From the archive: Adam of Massive Wagons

Adam Thistlethwaite of Massive Wagons

Adam Thistlethwaite of Massive Wagons

I’m going to start posting some pictures from my archives. Partly this is to keep the blog ticking over, but mostly its because I’ve realised that I have a tonne of images out there that I never really shared with the world, and I want to do so.

I loved this shoot with Massive Wagons. Not just because of the Last Supper group shot (which I’ll come back to another time; it’s an old favourite), nor because they’re a great bunch of guys (they are). I loved it because I experimented more than usual. The lighting scheme here was pretty much inspired by Rankin; My assistant Ben held the light – a Bowens monobloc with an umbrella reflector – no more than maybe a meter away from Adam, and moved it around as directed by me. And so we ended up at this shot, of which I’m quite fond.

Searching for my inner crazy

Alice Bol, shot at Velocity Studios, 2012

Alice Bol, shot at Velocity Studios, 2012

Greetings from the arid Mancunian* desert of the Pennine foothills. The sun is scorching, the sky is blue.

I’m still recovering from the weekend (I’d planned to write this on Sunday night, but was completely wiped by then). This weekend I shot the first subjects for my subject|object project. More on that over there when I relaunch the project website.

Shooting a project that from my point of view is art-for-art’s sake has given risen to an interesting thought, which refuses to go away, and it’s this:

There’s not a whole lot of craziness in my work.

I’m a technically proficient photographer. I spent most of the first year after becoming serious about photography learning techniques and gear – all the technical odds and ends that might be useful to me. I learned about composition and lines. I know how to light; I understand the inverse square law instinctively; I can decompose the lighting from other folks’ pictures.

But I don’t experiment in the way that I should, or at least not nearly as often as I should. Most of the ideas in my head are very clear and clean and well-lit and – for want of a better word – glossy. I’d love to do something grittier and less perfect, something that feels lived in.

Actually, that’s not a bad mission: I want to make art that feels lived-in, and like I’ve had to really live it to make it.

* For today at least. Tomorrow – when this post is scheduled to drop – there are thunderstorms scheduled.
Though not well enough, in my opinion; it still frustrates me how easily I forget about the importance of making an image come together compositionally.

From the archive: Zach Hing

Zach Hing-2

I’m going to start posting some pictures from my archives. Partly this is to keep the blog ticking over, but mostly its because I’ve realised that I have a tonne of images out there that I never really shared with the world, and I want to do so.

Zach and I found each other through a Craigslist ad I’d put up whilst in the Bay Area* on business. Something like “Travelling photographer for hire. Reasonable rates.” I’d hoped to find a musician or band that needed some promotional images. And lo, Zach was it.

I was based in downtown Oakland on that trip, so that’s where we worked. This frame was shot against some kind of rolling shutter door near the waterfront. I love the texture of the metal and the contrast of the light. My one regret is not shooting some images of Zach that were closer to full-length portraits, but you live and learn.

*It’s wonderful to me that “Bay Area” is used to describe the home range of the residents of both San Francisco and Morecambe. One of these places is not like the other.

All under one roof

On the street, Soho, London, September 2013

On the street, Soho, London, September 2013

Greetings from the Northern Damplands (still working on that codename thing; Manchester isn’t exactly in the wetlands, but it’s sure as hell not dry, either).

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where I am on the internet. Generally my web profile is scattered about the place in odds and ends; fragmentary glimpses of me on some platforms, full-on mirrors of my life on others.

Which social media platforms are relevant to me anymore? Facebook is dead to me, has been for years, and I don’t miss it. Google+ is likely moribund at best; the only thing that influences its longevity is whether or not they keep the thing on life support for a while. Twitter is mostly read-only for me but is still decent for broadcasting. Tumblr has become read-only too. I still occasionally re-blog stuff; even more occasionally I add things to my favourites in the belief that I’ll one day curate them and turn them into a sort of pin-board of inspiration for myself.

But I keep coming back to this: that this website is mine. I host it, maintain it, pay for the VM it runs on (and which I really should replace with something a bit more modern), keep WordPress locked down tight enough to mean that I don’t get viagra spam all over the show anymore. This is where I should be putting stuff, no? Shouldn’t this be the source from which I feed the other avatars I have out there in the digital world? Or is blogging so long-dead that really it’s just a case of me blowing air into this thing’s lungs until I completely forget about it?

