A momentary lapse of contemplation

During my recent trip to Los Angeles, I gave myself a treat by visiting The Getty and where I would spend the next nine hours in total bliss, viewing three exhibits. Migration of the Mind, a collection of scientific and mathematical books from the Schoenberg archives. Some of these books and illuminated manuscripts were several hundred years old, including one book from Iran having been written a little over one thousand years ago.

The other exhibit, which was spread out into three galleries, consisted of forty drawings and one notebook from the seventeenth century and depicted Dutch landscapes. However the one I would have traveled great distance for was the Irving Penn collection of more than 250 large photographic Black & White prints from his 1950-51 series Small Trades.

In an earlier post at The Artist Within Us, I paid tribute to Irving Penn who passed away last October. For me he was an important influence in my portraiture work, even though Avedon and Newton also shared a hand. It was Irving’s subtle though dramatic lighting, including the treatment of his subjects that attracted me to his style over other contemporaries such as Avedon’s high-key lighting, or Newton’s elaborate environmental sets.

When I returned back to the place were I was staying, there was a moment in which I held close Irving’s last book Small Trades, then only to sink into a momentary lapse of contemplation and melancholy. When I looked up and saw myself in the mirror, I felt I needed to recreate this moment when I returned to the Bay Area.

Self-Portrait, December 17, 2009

So three to four weeks ago when there was a break in the weather with a clear sky and sunlight was able to enter the room where I have an empty wall for portraiture, I set up the tripod and camera.
It would take several exposures with me walking back and forth, being in front of the camera one moment and then behind, before I had not only the aperture and shutter speed, but also the distance set for proper focus.

Another dozen or so shots until I had everything the way I wanted it to be, including how I would appear in each frame. I also had to make sure that the small hand device that allowed me to photograph myself with out the assistance of another person would not be visible in my hand.

Now you may question the reasoning behind my appearance in choosing not to wear anything but Irving Penn’s book Small Trades, other then possibly revealing my own vulnerability, provided it was a conscious reason for doing so. Yet I will leave it up to the viewer’s imagination for what the reason might have been.

I had tried to emulate not only lighting or the style of Irving Penn, but also the mood that he was able to extract from his subjects. So after several more takes, I would review that series of frames, making mental notes before heading back in front of the camera for the next set of exposures.

After I had edited the seventy plus exposures down to 23 and treating each one within Photoshop, they were assembled into digital filmstrips in order to simulate an old fashion contact sheet, along with its grease making pencil, while also offering you the reader a view of the series and how I came about to make my selection of the one image that represented that very poignant moment in Los Angeles a week earlier.

I had planned on another photo shot for the following weekend, yet events, including the weather have delayed any further self-portraitures and most likely will not happen until after I get my haircut.
In the coming next couple of weeks I will be writing about the Irving Penn exhibit itself, including individual posts on the Schoenberg collection and the Dutch landscape drawings. There are also plans to write about Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton in the coming months since they two had made a difference not only to the craft of photography but also the way I shot my fashion assignments.

Technical Information

Nikon D70 w/AF-S Nikkor18-70mm 1.35-45G lens

Image N0155823, December 17, 2009 at 2:31 PM Pacific Time
Camera settings manual at full resolution (3008 x 2000 px)
ISO200; focal length 31.0 mm; F-stop 8; exposure 10/100 second.

Natural day light entering through the doorway with no fill card to bounce any light back unto the subjects matters right side.

All images were treated in Photoshop v.8 (CS-I) using a G4 466 MHz Macintosh running OS-X.4

PS Notes:
Every image received custom Level treatments, by individually adjusting the R-G-B settings.
However the Curves and Channel Mixer, including the Brightness/Contrast sets were based on the final image and then applied to all of the out-takes.

Curve settings:
Global RGB Input/Output: 85/75 and 185/175
Individual Input/Output: Red: 70/60; Green: 70/60; Blue: 70/60

Channel Mixer:
R+65, G:00, B+35, Contrast 0
(For more dramatic skin tones you may wish to try: R+35, G:00, B+65, Contrast 0)

-5 / +5


Protege said...

I would have loved to visit The Getty, just because of the scientific books and manuscripts.;)
What an interesting idea with the self-portrait. This is when experimenting with camera is at its best.;)

Studio Sylvia said...

What a fascinating post, Egmont. These images speak to me of vulnerability, of relinquishing one's safety net, of confronting one's emotional persona, revealing one's core. Thank you.

Maggie Neale said...

Beautiful, Egmont, your post and your capture of yourself. All thoughtful and with such care. Thank you so much for your sharing.

La Dolce Vita said...

I am in agreement with my dear friend, Sylvia. This post is so open and engaging. I am at once captured by your vulnerability and your melancholy. your work as always is simply magnifico.

I would have loved to see this exhibit, but am so thankful to see it through your eyes.

ciao dear, Egmont.

Ian Foster said...

This is a very stimulating post Egmont, I was very interested to learn about your methods for self portraiture but above all I was excited to hear about Irving Penn's 'Small Trades' series, I would love to have seen this. Many thanks

Anna said...

I consider self portraiture as a most courageous act! Yours is honest, brave, and beautiful!

Mark Sheeky said...

