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Author Topic: Hanging It Out  (Read 1025 times)

Rob C

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Hanging It Out
« on: January 16, 2019, 03:57:23 PM »

We've thrown around ideas like confetti at a wedding, most of 'em in efforts to get the new folks at the helm to start different concepts or, rather, sections for LuLa.

Okay, I'll moon out the back window of the bus and hope it encourages others into doing the same. If enough photographers come along with loosened belts, we might even get a separate compartment in this LuiLa vehicle; at the back, of course.

...................

On Shooting Women

Well, maybe one could begin by wondering why anyone might want to do that.

I suppose there are as many reasons as there are photographers doing it, but in the end, I think it breaks down into a couple of basic motives: lust, or simply love of beauty. At which point, I think it makes sense to introduce a little humour, aka women's knowledge:

A little three-year old boy examines his testicles whilst having a bath. “Mum,” he asks, “are these my brains?” “Not yet,” she replies.

Obviously enough I can't account for the drives of others, and I admit that I've often pondered this very question concerning motivation. I don't always come up with the same answer – more like different shades of the same general idea. Which is that I find them, women, fascinating, and always did. A fascination tinged, of course, with a little sadness at the knowledge that their beauty is usually doomed to being so transitory.

My first awareness must have hit me when I was about eleven, during a year spent in Italy, most of it in the local flea pit watching dubbed black and white westerns. It was around this time that I realised I needed a black guitar, a black horse, and then my life would forever be one of grateful, south-of-the-border cantina señoritas. That has nothing at all to do with shooting women (well, maybe in the movies), but the time does, because I was then spending some of it with a sister of my maternal grandmother, a lady with a pair of delightfully pretty twin daughters, happily not identical, but one blessed with the most gorgeous legs I'd ever seen – or perhaps simply the first I'd noticed – the other gifted with a wonderful pair of breasts, which is really a great endorsement for not having identical twins. Unless, of course, you can guarantee the perfect blending of both assets. They were about twenty years old, I think. They may have been younger, but at eleven, everybody older than you looks very old. And young kids are, as we all know, conveniently invisible. For some reason lost to me I named our last dog, a beautiful Alsabrador, after the leggy twin. My wife never suspected from whence came the name, but I think she sometimes wondered. However, the point remains, once you notice these things you seldom forget them. Indeed, they impress you more every day.

Around 1953/4 I realised that my aunt had a collection of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines, and a Rollei. I devoured the magazines and she eventually lent me the Rollei. You could say I really had no chance.

In retrospect, I guess it must have been the early exposure to Vogue set me off in the right direction; had it been exposure to the grimmer side of girl photography instead, things might have turned out differently, so I'm grateful to my aunt. The influence of those magazines has never left me, and I realise that all my photographs of women have been little but fashion images. With or without clothes, the feeling's pretty much identical: I love putting 'em up on pedestals.

My first interest in pin-up pictures was inspired by photographers such as Peter Gowland, Peter Basch and Don Ornitz. Their stuff was distributed by Globe Photos and appeared in lots of publications, mostly movie-connected. Or at least, that's where I found them. The thing about them was that they made photography look like it was fun, not hard work and not in the least bit sordid. In essence, they were precursors to what I was to discover some years later in Playboy, until that magazine eventually found itself having to compete with the likes of Penthouse, which was another thing completely, at which point I cut subscription and abondoned ship.

To cut a long, personal tale short: I wasted a lot of time messing about in an engineering apprenticeship before getting the break, in my fourth year, that saw me starting in the company's photo-unit. There, I learned all that was ever practically useful to me later on. The printers were very skilled, and I learned a lot of stuff and, for a while, I was doing all the colour lab work pretty much on my own. Great times, but not for ever – I had to get into what I'd always wanted, which had nothing to do with photographing metal parts. I started my own studio and took it, slowly, into fashion. I found myself on a lot of trips for dress manufacturers, shooting advertising for House of Fraser stores, various general advertising agencies and the IWS (the International Wool Secretariat), the latter opening the door to Vogue in the UK, which was sort of odd in that most people do magazine work in order to attract commercial clients, whereas for me it worked the other way around. But it wasn't to last – the storm was gathering fast.

