December 20, 2012

"An Embarrassment of Riches", by Marcus J. Ranum

Written in 2007

An article by Marcus J. Ranum

" I'd like to talk a little bit about the interrelationship between what a photographer has going in to a shot, and what comes out the other end." Marcus J. Ranum

" There's an old saw in photography...

...that the "decisive moment" Cartier-Bresson always talked about really occurred when he looked at the contact sheets and said "this one !"

Apparently, that's just an old photographer's joke, but this evening, I'd like to talk a little bit about the interrelationship between what a photographer has going in to a shot, and what comes out the other end. At the end of this little ramble, we'll even have a bit of fun. I'm having a couple glasses of particularly nice Zinfandel as I write this, won't you join me ?

"Deconstructed Waitress"
Art Model Zinn

Professional photographers are often dealing with a scenario where an art director has story-boarded a concept, and the photographer's job is to realize that concept as closely as possible. Pros I've talked to admit that they sometimes get to fudge on the concept here and there and the end result is that the art director is happier with the alternate vision, and that's what gets used.

At the other end of that spectrum are the wild talents like Helmut Newton. As far as I can tell, he'd get a call from a (let's say...) underwear company that wanted him to shoot their product - and he'd say "that'll be $10,000" and they'd send the stuff along, book whatever supermodel he wanted to use, and he'd do the shoot wherever he happened to be.

In "Helmut by June" there are some amazing and very revealing scenes showing Newton directing Cindy Crawford, standing her against a wall behind a string quartet (WTF ?) playing in a gilt-encrusted salon in some shi-shi French hotel.

As far as I can tell his method was :
- get a pretty girl
- grab a camera
- get the product you're supposed to be shooting
- do something brilliant

His whole approach appeared to be free-associative. And he was a genius at it. There's one scene in "Helmut by June" in which he dragoons some hanger-on into playing the part of the jealous husband kicking in a hotel room door that is sheltering a scantily-clad (in the lingerie set that was being advertised!) model in some hotel room. Ideas just came flying out of him, as if he was a popcorn popping machine full of sensual, weird imagery.

Helmut and June Newton

I compare that with a couple photographers I know, who go into a shot with a very precise idea of what they want, and work the lighting and model until they get exactly what they pre-visualized. To me, the idea of seeing everything in great detail in your head before you start shooting - is very interesting.

When I was first learning photography, I did the whole routine of shooting with an 8x10 view-camera, previsualizing my shots (at $5 a sheet for film, plus 1 hour to process it, you'd better previsualize !) - but I instinctively migrated away from that approach as soon as I could, thanks to the cost advantages and technical quality that digital cameras hit by 1999.

"The Disaster"
Art Model Catphrodite

For example, when I shoot something like one of my cat-girl shots, I go into it with the idea of "OK, I have a model, a cat-girl outfit, and a bird-cage and some feathers. We'll make it look like she ate the canary."

A lot of the details just sort of emerge as the shot progresses. Typically I'll shoot 10-40 images and I'd guess that more than 70% of the work of refining the image is from the model. In the case of "the disaster" I'd say that 50% of the posing was Catphrodite's inspiration and 50% happened when I concocted the basic scenario.

But the decisive moment happened when I picked that particular frame out of the whole set that I shot.

So let's look at another case.

I shot these last Saturday, when Rael C came down to Allentown from NYC for a day of shooting. I brought my plaster column because I wanted to do a shot contrasting the shape of her body/booty with Nerlande's in The Vase, I thought it would be a cool thing. Especially since Rael has kind of the same dimensions (broad shoulders, narrow waist, broad hips) as Nerlande.

"The Vase"
Art Model Nerlande Daniel

So I showed her the shot of Nerlande, set up the lights, gave her a footstool so she could climb up on the column, and sat back with my camera.

Typically when I work a concept, the model gets her say in what's going on. In this case, Rael took things in a completely different direction. She started off with a slight variation of what I wanted, then started clowning around, and then got serious. Which brings me back to "the decisive moment" - how do you choose from such an embarrassment of riches ?