Thanks for sharing all of the photos and technical information. That shows how masterful you are as a photographer.

The scientific books are probably much more romantic when not seen! Medieval science is perfect for romance! But in reality I expect it was even less exciting than ancient Greek scrolls (excluding the illuminations that is!)

Edith Hope said...

Although very, very new to blogging, your site has completely overwhelmed me - so stylish, so artistic and so sensitively expressed.

I am well placed here in London for visiting galleries, a particular favourite being Tate Modern. Having friends who divide their time between Key West and New York, who knows but maybe one day the Getty might be a possibility. Strangely, my first blog recalled a visit to the American ambassador's residence and garden in London's Regent's Park.

Teri said...

I really like the image that you chose. It has a mysterious look that makes one want to investigate longer. I like the idea of being stripped down, naked. It makes me think that you have really exposed yourself completely and looked at the possibilities. Vulnerable, pensive, thoughtful, contemplative, and on and on. Nice!

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

A beautiful homage to Irving Penn...thank you.
Mary Ann

ELK said...

this is my first visit here.your deliberate artistic photography session resulted in a lovely image.also your post about Anthony and Sammy touched me.elk

~*~Patty Szymkowicz said...

Thank you for such an informative and thought provoking post Egmont!
The digital strip format is exciting. I do not see you as naked (or needing a haircut) at all, the photo seems full of admiration embracing inspiration.
I enjoy taking photographs, but truly do not know much about photography, thank you for sharing!

kenflett said...

Lovely Egmont, your self portrait, an exciting thing to do.
Your lighting is warm and sensitive.
Funny how we can look so different in each image. I like the image of you looking at the camera, third frame over, fifth one down, seems to tell us a bit more, a way in.

John M. Mora said...

A wonderful insightful post and you captured a bit of Irving Penn's delectable craft in your self portrait. Impressive.

Ange said...

Egmont, I have come back to read this post of yours several times now, hoping to have something of pertinence to say. I'm quite simply flabbergasted by your sensitivity. And talent. I shall return again.

Anonymous said...

I was delighted to see that you have become a 'Follower' of my blog and very much hope that you will continue to enjoy what I write. Sadly, I shall never be able to come anywhere close to matching your splendid images.

I shall look forward to your next post.

Eva said...

What an interesting photo and experience. Only a few really realize the thought and work that goes into a good photograph. My late friend Bill Avery was a still photographer for Universal Studios, years before Photoshop. I feel fortunate to have some of his "rejected" slides.

Laura Hegfield said...

the lighting draws me to the expression on your face...makes me so curious about exactly what you are thinking in the moment (probably something like "I hope this one comes out the way I want it to") But I would like to believe it is a deeper thought...more reflective of the tilt of your head and strength of your shoulders, protecting the book against your heart.

Trudi Sissons said...

I've only had one far-too-brief opportunity to visit The Getty - so I share your enthusiasm. Of course,
for you to have the time to spend with 'your' Irving Penn....can't get much better than that I would imagine.

Thank you for guiding me through the process of the technical aspects of setting up your photo shoot. I must try to duplicate the settings and have a amateur's version go at it.

From the technical expertise , through the prose, and finally to the raw courage it takes to share this intimate and soulful process with all of us, I salute you.

Kristin Fouquet said...

I've always thought it vital that a photographer should be capable of a stunning self-portrait. You have certainly achieved this. It's beautiful. Thank you for sharing the motivation behind it, your methods, and experience with us.

rivergardenstudio said...

Deeply moving post and photograph. Your story, of being so immersed in art, in the work of Irvin Penn, and recognizing your own feelings of melancholly are all beautitiful. You yourself have become part of the Art that you love. roxanne

magpie said...

your openness in these thoughts and images is a revelation.

teresa stieben said...

I find your self portrait interesting. A few years back I had found myself falling into depression when the thought struck to set up the camera and photograph myself. Being in front of rather than behind the camera is a different experience. As I progressed I removed more an more clothing till I finally it was just "me". I had so occupied my mind and body with doing, that by the end of the photo shoot I was laughing. I do now wish I had kept the photos as I could see my physical transformations from down to up develop before my eyes. It made me realize that when feeingl down I need to busy myself with creating.

layers said...

artists who delve into self portraits are very brave I think-- because they reveal a vulnerability and fragile side-- which takes courage.

Susan Deborah said...

Came across from Zuzana's blog intrigued by the title of your blog. Lovely! I liked the self portrait and the various tiny ones.

Books, paintings, images - all of them are fascinating and enable us to explore our interiors.

I am glad that I came by.

Joy always,

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

Egmont, you are a very brave man and I like that.
These images speak to me of vulnerabilty and liberation.Thanks for sharing

bad penny said...

thank you for visiting my blog. Your comment made me feel so sad about the old photographs to be found in junk shops.

As you see, I am the keeper of our family ones & plan some art work - a fabric journal maybe.

I know most of the names in the photos thanks to my mother & plan a day with her & my daughter recording them properly and a rough familty tree. so that they will continue to be remembered.

Caroline said...

NINE HOURS? Oy vey. I applaud your enthusiasm and tenacity. The word "vulnerable" keeps coming up in the comments. That is exactly what engaged my reading. Please write about your choice of book as garment.