Taking The Plunge & HandsWednesday, October 13, 2010
Sometime in 1960 I had become a fan of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. There was one album I had not been able to get in Austin before I left for my summer vacation in Mexico City. I had ordered it but it had not arrived. I do not know or remember the details except that an upperclassman at St. Ed’s where I was going to school, offered to pick it up at the record shop and bring it to Mexico City where he also lived. Somehow he was coming home later than I was. His name was Milton Hernandez and even then I thought it funny that a Mexican young man was named after a British poet and lived in a street called after the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. It was there that in haste I took a bus (I remember the line was Mariscal Sucre) and I soon had in my hands The Dave Brubeck Quartet –Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. Of all the records and CDs I own this one has to be one of my favourites.
I brought the record home and listened to it. It was pure excitement. It was the excitement of listening to something for the first time. It was just a couple of years later that I had the same experience when I heard Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba. The sound of both albums, heard for the first time was like electricity going through my body.
Amazingly even today I get that thrill when I play both these albums (the records have long worn out so I have replacement CDs).
All this is but an overture to the theme of this blog which is all about the excitement of things first experienced. Yesterday I taught an evening class at Focal Point, a local photography school. The course is called The Contemporary Portrait Nude. This was the second class which was an all shooting in the studio class. It followed the first one which was all lecture. The course follows this plan alternately.
The studio has no windows and few props. In my studio I had windows, a couch and several types of chairs and fabrics. There is nothing more liable to cause little inspiration than the idea of a wall (or backdrop) a subject, your camera, a light or lights and you. This is a formula almost guaranteed for failure unless you realize it before you begin and plan accordingly.
But I cannot forget that for most of my students (6 of them) this will be a first time experience in the photography of a nude human body. They will be nervous as they approach the unknown.
I tell my students that just like there are two methods for entering a cold swimming pool (an instant plunge or a torturous dip of the feet and a little by little easing into the water) one can approach the nude figure in the same way.
Within rules (I give my students and models something called The Model Protocol) one way is to tell the model to take it all off right then and there. The rules I point out is that the model must change in a changing room or screen. Good photographers will ask their models to bring house coats. This means that the model (if the house coat is put on upon arriving) will have few underwear marks once the coat is off. You don’t tell the model to disrobe from her street clothes. It just doesn’t seem right unless…
You go for the little by little approach. I tell my students to take several pictures as the model disrobes little by little and to then make a five picture narrative for the next class. This method gives my students a smaller jolt in facing their first nude!
But I also tell my students that as the model removes clothes they must study the model’s body strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to hide the latter and promote the former. We use lighting and posing skills for this. One of the toughest of all posing skills is what to do with hands.
So I yesterday began with the hand. The hand can make or break a good portrait, be it clothed or unclothed. As an example I display here three photographs (all three are shown exactly as I took them) of one of the best models (and most beautiful) I ever photographed. Her name was L. These three pictures are from our first session in 1995. This was a shoot of discovery and wonder, much like that Jazz Samba. We went on to many more sessions including this most satisfying one in a black Celica.
Hands are most important and I hope my students realize this early on as they go from hands to other parts of the body, without ever forgetting than even when you crop out a model’s face you can never forget their humanity.