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