Dirty Laundry #2: Photo Process

PART ONE

Monday

Yesterday I set out with the best intentions of taking the second set of photos. I had a basic concept, a location, a time and place to pick up my lenses from my friend, a girl willing to let me borrow her lights, a friend to help, a bunny (or so I thought), had bought a mask and was feeling pretty good about things.

I got to my friend’s house to work on some giant paper mache masks and was happily working away when I noticed dusk was coming. I’d hoped to shoot just at that time when there’s not enough ambient light to light things on the ground properly but the sky is deepening to a dark blue and artificial lights just seem like useless yellow balls.

Now, my friend lives in an apartment building with 6 apartments and a seemingly endless array of creative types coming and going at all times of day. The first day I was there, there was a carpenter working in the basement while we worked on the lion heads in the garden and about 10 people climbed up or down the fire escape, in and out of the windows, waved, chatted, got stoned and generally communed. The second time I was there, a whole new set of individuals appeared and disappeared, I discovered the bunny, and N and I stumbled across a micro party on the roof.

This day no such luck. It was rainy and grey and there was nearly no one around. N and I had been convinced that finding a dude to take take his shirt off for the purposes of my picture would be no problem at all. But at it approached half six and the light faded not only did i not see any men but the bunny was gone too. I was feeling nervous- not only about the lack of subject but the idea that I would have to work with N to shoot this, a stranger for a model, hunt down the bunny, and that I had forgotten my 200mm lens. Maybe this wasn’t the day.

I decided to take a hint and leave it for another day.

On the train home I took some time to reflect on my reservations and I decided (1) that from now on I need to only work with “models” dedicated to the process. They don’t have to be real models or even an actor again (though that was really useful and I will definitely try to do that again) but they have to be there for me. (2) I might have to work alone. This project is something new for me and I am in fact really sensitive when I’m in the testing faze of something and I think that for me to really realize these first few photo series I need to do so without any influence (intended or imagined) from the outside. (3) I need lights. Now, up until this project photography had really been an observational exercise for me. I carried around my camera and when I spotted something cool I took a picture. Last year I did a portrait project but even then I was just keeping my eye out for good models and right then and there asking to take their photo (about half agreed ). I’m not sure why I had never ventured to “make” a photograph – especially since I’ve made a small number of short films – but I just hadn’t and while brainstorming these photographs it’s become abundantly that I need more kit. I need lights. Lights make photography/cinematography and while I have known that for a long time I’m suddenly feeling it on a new level. This is slightly embarrassing to admit but also VERY exciting. I feel EXCITED. But I definitely feel ill equipped. All this makes my head swim with considerations like money and storage space but mostly I feel my deep seated inability to commit to New York or even the US bridle at the thought of acquiring more kit. But such anxieties are useless, and fundamentally I’m understanding more and more that if I want to progress in my work I need to stay put for a bit and direct my energy in a more focused manner.

Point being, I’m growing. I can feel that I’m growing in the creative part of my brain and that is amazing. I’m really excited about this project and I think the scale of it is just right for development on my part…. but enough of my highly personal reflections, back to sitting on the train concocting my next shoot…

I decided that I would ask my friend J to model. He’s tall, attractive (in my opinion), has an array of interesting tattoos, generally very amenable to my strange ideas and has been on a variety of adventures with me already- Four Hours in Philly being just one example. I’ll keep the mask, abandon the bunny, find a new roof, and if I can pin down J, and a time to see him I’ll do my best to light the scene with a little work light (with a large bulb) and some bounce. I’m thinking of involving a second person/model but I’m not sure yet. I think I’ll see how the roof shoot goes and then decide whether to incorporate another time/place/person.

I’m very excited hopefully J with get back to me and the rain will continue. I think the rain would be good for this one…

PART TWO

Thursday

Today I shot J. It was really hard actually. I had dreamed up a scenario- J trapped out on a roof with a crazy mask and only an umbrella to make himself decent- but I was already worried that the idea wasn’t dense enough and then with no rain and no roof I started to really worry. After hanging out for a while on J’s stoop waiting to hear back about a possible roof I decided we should just see what we could do with the back yard. It was a stinky overgrown mess of weeds which looked pretty interesting and there was an odd pink shed. Not knowing what else to do I just went for it.

We worked outside the shed, inside the shed and through the window. I felt like I couldn’t quite settle into a good wide- I think i need a wider lens- and the sunlight was really hazy making everything look flat. Looking back at the pictures I realized that I could have utilized the natural light better by shooting from the inside more- the one wide shot of J is from that side and there’s a nice highlight along his shoulder.

I missed having lights to work with and I definitely felt the need for a full frame camera so that I could get the full width of my lenses. I found myself directing J a bit more as he’s not really a performer and there was less to work with in terms of props. After a while I felt I had run out of ideas and it was time to wrap up. Once home I picked about 15 and started narrowing it down from there. This time finding a triptych was harder- I had fewer close ups- in fact I think I might have had fewer pics in general. While there were a few medium shots that I liked I didn’t think it made sense to use them together as it felt too repetitious. Tested out a few different pics before landing on the three for the site.

I’m a little concerned that the pictures are too freaky. I’m not even sure what I mean by this-  the mask is definitely freaky. When I tested out the pictures on my sister and her BF he said that the first picture was kinda horror-ish which actually made me feel better. I want the photographs to be moving but because they look interesting and dramatic not just perverse. There’s definitely a dark theme emerging which I think is probably a symptom of me wanting to use quite dramatic lighting…. I’ll be interested to see what Viccy does with it.

see photographs and stories at cargocollective.com/dirtylaundry