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.

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