I'm fortunate that my portfolio is strong enough by now that I can afford to only use one of this set. When I was a beginner I would have stuck at least 3 of these in my portfolio, and been incredibly pleased to do so - but somewhere along the line I came to the conclusion that having my collection dominated by shots of a single model in the same lighting and similar poses wasn't "cool" unless it was deliberately constructed as part of a series.

I think I've written about this before, but - forgive me - I must repeat myself : for me, half the fun is playing through the creative process with the model. I love cooking up an idea and watching the model re-interpret it, rip it apart, and - sometimes - magic happens, and they blow it over the horizon. When that happens, I'm having so much fun that I almost feel it's sacreligous to post the pictures. I want to selfishly cling to the moment that happened and keep it private. Mine, all mine.

It's only because I love you, dear reader, that I'm exposing these to you. These are resampled straight off the camera - no photoshop, no color correction, nothing. All the mistakes, clearly, are mine. Not Rael's. After all, she was just sitting there, right ?

So out of 50 frames, I'll expose a few with commentary on what was happening at the time. Maybe it'll give you a feeling for the flow of how a concept plays itself out during a shoot.

#1 I showed Rael the "Vase" picture and I think she was a bit cold. This was how she started out, in spite of the fact that I wanted her feet down.

#2 I asked her to put her feet down and she decided to mess with me a bit. Rael is a spirited wench!

#3 Now, she's getting into the idea, and is interpreting it in her own way. At this point I pretty much shut up except for making small happy photographer noises like "uh, yeah. great. cool. keep going."

#4 At this point, Rael is totally into her own zone. She's doing her own thing and I am staring slack-jawed through the viewfinder mashing the shutter-button every time something she does looks particularly cool.

#5 Click. Click. Click. "Yeah. Holy crap. that's great."

#6 Holy crap... She's going all "indian goddess" on me! Click. Click.

You'll notice that the colors shift fairly dramatically here. What happened ? Simple ! Rael wanted to see how she looked ("does sitting on this thing make my ass look fat ?") so I went up with the camera to let her take a look. Somehow in the process of mashing buttons I reset the camera's color balance. Fortunately, since these shots were intended to be converted to black and white I knew I didn't have to care.

#7 Following the concept of "does my ass look fat on this pedestal ?" and she decided to play with that for a while. I have a half dozen variations on this shot.

#8 She started to slow down and shifted over to a profile pose. This kind of "knotted up self" pose is one I've seen Rael do fairly often. Just not sitting 5 feet up off a concrete floor ! At this point I was telling her to be careful because if she fell I wouldn't be able to catch her before she hit the ground.

#9 ...and this was the end. She was tired of the series and so was I. I knew I had some magic in the bag (or, more precisely, on the CF card) and there was no point in working the concept further. Go too far and you'll bore/piss off/tire your model.

After this series, we broke for lunch at a local diner. We were both pretty exhausted.

Maybe you can imagine the scene, now. Two creative people playing with an idea, one leading - the other interpreting. And, the end result is of my choosing. It's quite possible that one of these images would please Rael more than me - but since I'm the photographer and it was my shoot, I get to make that call.

Sometimes I feel as if being the artist is really more a matter of creating a situation in which art happens - rather than doing it all yourself. It's that line of thinking that made me decide to open my stock gallery ( [link] ) and to hold my stock contest. To me, there are a lot of similarities between shooting stock and working a creative scene with a model - you kind of wind things up, click "go" and see what happens. It's wonderful !

When people ask me why I do this, I usually say something lame like : "it's like collaborating with several people at once. And you have no idea what they'll come up with !" In this case I was not coaching Rael about her arm-positions ; that beauty came entirely from her.

But I'll happily take the credit for it. Thanks for the time you've spent with me, my loves,

December 19, 2012

R. Schenck's interview

" I do know I want there to be a story for the viewer to continue playing out from where the image froze it. Also, the images need to be real looking with a level of detail that might inspire a viewer to want to touch it, to feel the textures." R. Schenck


R. Schenck at deviantART.

"MT Back"

Dear Ralph, could you tell us how did your passion for photography begin ?

