Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Before Your Time

Edward Steichen, Model Wearing Sandals. 1934

For this assignment, we had to recreate an image that was taken before we were born. Edward Steichen was one of the first photographers that came to my mind to research. I love his images - he took beautiful black and white portraits and fashion photographs in the 30's and 40's. I feel that his images really celebrate the beauty of women and the female form. I liked the simplicity of this shot, how the legs are isolated from the rest of the body and the lines and curves are accentuated. 

Here's my attempt at recreating this image:

I like my image, but it's definitely not as strong as Steichen's. I feel like I got the tone of sepia pretty close, but the contrast between the legs and the background wasn't quite there. If I had more time, I would probably try to recreate this in the studio with lights and a backdrop, as opposed to ambient light and a wall, which I used. I really like the idea of this assignment though, and will probably try to do more photo recreations in the future. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Week!

The first film I saw for Movie Week was O Brother, Where Art Thou. It's a film I had heard a lot about, but had never seen myself. I enjoyed it. The quirky filmmaking style of the Coen Brothers is always original and entertaining. The cinematography in this film was stunning. The aged look of the film really suited the story and transported the viewer into their world. Visually, it was very beautiful and interesting. The movie is really funny, and the soundtrack is great too. Plus, George Clooney. ‘Nuff said.

Pecker was a bit of a bizarre movie, but definitely entertaining. I tend to like these tongue-in-cheek sorts of films, so overall I enjoyed it. The story is centred on “Pecker” (what IS that name?), a simple but passionate young photographer whose work is noticed by a New York art critic. He skyrockets to fame in the art world, but of course, there are consequences in his real life. I liked the small details and moments in this film and the eccentricities of the characters. It was quite funny. The thing I liked most about Pecker’s character was his fearlessness with his photography, how he doesn’t shy away from people and he does whatever he needs to to get the shot, but in the end he has learned a lesson about taking it too far and finds a balance. A good lesson for any photographer. 

Born Into Brothels was my favorite of the films I chose to see. It is, in a word, heartbreaking. I sat alone in a classroom for the whole film, transfixed, and burst into tears approximately every seventeen minutes. The movie follows photographer Zana Briski on her journey into a red light district in Calcutta. Initially drawn to document the lives of the women working in the sex trade, she found herself becoming increasingly concerned with the children who live out their lives there. She handed cameras to several of these children, and in this way, they shared their stories and the world through their eyes. This film was incredibly moving and eye-opening. It will stick in the back of my mind for a long time. What struck me most about this movie, and the really devastating part, is the utter hopelessness of these kids lives. They were born without a chance. How tragic, and unimaginable for those of us who have had all the opportunities in the world. The film is unflinching is its depiction of the despair of such a situation, but it is also uplifting enough to create a balance – the viewer is left sad and questioning, but still a little hopeful, that perhaps the introduction of art and beauty and self-expression into a child’s life, along with a desire to help from someone who cares, can sometimes, just sometimes, be enough to really make a difference.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Being surrounded by people who are creative makes you want to be creative."
-Michel Gondry

Inspiration. It’s something I think about a lot. The intangible force that drives us all, it’s the very basis of what we do, and the most vital part of being an artist.

It can be your best friend one day and your bitterest enemy the next. When you have it, the world is aglow, everything is right, you can feel it humming through your brain and out through your fingertips. The things you see and feel and think are preserved through your camera, and what could be more beautiful, more uplifting, than that? But when it has gone – you are empty. The world looks bleak. You are metaphorically blind. The worst feeling in the world is that you as an artist have nothing of worth to give. 

Still, there are so many things in this world that can be called “inspiring” that this fact is in itself, yes, inspiring.  It’s everywhere, really, so big and so small at the same time. A scene in a film, a lyric in a song, a look between strangers. The color of the sky after a storm. An expression on the face of someone you love. The way the light falls, always. I have spent hours contemplating on such things, and in a way, I think it might be my very favorite thing about being alive, these small moments that pass by quickly but resound within you for a much longer time. And we as photographers have the special privilege of sometimes, just sometimes, getting the chance to translate these moments into something that we can share and that will last forever.

But lately I’ve been thinking less about the way inspiration can happen to you, and more about the ways in which you can seek it out. Being inspired by other artists is a perpetual part of what we do, and almost impossible to avoid, even if (for some reason) you wanted to. 

Up to this point, photography has largely been for me something that I did “by myself”. I haven’t had many friends who were interested in it; I never interacted much with other photographers. I barely ever even talked about photography with anybody. For the most part, I was fine with this. Inspiration is a personal thing, I thought. I don’t need anyone else for this.