From the Archives: Francis

Francis Lacoste, Copenhagen, 2012

Francis Lacoste, Copenhagen, 2012

I’m going to start posting some pictures from my archives. Partly this is to keep the blog ticking over, but mostly its because I’ve realised that I have a tonne of images out there that I never really shared with the world, and I want to do so.

Shot this towards the back end of 2012 in Copenhagen, where I was for a (then) work conference. Francis was my boss at the time, and had just finished writing an ebook in French on using sign language to communicate with your baby. He asked me to shoot the photos used to illustrate the book.

At the end of the session I decided I wanted to grab time with him to shoot a quick portrait. I love an image with strong contrasts, and this one – with a small umbrella right up next to his face – was exactly what I was after. I told him to look as serious as he could… I’m amazed we got this, though, because we were cracking up the whole time.

The thing I love the most about this shot is the lighting. I absolutely nailed this one, and that catchlight in his right (camera left) eye still makes me smile. Sometimes it’s the little technical things. For a while I wished I’d had a second light to add some separation, but now I look at it I enjoy the way he blends into the background. It lends him some mystery.

Get yer Wellies on: It’s festival season

The bespattered masses @ Kendal Calling 2014

The bespattered masses @ Kendal Calling 2014

Greetings from the fringes of the Northern Powerhouse (stealing a trick from Warren Ellis and Klint Finley there, having a codename for my homeland. I think it needs some finesse; it’s not personal enough. I’ll continue to work on it in future posts).

I live in Manchester, so “summer” basically means that the clouds are a bit brighter and the rain is warmer, and a real scorcher of a day will have old men looking at the blue sky and crowing “Aye, lad, we’ll pay for this.” It also means that it’s festival season.

The sun has got its sou’wester on and the crowds are digging out their wellies, trying to ignore the faint and fusty smell of dried dung-mud and incipient trench foot from last year’s festivities. Whether or not the rain will come is a bit of a gamble, of course — and in truth probably won’t make all that much difference to the hardened festival-goer. From a festival photographer’s point of view it’s guaranteed eyeballs on your work: people love to see the masses bespattered with mud and yet somehow managing to continue their revelling. Sun-drenched revellers just aren’t as much fun; perhaps it’s something to do with the British love of schadenfreude.

With some luck, and a bit of paperwork, I’ll be shooting at a festival this year. Details to be confirmed because I don’t want to jinx the gods that handle the press-pass process. But should it all work out I’ll be making sure that I’m armed with wellies, waterproofs, towels and plastic bags for my gear. And then I’ll have a damn good time whilst I work.

Because when you’re in a field, in the rain, covered in mud, and hearing some of your favourite bands… What’s not to enjoy in all that?

Miles Kane @ Kendal Calling 2014

Miles Kane @ Kendal Calling 2014

Recent Work: Fashion at #22Redbank

Victoria - Look 4-1

In any art, it’s important to remember to play. If you don’t play, you’re just working all the time, and that’s never good.

It had been a long time since I’d shot any fashion work. Sure, I’d shot something that almost approached fashion with Deja in Austin last October, but I hadn’t done a full-team shoot in quite a long time. So what are you to do in those situations? Put up a casting call and find a studio, of course!

The team fell into place almost immediately: my frequent partner-in-crime and most Scottish friend Lynn Docherty signed on as makeup artist for the day, and after a significant amount of searching I found the excellent Claudia Oliver of Falcieri Designs to act as sylist, providing outfits all of her own making for every single look.

Models would be slightly more difficult. I’d decided that I wanted to work with agency faces, which immediately limits the pool of available talent. There are several agencies in Manchester, so I reached out to one of the smaller ones and asked if they had any new faces available for testing. “Sure,” they said, and we agreed on a couple of models. And that should have been that. Turns out, things don’t always go smoothly in this kind of gig.

Meanwhile, after a lot of searching around (chuck a stone in Manchester and you’ll find a photo studio; you have to have quite a good aim to find one that’s properly fun to work in, though), I’d found the studio I wanted to work in: #22Redbank, an under-the-railway-arch studio and café-bar in the city’s Green Quarter. It’s a cool venue: the studio is downstairs, with a large infinity cove and several monoblocs (can’t remember the brand, but they took Bowens mods, so I was well set on that score). There’s a changing / makeup area too. There was even a long boom-arm. This too would eventually fall into the category of things that don’t always go smoothly.