I first started shooting models by take pictures at a fashion show. It went well and that lead to shooting fashion/modeling shots.

For me, the challenges model photography possessed were very fulfilling but it was when I meet that first special model that I found a true passion for the camera.

I still remember the first time I "saw" a finished picture through the viewfinder of a camera while I was shooting and the "high" it gave me.

Where did you learn your art ? Self taught or student ?...

Self taught. I worked in a commercial studio for 14 years before going out on my own. That first job gave many opportunities to develop my skills.

I currently enjoy my situation as a commercial photographer and do the art photography as a test bed for developing new ideas, and for undoing the brain damage of shooting too many product shots.

"Asia Ankle Bound"

How long could you be far from your camera ?

I handle a camera almost daily but it's not artistic work. I would prefer to shoot something artistic at least weekly, but because of a health issue I have been away for just over a year. It has been incredibly difficult seeing new shots in my mind and not be able to do anything about it.

I do "see" ideas in my head regularly and like to work them out to completion in my mind, but it is not as satisfying as working with a model. Ultimately, there is not much better than working together on an image and having new things come out that change and potentially improve upon the original concept you started with.

Living the same situation, you can imagine how I understand you... Anyway, who are your favorite photographers ?

Helmut Newton. He was my biggest influence.

Art Model Iris Dassault

"Iris Isolation"
Art Model Iris Dassault

How long did it take to find your own style ? Maybe more difficult, could you define it ?

I don't know that my style has been established. Refining the direction of the work is still on going.

I do know I want there to be a story for the viewer to continue playing out from where the image froze it.

Also, the images need to be real looking with a level of detail that might inspire a viewer to want to touch it, to feel the textures.

Many of my older work I plan to reshoot to accomplish this end, and in the process undoing some bad colorizing and other photoshop work done during an earlier lapse in judgement.

"Raven Beach"

"L Beach"

What message do you want to express through your work ?

I'd rather let the viewer come to their own conclusions.

One defining characteristic that I would always like to project is that the model is involved in it consensually. This applies primarily to my fetish/bondage oriented images. I have found "consentual" to be very difficult to accomplish, and in many cases have failed miserably.

"Raven Sand"

Art is so difficult ! But, watching your work, "miserably" seems a strong word... By the way, what is your process of creation ? Do you plan every details ?

I do like to plan shots out in great detail, but I know the model and I will be improvising and the details I worked out will only apply if I have someone lacking the skills to play out the role.

More than anything I like to collaborate. I feel fortunate to have had four muse's in the last 25 years that have inspired me to reach further into myself. I can only hope I will be fortunate to find at least one more during my career.

"Art T

How lucky you are ! You seem to have a preference for studio shootings ?

Mostly I like working in the studio so that I can "play" with the extensive lighting tools I have accumulated, The locations I like tend to be beaches or old buildings.

"Fabric 1"
Art Model Iris Dassault

Some words about your models ?

All the people I have been fortunate enough to work with have been great.

Models with a dance background are my first choice, especially a ballet/jazz background, but otherwise I want to work with a model that can visualize themselves playing the role I want to put them in.

I NEVER try to talk a model into doing a shot. If they don't see themselves in it, they don't do it.

Now, I understand why you collaborate with Iris Dassault. How do you feel at the end of a shoot ?

Usually I'm already thinking about ideas for the next shoot.

"Fabric 2"
Art Model Iris Dassault

Not tired ? And always creating !... Is there a challenge you're dreaming about ?

It seems like there are always some rough ideas rambling around in my subconscious. Something just pops up when I get close to a shoot and then I fill in the details.

When and where will be your next exhibition ?

No plans for one. Still need to settle my health issues first.

I wish you the best... Take care. Have you published a book ? In magazines ?

I have had ten's of thousands of images published, just not the artistic work. That might be changing in the next few months.