The fashion world in late-70s Scotland was contracting very quickly, and fees were tumbling because the few remaining people still buying photography knew only too well that we needed the work. We were being well and truly screwed. But nobody in my neck of the woods, really, was into calendars other than those that David Niven describes at the end of his forward to the first Pirelli Calendar Book, as featuring “whimsical terriers and thatched cottages” or, in the case of Scotland, yet more bloody lochs and snowy mountain peaks.

Thus dawned the era of my calendars. The first few were shot in tandem with PR and exhibition stand pictures for fashion clients, which was a neat package to produce. Thankfully, this lasted long enough for me to complete enough of them to give credibility, and I then had another kiss upon the lips from the gods: I was introduced to the man who became my best-ever client by a PR man I'd known back when we both worked in the engineering company. He was now out in general practice, and came to see me because he needed pictures. I couldn't believe my eyes when, walking with him into his client's office, I saw a Pirelli calendar on the wall. The next step, of course, was to produce a dummy of what I wanted to do, something that had no conection with the reason I'd been in his office. He liked my mock-up, and that was the start of a relationship that saw me shoot and produce six or seven calendars for him, each year consisting of up to forty-two or so versions for the different companies within his group. One thing led to another, and I was in a new career of design and production, keeping myself well supplied with the photography I loved.

I spent hours looking at hundreds of model cards, flying down to London doing castings and playing power games that I hated: I don't like turning anyone down, and even if it didn't happen face-to-face, I'm sure the girls all knew right away when they hadn't rung the bell. My wife used to accompany me on these castings and take notes, seeing flaws that charming personalities can hide from male eyes but not from the sharper ones of another woman. A great help, in so many, many ways.

And how to choose the girls for a calendar? I found one great short cut: I would always include in my castings at least a few girls that Patrick Lichfield had used for his very successful Unipart calendar series, and on the prayer that if they looked great with him, then they'd look as good with me, that was what usually swung the pointer the right way. Thank goodness for belted earls doing my dummy runs for me!

Another really key client was a brewery. I'd been trying to get a contact established in that company for years, and absolutely never got anywhere at all. One day, for no reason I can think of, I suggested to my wife that she drive into town and go see them. Now she was never, ever, a sales person; she absolutely hated that side of life thinking it absurd and so obvious, but for some obscure reason she said okay, took my portfoliio, went out one morning and returned home to make lunch, armed with an invitation for me to go see the marketing director.  Another six- or seven-year association. Ain't women wonderful?

Photographic mechanics? Most of the time I used Kodachrome 64 Pro in 135; I never did try it in 120 during the brief period it was being produced again in that format, because by then I'd traded away all my 120 format equipment. I had a brief encounter with Kodachrome 24 but though rather finer, it was just too contrasty for me. I travelled as lightly as possible – no teams of assistants and only, on ideal trips, with the models and my wife: she'd work miracles with sun oil, spray bottles and reflectors. We needed nothing more. Especially not watching clients, most of whom, if they came at all, were happy to tag along for a day or two, convince themselves we knew what we were doing, then keep out of the way and never show again until evening. I'm reliably informed that those days are gone for ever, that the bigger the production team, the greater the prestige and bragging rights for the clients.

Equipment. I started out with a new Exakta Varex 11A and a second-hand Rolleiflex TLR as well as an ancient plate camera that was used exclusively for making copy negatives. Studio: well, I never did – still don't – think very much of huge lighting situations. I had an old gent's umbrella that I painted white inside (many coats of paint!), and to the wooden shaft I screwed an accessory shoe into which slid a flash head. Modelling light came from a domestic bulb holder also supended from the same shaft. (The contraption sported lots of wires.) Crude indeed, but it worked very well, and the fact that I was using a portable flash as power unit gave a faster flash speed, which helped catch motion better than the subsequent early monoblocs that I bought when money started to come along. But man, that was a slow coming! We'd initially enough capital to last us six months without income, and we ran through that very soon, despite being owed money from clients. I hadn't quite understood that a three-month wait for payment was the industry norm...

