The Genesis Of A Coptic Virgin MaryTuesday, June 05, 2012
|The Coptic Virgin Mary - Original (cropped) |
Ektachrome 100G Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD 140mm lens
Obviously if you are reading this you know that I post a blog every day and that I have done this since January 2006. Since I do not allow for comments in my blog I have no idea how many people out there are real fans, if any. Blogger stats inform me that I have an average page view count of 450,000 per month. I take that with a miniscule grain of salt as I believe that many of those views are random Google image searches.
|Polaroid peel scanned as is|
Because I use facebook (notice that it should not be capitalized but under-capitalized) to post daily links to my blog I do get some “I likes” and on rare occasions even comments.
|Lightened with scanner settings|
Epson Perfection V700 Photo
It is very difficult to navigate through 2407 (my last count) individual blogs. Blogger’s archive is hard to follow and I do not have an orderly classification of my blogs by themes. One way that I partially circumvent this is by also posting on facebook blogs from the past.
I am not a bad photographer; in fact my photographs are probably a tad better than most of the facebook posters’ Instagrams. The paradox is that just a day ago I received quite a few comments on picture that appeared in facebook that was linked to my blog. This is the link.
|Darkened and "spots" removed with Photoshop|
In my photography I have always placed importance on a correct exposure, extreme sharpness, a fairly good composition and simple lighting. And yet the picture, entitled The Coptic Virgin Mary caused comments while it lacked all the above qualities that I treasure.
|Cleaned up further with Photoshop|
A photographer like a good cook has to have a personal cook book, a sort of recipe book for all situations. A cook, particularly home cooks have to be ready, at the last moment to rustle up quickly a vegan dish for a group of invited guests who did not inform you of the needs of one of them. There can be no excuses and you simply find something to serve. It is the same for photographers. Wedding photographers must have the skills of baby photographers who must have the skills of those who photograph difficult people and at the same time you must know how to do landscapes, sewing machines and if really pressed some pseudo-pornography. In short the photographer has to adapt to all situations and must never have the excuse of the perennial fisherman’s big fish (this big) that got away. As a photographer you have to produce an image with no excuses.
|Clarified and sharpened with Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2|
This further means that if your pictures are conventional and done in good taste you must have a hint of edgy stuff in your recipe book. If your pictures have high production values you must be able to demonstrate fly-on-the-wall & from-the-hip shots, too.
|Red added and constrast modified with Photoshop|
The Coptic Virgin Mary began as a project in which I photographed one of my favourite models ever, Pam Benhke, with the help of my Argentine artist friends Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich (they were married at the time). At their home they had all kinds of stuff (which you see in the picture here). Nora Patrich also had the ability to do anything I would ask. “Can you do Egyptian makeup?” “Si!” The Coptic Virgin Mary was one of a few I did for a series of ethnic Virgins which Juan Manuel Sánchez and I called Santa Conchitas (I will not explain here the vaguely obscene Argentine double entendre). Because Pam Behnke had been born minus an arm (and one leg shorter than the other) she had a body shape that mimicked (in all its beauty) the body of Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton (previously known in his reign as Amenhotep IV). Akhenaton believed in the existence of only one god (the sun Aten) so I came up with the idea of an Egyptian Virgin Mary. It helped (but alas you will have to look carefully) that Pam Behnke had a snake tattoo below and right of her belly button. If you notice that in the pictures the tattoo is on the other side, the reason is that the scan of the Polaroid negative peel is a reverse image.
|Shadow/highlight and levels settings with Photoshop|
The original image in Ektachrome 100G is glorious but I cannot show here sharp full-frontal nudity because of my own personal ideas of what my blog is. I also took some versions in b+w film. I took them all with a Mamiya RB-67 Pro-SD and a 140mm lens. I lit the picture with a 2x3 ft softbox with a Dynalite flash and I kept my shutter open for 15 seconds so that the candle flames would register.
|Candle flames lightened with Photoshop|
To test the candle flame exposure I used Polaroid Instant Colour Print film which I loaded on to a Polaroid back that I mated to the Mamiya.
Fuji makes instant film and Polaroid has gone bankrupt. Although the Impossible Project has brought many of the Polaroid films back, the instant colour pack film for medium format and large format cameras is gone. There is one very big difference between the Fuji instant print film and the Polaroid. The difference crucial to what I used to do is that the image that appeared on peel (the back of the instant print) was and is permanent in the Polaroid while in the Fuji the image quickly disappears and it cannot be scanned well. I have tried to peel the print and instantly attach it to my scanner but the results are marginal. What you see here is a lost technique.
I will place the results from the raw first one to the final image that is all “fixed up”. I have installed in my computer the 2003 version of Photoshop called Version 8 but also called the first Photoshop CS. I used a clever feature from my Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 called clarify that enables me to sharpen and pump up the clarity of the image through contrast control.
|Clarified again with Corel and a tad more contrast with Photoshop|
Going through this exercise reminded me that the result is a perfect blend of old school photography, “new-old”, and some of the latest in digital. That peel 20 years ago would have been instantly thrown into a garbage can. Now I would kill (or die) for just a pack of the wonderful Polaroid Instant Film (100 IS0) with its never fading peel. While you might be able to imitate in some ways the result with a digital camera and Photoshop, I like the simplicity (is it that simple?) of the old way. That a few were willing to positively comment on the image tells you that progress is sometimes overrated.