanted to allude to the self absorbed aspect of that decade as well as the self destructiveness. When I was getting the mirrors for the shoot the lady at the craft store asked me if I wanted them in bubble wrap to keep them safe. "Oh no," I said "I'm going to smash them in a few minutes anyway". Ha! One light here a medium softbox at camera left and a reflector at camera right.