FRINGE: CONCEPT TO EXECUTION

I love Fringe time. I love seeing the people in my industry all come together in a huge mishmash of colour and art and sweat and tears. I love standing outside in the lane by the Fringe Club with all the people drinking and smoking and shivering, breathing in the cold night air before they dive back into the seething dancefloor. And most of all, I love seeing the new work come kicking and screaming into the world. Image deadlines for the Fringe have long lead times, so talking to artists about their marketing collateral happens right in the middle of the dreamtime, when nobody is quite sure what they’re making or how, just that it might feel a bit like this. Sound a touch like that. It’s an exciting time to be around creatives, and it makes photoshoot planning an interesting beast – trying to distil something that doesn’t exist yet into a marketable photo.

I thought it might be interesting to track the development of the images for two of the shows I shot for this year’s fringe – Mark Wilson/MKA’s ‘Richard II’ and Rachel Perks’ ‘Angry Sexx.’

ANGRY SEXX

frida

Rachel sent me her script to read over, and it was fierce – feminist, political, angry, sexy, provocative. She sent me this self portrait by Frida Kahlo and asked if we could shoot something similar. As her show features three monkeys from the future along with its two female leads, this felt like an appropriate reference to use! In an ideal world, we’d have hired a real monkey – one day, when I can blow as much money as Annie Leibovitz on a shoot…Rachel brought in the monkey toy as an entirely reasonable replacement.

Artemis Ioannides came on board to do makeup, and we talked about how to reference Frida’s iconic monobrow. We talked about potentially using gold eyeliner, but I worried that it would be lost in the image. I rummaged through my art supplies and found some gold leaf to try, and the result was excellent, lending some excellent texture to the whole look. We tried Rachel in a few different tops, and quickly decided that sequins were ideal – the general effect was simultaneously fabulous and unsettling.

While Artemis worked on Rachel in my kitchen, I sat staring at the backdrop, feeling that the setup was too sterile. I wandered outside to our front garden, and picked up several dead palm fronds that we had stacked next to the rubbish bin and wedged them precariously through a couple of chairs to balance them. I liked the way they referenced the foliage in the Kahlo portrait, but produced a space that was a little dead and haunted.

Rachel diptych

We played around with several different lighting setups – initially a clamshell setup with two speedlight flashes with shoot-through umbrellas but the effect was a little too straightforward. We tried using a palm frond to diffuse the light (right), which was a little more evocative, but still put too much focus on the background. Finally, I dragged out my tripod and lit the shot with my iPhone over a 5 second exposure. This was much better: moody, ethereal and mysterious.

DSC_3199 Once we’d decided on a hero image, I set to work in post. This is the image straight off-camera: fairly flat, a little too green.

In Lightroom, I brought down the colour temperature, added more magenta to the tint mix, brought down the overall exposure, pumped the blacks way up and toned down the highlights.

In Photoshop, I worked in Curves to bring more red into the highlights and pump up the blue in the shadows, slightly recoloured Rachel’s lips so they were pinker, increased the saturation generally and did some skin work to smooth the makeup and emphasize the clean glow of the lighting. I also got rid of the clamps holding the palm fronds to the chair.

The result? Dark, moody blues balanced by seductive reds, with Rachel emerging from the darkness to fix the viewer with an enigmatic stare…and a toy monkey.

With the addition of some bright pink text, it made a striking poster image.

Pozible image

RICHARD II

Sometimes, shoots just don’t quite go right. This usually happens when nobody has enough time to sit down and really nut out concepts, and the whole shoot happens on the fly. Sometimes, you create magic. Sometimes, you just don’t.

I got an email from Mark saying:

‘Hey Sarah,

I’m doing a show for the Fringe at Northcote, and they’ve just let us know we need to have an image BY WEDNESDAY!!!!!

I’m wondering if you have time to take a photo of me – probably wearing a lion suit and a crown (let’s see what my dramaturg says about that one) – before then?

Crazy notice I know,

X’

I can’t remember what happened between then and the shoot, but we ended up sans lion costume but with some costume pieces on loan from Rose Chong’s, including a doublet that Beyonce had apparently worn while in Australia. I set Mark up in my hall, in front of our leadlight windows, and we shot about 30 images before I had to run off to work. The whole thing had happened very quickly, and we were both tired and stressed.

I sent off image edits, which were fine, but they didn’t have anything to make them special. Even Beyonce’s doublet couldn’t save them.

10321808_10152030742871076_9073300222008677891_o

Mark sent me back another email:

‘Hi Sarah,

I’m afraid the joy of two dramaturgs is also the joy of collaboration: everyone likes the shots in a feature-in-a-magazine way, but feel that it isn’t striking enough for the fringe guide. Mea culpa.

Is it possible to reshoot? I will bring you a really big pastry and my profuse apologies and a stronger brief!!!!

Are you free again?

X X X X’

A few days later, he had brought Amaya Vecellio on board, and emailed: ‘We’ve got a solid concept now at last, a portrait style thing with me dressed as a Christ guy.’

Mark and Amaya arrived at my house with a bag of costume pieces, a crown of thorns and a pouch of gold leaf. Mark showed me some grainy iPhone images he’d taken of himself, shot looking as though he was masturbating. We shot a series of photos of him dressed as Christ, erotic and confronting.

DSC_4041 2

We continued messing about with different elements here – making Mark’s masturbation pose a little less aggressive, and experimenting with bringing in gold elements to press the regal half of Richard’s god-king status. The right-hand image here has a little residue of the lion concept from Mark’s first email:

Mark diptych 2

After an hour or so of shooting, I was getting tired and hungry (further proof that I’m actually a toddler in an adult body), but Amaya pushed us to keep playing, bringing in the gold leaf. I made myself dinner while she painstakingly applied it, and we started shooting in front of the backdrop, but something wasn’t quite working – the shots weren’t popping the way we needed.

Mark diptych

DSC_4134

Amaya then rummaged through her bag and brought out a piece of gold fleur-de-lis cloth. I was initially worried that the images would end up being too crowded – the cloth was very small, which meant that I had to shoot in quite tight. I needn’t have worried. As soon as we put Mark in front of it, it was obvious that these images were the winners. The skin tones and the gold reduced the palette beautifully and drew attention to Mark’s eyes in a way that the dark background had failed to do. The outrageousness of all the gold meant that Mark’s blank expression took on a particularly intriguing tone and leant him power.

This is the image we ended up choosing, straight off-camera. Editing was a process of cropping it in to the borders of the fabric and warming up the whole image – giving it a rich gold palette, crisping up the contrast and slightly lightening Mark’s eyes to draw attention. The result was lush and striking – and a million miles better than the first shoot. Sorry, Beyonce.

This shot has gone on to be one of the key images for the Fringe, dominating the street press and popping up all over the internet. Just goes to show – if at first you don’t succeed, bring in a designer who knows their shit.

DSC_4134

S x

All images mine, except for Frida Kahlo’s ‘Self Portrait with a Monkey.’ What a boss lady she is.

Leave a Reply