Style ObservedSunday, November 26, 2017
|Olena Kuzyk, Marina Hasselberg & the 1989 photograph of Karen Campbell|
There is the story of the scientist in scuba gear who talks to a smart fish and tells it that it is surrounded by a colourless and wet substance called water. The fish, smart enough to talk answers, “You are full of sh…”
I feel like that scientist, now that I am an obsolete –redundant & retired magazine photographer.
A lot of the photography that I see these days to me is conventional, banal and boring. It is free of any identifiable style. I am tired of seeing sunsets and night-time city scapes.
Those who indulge in the narcissist selfies of this century do not seem to be aware that most smart phones will act as wide angle lenses so their pictures will look distorted with bigger noses, broader brows and fatter faces.
Because I am an old man of that other century, I long to find a photographer with the style of Avedon, Penn or Newton. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong places, I cannot find any who replaced them.
I have written here before that if Cartier-Bresson would come forward in time to Vancouver, within a week he would be applying for employment insurance. Street photography of the mostly boring kind is now king. Perhaps it is so because of that saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
Around 1988 I became obsessed with the photography of George Hurrell. This was the glamour photography of film stars in the 40s and 50s. I purchased focusing spotlights and took advantage of the fact that films were being produced in Vancouver. I purchased metal stamped gobos (go betweens) at William F. White and started projecting them behind my subjects in my studio.
Vancouver Magazine Art Director Rick Staehling who is a man with a precise sense of style opted for simpler setups. He told me that studio flash shrouded by a soft box was a better item. I told him (what did I know?) that it was virtually impossible to impose a personal style on such portraits. He objected.
I experimented with the softbox. This was an item that many of my contemporaries used well. But what they did was not to my taste. They used very big softboxes (some 6 ft wide) and pulled them back. The results were evenly lit people with virtually no shadows on their face.
A few of us then knew that the biggest problem with the photograph was that it recorded a three-dimension reality in two. We also knew that shadows suggested curvature and in turn curvature indicated depth and that third dimension.
To achieve this in my portraits I used a one and three quarters by a one and a half soft box. I also used these so close that they would be in my frame and I would be forced to swing my camera out.
The middle grey wall of my studio became a shade that I could control by simply moving my subject close or far (black).
For a long time my portraits were identifiable as mine because of the darker shades on the side of the face that was away from my light. They were identifiable, too because I featured hands. In most cases my lens was exactly at eye level so my subject was neither diminished (if my cameras were above) of maximized to be powerful by shooting from below.
The central picture of cellist Marina Hasselberg might not have created any stir 20 years ago. But I believe that since few now use lighting or the lighting of a softbox the photograph is unusual.
At one time I would have used a secondary light on Hasselberg. It would have been a hair light. But it would seem that we are more into honesty and less into glamour. Without a need of a hair light I can still separate Hasselberg from her background by carefully positioning at a particular distance from the wall. The light fall-off from my softbox makes the gray wall light enough for that separation.
There was one big surprise in the Hasselberg photograph. I used my brand-new Fuji X-E3. In the factory the camera was set to shoot HD sized and shape of a wide screen TV. To my initial horror (diminished once I liked the shape) all the pictures were narrow and long!
The photograph of Olena Kuzyk is a retro attempt to my 1980s roots. I projected the venetian blinds gobo but took the photograph with my dedicated (it is no longer a phone) iPhone3G. The cyanotype look I achieved in Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X2 Photo Effects-Time Machine – Cyanotype. Because there is no connection possible between my studio flash and the 3G I use the quartz modeling light of my softbox. The phone (no longer one!) was also able to record the projection of the venetian blinds.
The photograph of Karen Campbell was a complicated one. I had a circular spotlight on a boom shooting down to get the shadow under her nose. Another small light fitted with a grid spot was at eye level to shine catchlights on her eyes. A third light was the hair light you can observe on the right side. The fourth light was a powerful focusing Leko spotlight in which I placed the cloud gobo you see here.