But since I started at PV, I am literally overwhelmed almost every day by how inspired I feel by all the people around me. Coming to school to study the one thing I am most passionate about was my dream for awhile before I actually had the chance to do it, and the thing I was most looking forward to was having the chance to just BE WITH other people who felt the same way. I haven’t been disappointed. It has been life-changing.

Being in an environment like this one is a constant inspiration. Just going to class and listening to the instructors tell their stories makes the world of being a photographer come alive. Learning from those who have experienced the industry themselves is priceless, and I’m so grateful to be able to spend time talking with and listening to so many talented people. In addition to all the practical knowledge, the support and encouragement that we receive here is invaluable.

It can be hard at times to keep your momentum going in any creative pursuit – contrary to what many people believe, creativity is hard work. It doesn’t always come easily, and sometimes, it doesn’t come at all. At times like these, coming to PV every day can be a lifesaver. Because even when you feel frustrated, lost, discouraged, burned out – all you have to do is show up here, and you’ll be reminded. Being surrounded by peers, all creative people, all of us together learning and growing and trying new things, balancing screwing up and succeeding spectacularly, builds an environment that I’ve never before had the chance to be part of. The truth is that here, we are all excited about the things that we’re doing, and excitement is contagious. There are so many ideas floating around you can practically feel yourself getting hit in the side of the head with them. I feel so lucky to be part of it now.

Going though this experience with the new friends I’ve made is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating things I can imagine. We are all so different, and everyone has something unique to share. And so here is the point of all this rambling: that in spite of all the amazing things I have gained so far this year, all the practice and projects and technical knowledge, my very favorite thing about school is, actually, all of YOU, my classmates and teachers. And to be more specific, especially my classmates (sorry teachers, you are wonderful as well!), who have taught me and challenged me and inspired me more than I could have asked for. We’ve built our own world here, where we can ask questions and push each other in the right direction and tell stupid jokes that have nothing to do with photography one moment while being complete geeks about all of our gear the next. We feed off of each other, offering gentle criticisms and exuberant praise. And yeah… most of all, I think, we inspire one another, to work harder, to keep trying, to be the best we can be. The truth is, I can never say "thank you" enough to all of you for the ways you have helped me and continue to help me grow as a photographer, and a person.

Being here is not always easy. Expressing yourself in a way you can be proud of and pushing yourself to create your finest work is a constant struggle. But the moments that remind you why you are here – seeing a photograph that was formed in another person’s brain and feeling an instant connection to it, learning something new that makes your mind feel like it’s cracking wide open until everything comes pouring in, creating an image that reminds you and the people who view it just how utterly overwhelming the beauty of the world can be - make it worth it. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but just look around, and remember: it is important, what we do here. The things we teach each other. How we fail, and pick ourselves up again. The ways in which we surprise each other, and ourselves. The places we’ll go next. It’s worth it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Annie Leibovitz (CI 15: Image Critique)

Choosing just one image to critique from Annie Leibovtitz's enormous body of work was difficult! I finally settled on this photograph of the actress Cate Blanchett from the December 2004 issue of Vogue. This is a quintessential Annie Leibovitz celebrity portrait. which she is famous for. To give a bit of background information, I believe this shoot was done as promotion for the release of the movie The Aviator, in which Cate portrayed iconic actress Katherine Hepburn. This is in the more recent phase of Annie's career, where she has concentrated mainly on very high-end fashion shoots and Hollywood portraits. I love this shot because it's so fun and joyful. It has great composition (rule of thirds, space for her to ride in to) and a great sense of movement. I think Annie captured the "decisive moment" here - the subject's pose and expression are perfect. She looks glamorous, but still approachable and human. Even though you know the shot was set up, it has a candid feel to it. The overall mood of the photo is happy and carefree, and it has a definite vintage look, as indicated by the clothing and style of bike, and supported by the fact that it's in black and white. The photo has the sleek sophistication of a fashion magazine shoot that Annie is known for nowadays, and also her trademark of bringing out the energy and humanity in her subject. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

David Bailey

David Bailey is an iconic British fashion and portrait photographer. His first photograph was published in Vogue in 1960, and today, he is 72 years old and still going strong. His career has spanned five decades, including work for almost every major fashion publication (British, American and Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and GQ, just to name a few), respected portrait and documentary photography, directing commercials, and directing and producing documentaries. He has had numerous exhibitions and awards and has published 23 books.

Bailey’s career thrived during the “Swingin’ Sixties” in London and he is most well-known for his photographs produced during this time, notably those of icons such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Mia Farrow, The Beatles and Mick Jagger. He was one of the first “celebrity photographers” and he became almost as famous for his personal life as for his work. He had a fresh and irreverent approach to fashion photography and stirred up the fashion department at Vogue, where the implicit sexuality in his photographs was at odds with the polished, “Society girl” aesthetic of the day. He once said, “A Bailey woman has a distinct look. A Bailey woman is a real woman of flesh and blood and sex.”