The brief that I’d sent Claudia was fairly loose — I wanted it to be as much about her being able to bring her creativity into the studio as it was about me shooting whatever came into my head. I did throw out some ideas:

Anyway, things that are in my mind at the moment: Spring and summer; Bohemian / hippy looks;
Dresses — floaty and ethereal rather than figure hugging. Denim is also cool, and coming back.

The selection that she came back with was beautiful and hit everything that I’d been thinking (as you’ll see shortly). But of course, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work out.

Firstly, the models. About a week out from the shoot, when I called to confirm with the agency, I was told that oh, sorry, those two models are booked with someone else that day. Such things happen in this industry, so instead of getting angry, I just stepped into plan B: panic.

Now, it should be said that I don’t have a huge contact list of booking agents. I tend to book models on an ad-hoc basis, so I don’t cultivate those relationships as much as I probably ought. Nevertheless, I gave Nemesis Models a call — purely because their office was physically closest to where I was that day, and I could run my print book over to them if needs be.

Luckily, my cry of “help me make this shoot happen, please!” didn’t fall on deaf ears, and Nemesis booking agent Shaunna helped me find two excellent models: Cerys and Victoria. Without them (and Shaunna) I would have been scuppered, so I’m eternally grateful. Both Cerys and Victoria are talented, hard working, and great fun to be around, and I really hope to shoot with them again some time.

The boom arm, on the other hand, was fine until I came to rearrange the lighting scheme a bit. As I adjusted it it sheared right around the grip head with a sound like a rifle going off. Bits of shattered metal pinged off into dark recesses, and it was only pure luck that I managed to catch the remains of the arm and prevent the head smashing onto the studio floor.

I’m glad to say that that wasn’t my fault, just a weakness in the boom, and I was able to catch the light, so no harm done. Still, it was trouser-threatening for a moment — I couldn’t help thinking about what would have happened if one of my team had been under there.

But that out of the way, and with lights placed on good old-fashioned stands, we shot on, and made images that I’m pretty proud of.

Here’s a selection. You can see the rest on 500px.

Cerys - Look 1

Cerys - Look 2

Cerys - Look 3

Cerys - Look 4

Victoria - Look 1

Victoria - Look 2

Victoria - Look 4

Victoria - Look 5

Recent Work: Joe McCorriston — Press Kit Images

Joe McCorriston-1

I’ve met Joe McCorriston once before, at Katy Pickles’s album launch party back in 2013. I’d been peripherally aware of him since then, so when I found out that he was playing in Manchester, it seemed like the ideal time for a shoot together.

We had maybe an hour between my arriving at Apotheca, the venue where he was playing that night to him having to get ready to go on stage (or move a car; I can’t remember which). With that short an amount of time, I decided that the first thing that we’d do is take advantage of what little light there was left in the day. We set up in the window of the bar, and I let the light from the window wrap around him (image above).

Then, because it’s always worth trying something different, I threw a flash on him through a shoot-through umbrella. Same set-up, different light, different result. I only wish there hadn’t been that distracting blue thing in the background — maybe black and white would have worked better.

Joe McCorriston-2

Next up, I wanted to use one of the booths in the bar. I noticed that Joe had an interesting tattoo on his left forearm — “We find our own reasons to sing” — and so I positioned him with that facing the camera. Telling Joe to think about a song he was writing, or someone he was missing, and giving him an added prop of a drink (stolen from his support act for the tour) I shot a few frames, knowing I’d go black-and-white. Couldn’t use a light here because of space restrictions, so this is lit by what was available in the bar.

Joe McCorriston-3

Next, we moved to the downstairs bar. The dark red of the walls, coupled with the warm tungsten light from the wall fittings, made an ideal environment for playing around with gelled flash. I threw a couple of CTOs on a speed light and shot it through a shoot-through umbrella, then warmed up the white balance to give a nice orangey backlight and make the skin-tones closer to white than blue.

Joe McCorriston-4

Joe McCorriston-5

For our final setup, I found an interesting corner (outside the bar’s toilets, but we tried not to be there too long) and put Joe in it. I was thinking of Irving Penn’s work a bit, but the corner wasn’t really tight enough for me to try emulating that, so I settled for firing a speed light through a Honl grid to give a hard burst of light. One frame came out intense and direct, and another came out slightly contemplative and almost messianic.

Joe McCorriston-7

Joe McCorriston-8

And with that, we wrapped. An hour or less from start to finish, and everyone was happy. I didn’t get to see the gig, but I enjoyed every second of the shoot, and I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot Joe again.