Later on, the quality of cameras I could have changed. I tended to use small cameras mostly - Nikons of various types, mainly the F and F2.  Though I had quite an arsenal of lenses, I didn't use many, even though it was obligatory to cart a wide range of them along; most of what I shot ended up coming from 35mm,135mm and 200mm with a few special occasions filled by my 500mm catadioptric. Come to think of it, as that 500mm was fixed at f8, digital would have offered a huge advantage there, because one could use higher ISO and, consequently, shutter speeds, whilst still getting the fineness of 64 ASA film. But yes, the 'look' would simply not have been the same without film. Maybe.

Hasselblads, the 500 Series of the era, were very nice instruments for studio tripod work. I used them sometimes on trips, but only if, for some reason, the client insisted. Mostly, I designed calendars to fit 2x3 image shapes. Importantly, Kodachrome travelled better than Ektachrome, in the sense that it wasn't quite as vital to get rapid processing done, and it seemed to cope with high temperatures reasonably well. But, sadly, X-Ray tended to make tanned skin go khaki-greenish... hit me once in Spain, where they wouldn't hand-search my film bag. But anyway, I never, at any one time, owned more than two monoblocs and a shoulder flash unit. No need for more, doing what I did.

My first studio was a large apartment at the top of a block; it had no lift and access was up a circular staircase. Dickens would have loved it. I stayed with it from '66 until I moved away around '72 because the nature of my work had drifted from mainly studio to almost entirely location. Within a couple of months, naturally enough, the tide turned and studio work came back, but I was out of mine. We decided that it made no sense to rent again, and so we had one built by the side of our house. That coincided with the invasion of Cyprus, which of course, had nothing to do with it, beyond the fact that I was shooting my first Hewden/Stuart calendar on that island two weeks before the Turkish parachutes came floating down.

In an interview I saw recently, Harri Peccinotti echoes a wistfulness for the simplicity of yesteryear and, sighing for those lost times, compares them with now, when he seldom sees the same girl twice - thinks he might see her on the Paris Metro but is afraid to say hello in case he's mistaken and taken for a dirty old man or that, on the other hand, if he doesn't greet her, she may think what a shit, he worked with me yesterday but today he ignores me! You can't win anymore; how tragic: a gift from our friends over at PC Central. I also remember an Interview on Toronto's Fashion Channel, where Helmut Newton talks with Jeanne Beker about the changes in the business from his own peak fashion era when, in his words, photographers were free to run through the streets of Paris like dogs, doing whatever they wanted to do, but that now (it was an 80s inteview, I think) everything had become such a big deal, that the money involved had become so huge (10,000 bucks to get out of bed, anyone?). In other words, all the love had gone.

What I did learn, through time, was that your luck improves the higher up the company hierarchy your particular client finds himself. Getting through to director level is obviously best: it's still not usually entirely their own money on the line, but they are high enough up the pecking order to feel confident in their decisions. The worst deal is the lower echelon client. I know: the ones I met operated in a state of tangible fear of their superiors, a fear that's contagious.

So what about post-professional life and shooting women? Frankly, after a few very false post-retirement attempts, I have concluded that it usually just isn't worth the candle. As I wrote when I came in, there are two main motivations for photographing women, and civilian prospects usually suspect the other one, thinking it's all about them and their knickers instead of understanding that no, it's actually all about the dream you want to convert into a picture – that they can only, ever, be the medium. Or they just have inquisitive little brothers in the bath. When you have been lucky enough to have worked with the best that London could offer, there's not much else to replace that experience other than disappointment. Or, the occasional coup de foudre comes your way and renders preconceptions silly - or so one hopes.

The black guitar and horse – I never had the horse, thank goodness, and the guitar became both a conscience and embarrassment of failures. The guy to whom I sold it never mentioned it again either. It was a Silvestri, made in Catania.

Technique? I don't really have one; each model presents a different plus and always a minus: we are dealing with people, not sculpture. It's really a combination of what the two of you dream up that gets the picture. It all boils down to a matter of rapport, which is why you find that one girl works very well with a certain photographer but not so well with another, yet all three participants can to be equally good at their job: it's a chemistry that you can't analyse; just is. I always tried to keep it as simple as I could: that gave mobility and, consequently, greater opportunities for luck to play its part. The unexpected can be far better than something you though about before the shoot. In fact, too much thinking can paralyse you. Go with the flow, and there the challenge: creating that flow.