Bailey’s style has remained consistent over the years. “I’ve always tried to do pictures that don’t date,” he says. “I always go for simplicity.” His style is simple and dramatic. In his portrait photography, the subject is the most important thing to him. "The pictures I take are simple and direct and about the person I'm photographing and not about me. I spend more time talking to the person than I do taking pictures. The pictures are over in minutes. I've had models cry because they think they're no good, because I've only done one roll. They'll say, "What's wrong?" and I say, "Nothing's wrong. We got it." I don't care about composition or anything like that. I just want the emotion of the person in the picture to come across.... to get something from that person."

In the past 50 years Bailey has held steadfast to the way in which he take pictures: Black-and-white, minimalist, very graphic with high contrasts between lighter and darker tones. He has shot on a variety of formats. "I take the same approach today as I did when I started. I've always hated silly pictures and gimmicks."

“This sounds conceited, but I think one of the reasons I didn't go out of fashion is because I was never fashionable. I never really had a "style." My pictures are not about a technique. I take the same picture now that I did in '60. I have stuck to my guns... I have always tried to make women look beautiful… Fashion, beauty is aspirational.”

Jean Shrimpton, 1962

This is one of my favorite Bailey photographs. Jean Shrimpton is often referred to as the “world’s first supermodel”. Shrimpton and Bailey met in the early ‘60’s and jump-started each other’s careers, becoming one of the most famous model-photographer duos in fashion photography ever. They became personally involved and had a four year relationship and he shot countless beautiful images of her. Personally, I love this photo because of how effortlessly glamorous it feels. It seems as if Shrimpton was just captured walking down the street, in downtown New York, being young and beautiful and fashionable and carefree. I personally have a thing for reflections in photographs, so I love how her silhouette is captured in the puddle, making the photo so much more interesting and dynamic. The picture has great leading lines in the sidewalk and natural framing for the silhouette by the buildings. 

Catherine Deneuve, 1967

This portrait of Catherine Deneuve, the stunning French actress (and Bailey’s second wife!), is one of his most well-known photographs. This photo is really indicative of Bailey’s style – black & white, minimalistic, and high contrast – and the viewer is drawn in immediately to the subject, most especially, her eyes. I like this photo because of the wonderful composition and framing – the curves of the flamingo and Deneuve’s head give it such a nice “flow.” I also like the juxtaposition between the absurdity of the photograph and the simplicity of it. Even though there’s a flamingo in the frame (which adds a sense of fun and playfulness, important in fashion photography), there’s never any doubt that Deneuve is the subject of this photo. This picture just has a great 60’s fashion vibe to it. It’s fun and classic. I would hang it on my wall.

Mick Jagger, 1964

I am fascinated by this photo of Mick Jagger by Bailey and can’t stop looking at it. This photo really showcases Bailey’s talent for portraiture and capturing his subject. When I first saw this photo, I didn’t even recognize that it was Mick Jagger, but found myself thinking, “What an interesting boy he looks like, I’d like to know him.” Despite the fur hood that takes over the photograph a bit, the viewer is still drawn right away to the subject’s eyes, which have a bit of a “little boy lost” look in them (and also his lips, which look luscious!) The tight framing works well here and the high contrast gives a very dramatic feel. For a rockstar as huge as Mick Jagger, who has had thousands of photographs taken of him over decades, this image still feels entirely unique. The vulnerability captured here is my favorite thing about the photograph.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Peace Be With You"

When I started trying to think of an idea to shoot for "Peace", one of the things that popped in to my head was from my younger days of attending church. We went to a Catholic church, and one of the customs is during the service when everyone takes a moment to turn to their neighbors sitting around them and shake their hand, and wish them, "Peace be with you", "And also with you."

Although I no longer go to church, that little bit has always stuck with me as a really nice part of it. How lovely to stop and wish those around you peace! For that reason, I decided to shoot this church for my assignment. It has a dove on the wall, which I wanted as it is a very literal symbol for peace. And the church itself it also a symbol - although perhaps a rather ambiguous one. For many people it is a strong symbol of peace, a place where people gather and pray and share their faith. For others, the symbolism of religion could easily mean the opposite of peace - I'm sure we've all heard the old adage (paraphrased!), "More wars have been fought in the name of God than any other reason." While I would refrain from making a statement in either direction, since I have mixed feelings about religion and am too unsure about where I stand to do so, I do think the photograph is an interesting reflection on the symbolism of peace just for that reason - it is open to interpretation. How it makes one person feel may be completely different from how it makes another feel. Peace is a tricky subject to photograph.