Through Gritted Teeth (GoYA)

Augustines - Kendal Calling 2014-1

Every time one of my fellow photographers succeeds, with the exception of a small number of close friends, I have to grit my teeth as I congratulate them.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a sore loser. Well, not even a loser. What have I actually lost when someone else achieves something that I haven’t? “Nothing at all” is the answer; it’s not a zero-sum game.

And yet others’ success somehow leaves me feeling diminished, as though through their scaling of whatever peak they’ve somehow closed the way behind them.

As arguments go it is, as a friend of mine would say, bobbins.

So what’s to be done? How does one pull one’s socks up and get on with it when you’re hurting from watching others triumph where you have remained static, through ineptitude or inaction or sheer bad luck?

And actually, as I write this out — it always helps to write things down; I don’t know what I’m thinking until I do, much of the time — I realise something:

It’s never watching someone succeed where I failed that hurts.

It’s watching them succeed where I didn’t give it a shot at all.

And there’s the answer, my friends. The only way to stop the pain of watching others’ careers flourish and bloom where yours is remaining static is to get off your arse and Do. The. Work.

Announcing the subject|object project

 

subject|object business

 New and Interesting Times Ahead

So, as I said in my post yesterday, today I’m announcing a new fine-art photo project: subject | object. I’m announcing it before I’ve shot a single frame for it — before I’ve even got a studio booked to start work on it, because the project needs your help.

I’ve long been interested in the subjects of objectification and sexualisation in our society. I identify as a feminist, and that means that when I come to make art that involves women I start to wonder about my motivations — is my framing, or subject, or concept motivated by a desire to make art, or by the male gaze? Am I in fact making nothing that is new, just something that is conventionally beautiful? Am I — and this is the worst one for me — actually any better than those guys with cameras?

Doing some research on this whole topic made me realise that I actually have quite a lot that I want to say about objectification, sexualisation, the nude in art and modern society. And so the idea of subject | object was born.

Here’s what it boils down to:

The subject|object Project Manifesto

We objectify. Judge on appearance, on styles of dress or speech. On the way that someone’s hair is done or the size of their breasts. On the cut of their suit or the aftershave they wear.

We are all people, yet we do not see each other: just objects moving through our space.

subject|object is a photographic art project that aims to explore our perception of people, and the way we objectify those we’ve never even met.

Each subject is photographed twice for the project: A head-and-shoulders portrait (“object”) and a full-torso nude (“subject”). The two images will never be displayed together; there is no link between the “object” and the “subject”.

With the “subject” are displayed the subject’s details: their name (or pseudonym), age, profession, and their thoughts on the objectification of people in the modern world.

The “object” images are displayed alone, to allow viewers to have their own thoughts on the person in front of them.

Beginning

The first step with subject | object is to work with models to produce the first batch of images. I’ve chosen to do this because I need to establish all the technical ephemera of the project: how will I light them? Will I shoot film or digital? Colour or black and white? That sort of thing. Models are used to this kind of faffing around, and being comfortable in their own skin whilst it’s happening.

But ultimately I don’t just want to work with models. I want to work with you, the person that I see on the street, the person who is at both ends of objectification: the objectified and the objectifier.

I don’t just want to work with perfectly-toned bodies that require epic amounts of work to sculpt them; I want to work with people of every size, shape, colour or gender. Conventionally beautiful or otherwise. Tall, short, thin, fat, able-bodied or not.

Everyone deserves to be part of this project, and I want as many participants as I can get. Ultimately, I aim to put a gallery show together of my work, but for now I’m going to do things on the web. Only the “subject” / torso shots will be displayed online at first; the “object”/portraits will only be uploaded in batches once they can’t be linked to the “subject” shots to which they belong, in order to preserve anonymity as much as I can (and people will be able to request that their portrait isn’t displayed).

What now?

It’s early days. I’ve got a holding page for the project up at subjectobjectproject.net. I’ve got a Twitter account started (but devoid of tweets as of right now) at @subj_obj_proj. There’s a mailing list you can sign up to (see the project website) for updates; eventually I’ll start a blog. I’m considering the best way of funding the project, and may do a crowdfunding campaign of some description. We’ll see about all that.

Right now, I just need you to come on board and help me make this happen. Come pose for me, if you’re in or near, or passing through Manchester. Drop me an email at mail [at] subjectobjectproject.net and we can arrange everything.

I have so much that I want to say with this project, and I think that there is so much that each of us has to say about it — I want to reflect that to the world.

Come with me.