What remains of my professional imagery can be found at:

http://www.roma57.com/calendars-and-star.html
« Last Edit: January 17, 2019, 12:04:18 PM by Rob C »
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D Fuller

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2019, 04:13:42 PM »

Well done, Rob. This glimpse into the arc of a career is well worth reading. It makes me think there might be a place for "oral history" here. That could be a very good thing.
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RSL

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2019, 04:14:42 PM »

+1. Fascinating, Rob.

32BT

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2019, 05:47:58 PM »

Where's the chapter about movng to the island?
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Eric Myrvaagnes

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2019, 08:21:02 PM »

That's a beautiful essay, Rob. Thanks for sharing it and your stunning gallery of pro images.
This really should be front-page material (with some images) for Josh.

Cheers,

Eric
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-Eric Myrvaagnes (visit my website: http://myrvaagnes.com)

Rob C

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2019, 03:51:17 AM »

Where's the chapter about movng to the island?

Hey, Oscar, it's not a complete autobiography! That would take another paragraph.

;-)

Rob C

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2019, 08:41:27 AM »

Thanks for the kind comments, people; I just hope some others feel they want to contribute personal stories too. I think I'd be very interested in their photo-journey.

Rob

Ivophoto

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Hanging It Out
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2019, 10:09:17 AM »

Lovely story, Rob. It’s a pleasure to read!


I don’t mind sharing a short movie made of my portrait work. Only, it’s no subtitles.
If not appropriate, I will delete.

https://youtu.be/66LH2a0KmWw
« Last Edit: January 17, 2019, 10:22:58 AM by Ivophoto »
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elliot_n

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2019, 10:24:03 AM »

I don’t mind sharing a short movie made of my portrait work. Only, it’s no subtitles.
If not appropriate, I will delete.

https://youtu.be/66LH2a0KmWw

A beautiful film — thanks for sharing.
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Rado

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2019, 10:33:09 AM »

Rob I would appreciate if you made a thread for us portrait shooters with shared wisdoms about working with people you photograph :-). I find that much more challenging than all the technical stuff. As a hobbyist I have the advantage of "living in the simpler times" - it's just me and the model (and sometimes a makeup lady) when shooting, with no clients peeking over my shoulder and I'd like to make the most of it.
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Paulo Bizarro

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2019, 12:18:19 PM »

Wonderful and romantic story.

KLaban

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #11 on: January 17, 2019, 12:23:40 PM »

I don’t mind sharing a short movie made of my portrait work. Only, it’s no subtitles.
If not appropriate, I will delete.

https://youtu.be/66LH2a0KmWw

This is the stuff that really gets my juices flowing, video showing contemporaries working, showing the subjects they're shooting and preferably the finished work. Inspiring stuff, Ivo, the only downside being the language barrier.

Another video I thoroughly enjoyed was Peter Fiore's excellent interview. I won't post a link to the video without Peter's approval but for those who are interested it is in his signature.

Great stuff.   
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Ivophoto

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2019, 12:27:26 PM »

This is the stuff that really gets my juices flowing, video showing contemporaries working, showing the subjects they're shooting and preferably the finished work. Inspiring stuff, Ivo, the only downside being the language barrier.

Another video I thoroughly enjoyed was Peter Fiore's excellent interview. I won't post a link to the video without Peter's approval but for those who are interested it is in his signature.

Great stuff.

Tx, Keith. I’m checking the cineast if subtitels are doable
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Rob C

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2019, 12:36:14 PM »

Rob I would appreciate if you made a thread for us portrait shooters with shared wisdoms about working with people you photograph :-). I find that much more challenging than all the technical stuff. As a hobbyist I have the advantage of "living in the simpler times" - it's just me and the model (and sometimes a makeup lady) when shooting, with no clients peeking over my shoulder and I'd like to make the most of it.

