Monday, January 12, 2009

It's a WRONG way to the top if you wanna rock and roll

When starting a new project, two main questions always pop up immediately: 1. What do I think the client (or boss or whoever is paying) wants, and 2. What's the WRONG way to do this?

Every time I've worried about question 1, the work has suffered and the client has had plenty of "notes" for me. So as much as possible, I try to rephrase that question for myself as "You know what the client thinks they want. Now, what do you think they need?" Every time I use this approach, or the "idea that's definitely getting you fired this time" method, I've gotten rave reviews. In a few cases in my life as a designer, it's even been a game-changer for the client. (btw, as an artist I hate the word "client". Makes me feel like a lawyer.) I suppose it goes back to idea that if you're doing something that doesn't inspire you, everyone can tell. Conversely, if you always do things or approach projects in a way that inspires you, that is just as recognizable. Even if it's not exactly what your client thought they wanted. That's why I'm extricating myself from the graphic designer job description. It was a decent way to make money, but I was never inspired by it. 

Tom Waits was the guy who turned me on to trying to do things the wrong way. Listen to his music, and you know that he has driven producers and engineers crazy for decades. Consequently, he has created music that you immediately recognize as his, before his equally "wrong way" voice ever sings a note.

Photographically, that means (for me) thinking about how I should NOT light something, or what the WRONG lens/aperture/shutter speed/film type is and trying it that way first. Sometimes, there's a very good reason there was a wrong method and the images are colossal failures. Other times, though, the "mistake" is what made the image worth creating in the first place.

Which brings me to my current project(s). The two kind of run concurrent with each other and I get images for both projects from the same session. 

One of these is a series of portraits. Oversimplified, it seems that portraiture is documentation of a person at a certain point in life and is meant to be flattering to the subject. So what's the wrong way to do portraits? I think I've found it. Using a single light source above and forward of the subject's head makes lines and wrinkles slightly deeper. My method of post-processing these images makes wrinkles canyon-deep and makes skin and hair look artificial. I would be immediately fired and then possibly sued if my sitters thought they were getting a glamour shot done. So far, though, they've all been good sports.

TWO-FACED: The other "wrong" way of doing portraits is multiple exposures. Sure, you could do multiple exposures that had a dreamy quality, showing two (or more) sides of a personality. I did some of those. And photographically, they're pretty cool. But what got me excited was the idea of using the double exposure to obscure the real identity of the subject. By closely overlaying the two exposures, neither shot by itself is the "hero" and a weird third identity is created. Again, flattering? No. You wouldn't say "oh what a nice picture of so-and-so." You might not even say "oh yeah. that's what's his name." But you stop and look for a while as you try to differentiate between the two original images and take in this weird third person that the two originals created. These portraits will never become anyone's Christmas Card, but they are keeping me excited enough that I wake up every morning wondering who else I can shoot.

Want to be the next two-facer on my list? Send me an email, or let me know in the comments.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Don't sweat the details (too much)

I had a session the other day...seemed to take forever to nail down a date, as it came up just as my wife and I (mostly her) were about to have a baby. Hard to schedule something when you could be racing to the hospital at any minute...

The concept was "china doll discarded in the attic", and it was my understanding that I was shooting one model. She was coming with an escort, which I encouraged since coming over to a house of a man you've never met to go up into his creepy old attic could be a little, uh, nerve-wracking. I was expecting two people. So when the car pulled up with four occupants (which, unless I missed my guess was the model's boyfriend, the model's friend, and the model's friend's boyfriend) I was a little aprehensive.

Then, just before my model went to change, she informed me that her friend would be in the shoot also. Uh oh. I just spent 45 minutes setting lights for a one-model shoot.

I decided to roll with it and just see what happened. It's a good thing I did. Because the snafus didn't end there. The models were doing their own makeup, and their concept of "we have the right makeup to make ourselves look like porcelain" was different than mine. I reminded myself to just roll with it, or as Joe McNally recently put it "uh, remember you already said yes".

So they ended up looking less like china dolls and more like Victorian-era young women, which made being in my (freezing cold) attic make a little less sense, but a quick redirect of the lights, a quick stopping down of the aperture to get rid of some of the attic junk, and the shoot turned out just fine. Turned out quite well, actually. do you say that exactly?

The word "epiglotic" seems to induce dyslexia, even in people who do not normally switch letters around. I have never once heard someone pronounce it correctly (epi • glot • ick) when seeing it in print, and often not even after I have said it aloud to them. Most often I am asked "what is epilogic?" 
Maybe it wasn't the best name for a business. But, as a silver-lining-finding guy (and as the guy who owns the domain name) I like to think that once a person learns how to pronounce it, it is a name, and a business, they won't soon forget.

So Seth, where does one come up with a name that I suspect is not even a real word?

It goes back a few years...I am also a musician, and a while ago I was coming up with names for a not-yet-formed band. The epiglottis is the little flap, or fleshy manhole cover, at the top of the esophagus that, if you're deciding between drinking and breathing, decides whether you breathe or drown. I thought that was a pretty good metaphor for any artistic pursuit. Not one to leave well enough alone, I changed the spelling to make it into an adjective. I have had to spell my website/email address/business name ever since. The band never did get put together (I decided to go solo, so that if I didn't like the other guys or they didn't like me I wouldn't have to think of another name), but I kept the name as an umbrella for whatever art I was doing at the time.

And now, I take the plunge (scary, invigorating...maybe those are the same thing) into the life of professional photographer. The alliteration of Epiglotic Photographic was just too good to pass up. 

So there it is. Epiglotic Photographic.