Monday, 12 February 2018

'Caged.' As long as it's glitzy on the outside, right?

WEEK 6Vision: Alternating RhythmAlternate patterns of light to bring depth and rhythm to the photograph.

Everything I'm about to write here, is summed up in the beautifully long-winded and slightly boring video below - basically, I devoted most of last week to the planning of this one.
I knew I wanted to create impressive patterns on the wall as well as my face, so I thought of recreating something I had a go at making a few years ago; a large string ball to wear over my head.

The first time I ever attempted making something like this, the ball was a lot smaller and modelled around a balloon - it was Simon who suggested using a beach ball, so I bought a 20" ball and 250m (why?!) 2 ply hessian string from eBay. Already had a tonne of PVA glue, brushes, etc.
The balloon method in the past didn't really work as a balloon's surface isn't naturally shiny. The string stuck fast to the balloon and when popped, collapsed around it, even though it had dried properly.. so I was more optimistic about the beach ball method.

If you're going to attempt this, remember to cover your table or surface with bin bags / plastic sheeting first, then old towels / sheets, otherwise the glue will saturate the fabric and stick everything to the worksurface.
I started by tying a length of string tightly around the ball's circumference, then continuing to wrap the length of string around the ball, making sure every bit was covered in PVA glue. What I know now is that you can dilute the glue with water so it's less thick and you use less, but both methods work just fine.
When I thought I had enough string around the ball to make it sturdy enough to support itself, I stopped wrapping the string. I didn't want too many layers either as I wanted to be able to see my face through when it came to shooting the image.
Whilst the glue was still wet, I held it over the bath and covered the whole thing in silver glitter.. then I hung it up to dry for 24 hours.
Opening the beach ball's valve when dry didn't do much for immediate deflation, and there had been so much glue and glitter, a whole layer of hardened glue between what was supposed to be the gaps had formed. I had to use a stanley knife to edge the string away from the ball and cut away at the gaps, which took just as long as wrapping the ball in string in the beginning.
When all this was done, I cut a hole just wide enough to stretch over my head and was able to deflate the beach ball to remove it completely. I set the light and camera up immediately, as I loved how this had turned out and couldn't wait to shoot it - I knew exactly the image I wanted to achieve in my mind.

If you'd like to make something similar, (they make great lampshades too) here is a 10-minute video I made. As I said above, it's probably too long and far too boring, and I really need a microphone or to shoot this content on something better than my iPad.. but please feel free to subscribe to my channel if this is your sort of thing, as I will be making more videos like this in the future.

At first, I thought a gridded beauty dish might be the light for this, but then I remembered an even smaller hard modifier we had and used that.. I knew the key to this shot would be found in playing about with my distance from the wall and the light's distance from me. I did all my faffing and checking images on the back of the camera with a huge glittery ball on my head by the way - not easy!
The hard modifier gave some nice results.. but I was hoping for a harder shadow and this made the shadow quite soft looking. I moved closer to the wall, but then the shadow was tiny and got completely lost behind me.
I didn't use a boom arm for the light as I couldn't find the clamp - this made it difficult to have the light completely in front of me without it being visible in the image.. (I did a bit of cloning in some of the finished images)
I broke lots of rules too - realised that to get the shadow above my head, I had to underlight - argh! But! It looked really cool - maybe because the effect was broken up by the glitter string over my face, and I got my lovely magnified shadow above my head. I took one image which looked like I was some kind of spiritual spooky Buddha, which made my final pick.

I swapped the light for a bare speedlight and LOVED the results even more because suddenly I got the harder, magnified shadows I was looking for. Sometimes the shadows would be on my face, sometimes they would be on the wall - I tried to take note of which light and distance made which effect.
I shot all this in the bedroom by the way, which is tiny and has a superking bed in it - don't ask why we have a superking bed in such a small room; it was supposed to be practical (it's two single beds underneath a superking mattress) but it has been anything but. Whilst playing about with this shoot, there was often no room to place the light on the floor, so I balanced a very low stand on the bed. The final images came from me being further back towards the wall and the speedlight really very close to my face on the lowest power.
Shooting with an aperture of f7.1 / f8 meant everything was nice and sharp, but the glittery bits have a lot of texture which looked quite distracting from the face. Ideally I wanted my face sharp and the ball out of focus, but I couldn't achieve this no matter how hard I tried. I tried f2.8, then f5.. but neither gave me what I wanted. I got my face blurred and the ball sharp plenty of times though. I guess this was because the ball was slightly nearer to the camera than my skin, and it was brighter and shinier, and the camera couldn't detect a face because it was all broken up by the patterns of the string ball..
Also, by opening the aperture, I couldn't reduce my settings enough, (and the speedlight was on lowest setting) to avoid massively blown highlights.. shutter speed was already maxed out at 1/200th sec and lowest ISO. Actually, according to Lightroom, the highlights weren't blown yet my entire face was white. How does that work exactly? Does this just mean the D850 has such a brilliant dynamic range that info is still there and you'd be able to bring it back from that?! That's mad if so but didn't chance it. Plus I couldn't focus on me at anything wider than f7.1, so I switched it back.

Such a learning curve this week, but I'm really happy with the results; they are pretty much exactly what I had in mind! By the end of retouching this set, I was using liquify in Photoshop to change the shape of the ball to symbolise shifting truths.
I think my favourite is the first one (below) - again, it breaks an unspoken rule where the subject shouldn't be looking out of frame, but I like the awkwardness it creates to support the narrative. In light of much recent discussion over industry safety and trying to get across to many how distressingly difficult it is for models to speak up about negative experiences for fear of being persecuted, down trodden and / or not believed, (usually all three) the cage represents an inability to break the cycle of the 'popular abuser's' power play. A popular abuser, who is often in a position of perceived power. The glitter is the notion that everything is glamorous and fabulous from an outside perspective..
All these experiences our subconscious knows are wrong are then caught up in this web and pushed to the back of the mind, even though as time passes, clarity heightens and a clearer perspective is formed. By then of course, the abuser has gone on to abuse many more..
It's a Harvey Weinstein / Terry Richardson effect..
I wrote a little response to this article: The End of 'Dead' Models because it touched a nerve. When I first started photography, I vowed to push aside this 'vulnerable girl' look and instead empower my subjects of all sexes. I would LOVE to be given a chance to help change the fashion industry for the better in a big way during my lifetime. The world needs to see a revolutionary influx of passionate, vegan, (exploiting animals in this day & age for fashion is fucking naff) feminist photographers in the 21st Century - I will continue to do everything in my power to shout about it - more importantly work up to a position where we will actually be heard / a greater influence.
I personally much prefer a viewer's reaction to be 'look how awesome this person looks / clearly feels, wearing / eating / using this product' ..rather than the message that the model is indignificant; just a clothes horse in order to push the product further into the viewer's subconscious.
I would always favour involving the model than merely using the model. If I worked in advertising, I'd be striving for a revolution to change the vulnerability and subconscious conditioning which has been happening over many decades into something exceptionally positive for the future.

A narrative however, is different - by telling a story you are not trying to sell anyone anything except the truth.


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