Rado - there isn't really anything much that I can tell anyone about shooting model pictures - it's mostly seat of the pants stuff. All I can say is that as far as I can remember, right from the first time, I never had any doubts about whether I could do it - it just seemed so easy. Which is not to say that it always came off: there were times when there was no chemistry, usually because a model had been forced on me by somebody, and on those occassions all one could do was put in a technically good job with what one had in front of the camera.

My experience was that with the "wrong" model, you had a better chance of pulling off a reasonable shoot outdoors, than in front of a roll of Colorama paper, because that blank thing gives neither you nor the model anywhere to hide or, at least, play against/with. It's the place people feel the most naked, the most vulnerable.

I suppose it's also a matter of leaving your dignity outside the studio door: you should be prepared to act out poses and stuff you think the model could do - it helps break the ice, and even when you know people well, there can often be a little warming up period you have to shoot though. Some guys thought they were cool being hard taskmasters, being loud and bossy; that style would never have worked for me - I never felt I was anybody's boss, more was it collaboration.

I always had music on; in the early days, Radio Caroline (on 199) - a pirate radio station offshore.

Rob

Rob C

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2019, 12:46:27 PM »

This is the stuff that really gets my juices flowing, video showing contemporaries working, showing the subjects they're shooting and preferably the finished work. Inspiring stuff, Ivo, the only downside being the language barrier.

Another video I thoroughly enjoyed was Peter Fiore's excellent interview. I won't post a link to the video without Peter's approval but for those who are interested it is in his signature.

Great stuff.

That's my prime interest in the Peter Lindbergh "making of" videos; the videographer is sometimes able to make a better show than do the final images you get to see. It underscores again the power of motion and the educated eye of some motion photographers...

Waching the models go through a little set of gestures as the stills guy makes his shots is so much more rewarding and exciting than looking at one image.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yeb_275p1_g

Rob

amolitor

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #15 on: January 17, 2019, 12:53:38 PM »

Rob, is your idea that people will contribute personal stories to this thread? Or make our own individual threads one per story? I don't want to step on your toes, and there does seem to be a good discussion rolling here!
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Rado

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #16 on: January 17, 2019, 01:05:55 PM »

I suppose it's also a matter of leaving your dignity outside the studio door: you should be prepared to act out poses and stuff you think the model could do - it helps break the ice, and even when you know people well, there can often be a little warming up period you have to shoot though. Some guys thought they were cool being hard taskmasters, being loud and bossy; that style would never have worked for me - I never felt I was anybody's boss, more was it collaboration.
Yeah that mirrors my experience, the best shots come towards the end of the session. Maybe it's me who needs a longer warm up period. I've also learned that having chocolate on hand is a Very Good Thing :-)
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DougJ

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #17 on: January 17, 2019, 01:13:22 PM »

I can imagine that after a period of time, 3 months, six, or a year, there would be a collection of essays.  At that point, perhaps Josh could begin selecting one essayist every quarter to be the object of a Charlie Cramer type series as to the technical aspects of their work--or if the essay was originally technical in nature, then the invitation could be to examine the creative impulses that depend on those technical efforts.
Ciao,
Doug
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Rob C

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2019, 02:52:20 PM »

Rob, is your idea that people will contribute personal stories to this thread? Or make our own individual threads one per story? I don't want to step on your toes, and there does seem to be a good discussion rolling here!

Well, it's intention was that it might encourage a space about photographers as people, as distinct from their modus operandi, or loads of snaps being on display. The interesting part, to me, is often in their motivation - the things that led them to devoting their lives to the job.

I think pictures stuck into copy a distraction, a break in information; if there are any images to show, perhaps a reference to the person's website would offer more overall flavour.

A problem with simply sowing new essays into an existing thread is the inevitable confusion from cross-references etc.

That said, it could easily function within the already extant Photographic Styles envelope, with new essays just titled and posted there, as per my own. It works now for links to various external photographers some like, so why not as suggested a moment ago, too? No new department would need to be set up.

Rob

KLaban

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Re: Hanging It Out
« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2019, 04:19:56 PM »

Now with Peter Fiore's approval.

Peter Fiore on breaking the rules, his life and history as an artist. From his early days to his current work, influences and philosophy on painting. Interviewed by Christopher Libertino.

Peter Fiore
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