In Praise Of The Mundane BodyscapeSaturday, August 13, 2011
Patterns can only be noticed with the passing of time. This I have particularly discovered in our garden. After quite a few years I know which roses, hostas and other plants are the true performers and which plants are difficult and destined to die.
Computers are also able to discern patterns, and usually because they are used for the business of profit, these noted patterns are called trends. Computers are also used by particle physicists to predict through computer statistical analysis the possibility of finding and until now fleeting subatomic particle.
In photography it is important to be meticulous (keep to the same pattern) with one’s approach. A meticulous approach will produce expected results. Of course these expected results can end up being a boring repetition of the same thing. But because of the meticulous methodology (using the same developer, loading the camera in the same way) in conjunction of the almost sure inevitable failure to not do things in the exact way, results can be unexpected and many times most wonderful. By tracking back through one’s procedures one is usually able to finger the “mistake” that produced the exciting new picture. Just about everybody now knows that Robert Capa’s famous blurry photograph of the D-Day landing was the result of a photo technician’s failure in properly processing Capa’s roll of film.
In the 60s it was fashionable to use Tri-X film in a way it was not intended. The nominally 400 ISO speed film was exposed at over 3000 ISO and then processed in very strong Kodak Dektol (a developer usually used for processing b+w paper) and stirred and shaken, un-Bond-like during the whole operation.
My endorsement of this plodding approach to photography comes from having noted patterns. These patterns I have seen simply because I have been at photography since around 1960.
One of these patterns is the usual progression on how a photographer approaches the nude. Some photographers get as far as the, “Gee whiz, have you noticed how the undraped human body (particularly when you crop out the face) resembles sand dunes in the Sahara or in Death Valley?”
About 20 years ago I caught myself disparaging the work of other photographers who had on display in local galleries their versions of bodyscapes that looked like sand dunes. I felt an in some cases I was rude enough to blurt out, “I have been there, I have done that. Can you not come up with a more interesting concept?”
Looking back I feel very sorry for this and for some of the people I may have offended and perhaps momentarily ruined their expectations toward nude figure photography.
Bodyscapes teach the photographer on a personal approach to cropping the human body that must still satisfy a universal law of design on what is correct and what is not.
The bodyscape teaches the photographer the use of different lenses (I would never recommend the zoom lens for this) so that one can figure out how perspective is affected by a lens choice. Few photographers have ever achieved the level of skill of wide angle lens figure photographer of Hamburg born, English photographer Bill Brandt (1904-1983).
The bodyscape teaches the photographer how to be comfortable in the presence of a nude body and more important it teaches the photographer how to deal professionally with the nude subject.
The body scape is the final transition from the nude photograph as a shape to that (and much more difficult) of the human body and being part of a person. If anybody asked me to define my nude photography I would call it “contemporary portrait nude” photography.
It is my long photographic involvement with Tarren (see yesterday’s blog) where I learned how to properly take bodyscapes. Besides having a perfect body and an easy way attitude in front of my camera, I soon found out that the best tool was the boom.
When I suspended the light, overhead and parallel to the floor the light tended to hug the body and cast an interesting but pleasant shadow. I cannot show here a phenomenon, quite common with this type of lighting in how it tended to enhance my subject’s nipples!
I took the pictures of Tarren that you see here with a Mamiya RB-Pro-S and mostly with the extremely sharp 140mm macro, floating element lens. In the Mamiya’s 6x6cm format the 140mm lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens on a 35mm film camera or in that of a full-frame sensor DSLR. My film was Ilford FP-4 in 220 size. The effect you see here I achieve by misinforming my scanner that what it is scanning is not a b+w negative but a colour one. The scanner artificially adds an orange mask that in certain instances I can almost make the colour of real skin. There are some pictures here for which I have inserted two versions. One of them is the rather attractive (dark and almost flat) one and another with a bit more luminosity. Scanning these wonderful negatives of Tarren at 50(!) is no different from being in the darkroom until the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. It was W. Eugene Smith who said, “For an enjoyable time in the darkroom one needs a good negative, good music and a bottle of good scotch. For me I prefer silence, no booze and I am content with that perfect negative of Tarren.
And one word of caution, the moment that you incorporate objects (and in my case plants) with your subject I have found that it rarely works. To begin with I cannot justify the action. What does a beautiful body have in common with the two beautiful leaves of Hosta 'Halcyon'? Besides the beauty I see none.