I had kept my work private between the model and myself as I have viewed it as being a work in progress. Over the years I haven't had time to do a coherent collection of images that could be shown. It was just this year that Iris Dassault told me about deviantART and talked me into showing there. That group of images is a 10-12 year accumulation showing the range of ideas I have worked on.

It's a good beginning. A message to send before we leave ?

I love this quote and find it speaks my thoughts all too well :

"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever,
the goal is to create something that will." (Kassassin)

A wonderful quote I didn't know. Thanks a lot, I appreciate your so kind participation. Take care. And don't forget to rest !


R. Schenck ©

December 14, 2012

Mark Varley's Interview

“ I consider myself a photographic artist. I see the world my way and using my camera I capture this so I may show others, how I see things and what the world means to me. ” Mark Varley

" Born in Yorkshire in 1976 Mark’s childhood was influenced by its moors and wide-open spaces.

After a spell in the army he was left permanently disabled and accepted a medical discharge with physical injuries and PTSD. During the next few years he spent time working in the war torn Bosnia and Croatia.

Photography was a hobby that developed into a profession in 1999. His images have been published in many books, magazines, websites and art galleries throughout Britain, Europe and America primarily Landscapes, Wildlife and Artistic Nudes including the highly specialised Japanese influenced rope bondage which he also teaches and performs.

"Josie on wood"

"In spite of his disabilities he constantly inspires with his work being followed by other leading photographers.

In 2006 his first in a series of highly collectable bondage books was published - Beautiful Bondage - the art of rope bondage in collaboration with John Grinter.
2006 was also the year Mark teamed up with talented abstract and travel photographer Jan Murphy and Twisted Photography was born, closely followed by Twisted Arts for more artistic works.

2007 started with another book-based project ‘London Bound’ an artistic study of rope bondage on women of London, many trying it for the first time, photographed in their own homes and photographed in a familiar range of artistic styles, real women in real bondage.

"Photography is not a sport, it has no rules"

Dear Mark, how did you get into nude art photography ?

I'd been a photographer for a while and I used to draw nudes and admire the work of men like Craig Weston, Man Ray, Erik Kroll, (to name but a few) on the newsgroup : "alt binaries photos nude-art".

I finally decided to try myself and befrended a local model who worked for free on my first two shoots, I was hooked, I was amazed by my own work and it was the first time I felt totally immersed in my subject. On reflection I see that it's where my talent really lies, it's the most natural style I work in.

Where did you learn your art ?

I have to thank my school art teacher, Mrs Todd, for getting me started and spending many hours in the darkroom with me. Since then I am entirely self-taught. I read books and talk to other photographers but mostly it all came from within.

Practice and inspiration, certainly the best way to learn... How long could you be far from your camera ? Are you obsessive ?

As my camera is rather bulky and as photography is my everyday work I tend to not take it out when not working, however my partner (Jan Murphy, also a photographer and partner in my company TwistedPhotography) and I were out yesterday, not working, and ended up taking many photos on our camera phones. The photographer part of us just won't be switched off !


Who are your favorite photographers ?

Craig Weston, Man Ray, Erik Kroll, Gabriele Rigon, Helmut Newton, Howard Schatz, Imogen Cunningham, the list goes on, these people and many others have all influenced me in some way.

I must say, as embarrassed as she will be by it, my partner Jan Murphy has grown massively as a photographer while I have known her and when she says "what do you think of this" I am almost always quite amazed by what she has produced.


And how long did it take to find your own style ? Could you define it ?

I think I see several styles depending on how and what I'm shooting, but if I were to sum up my basic core style it would be 'painting with dark'.

' PhotoGraph' is usually translated or broken-down into ' painting with light', I feel I am often painting with the lack of light, the shadows, the dark. This is, on reflection, how I have always worked.

"Lady M"

What message do you want to give us through your work ?

I see the world my way, but only I see it, my photography is my attempt to capture what I see the way I see it so I may share it with the world.
My message is 'this is my world, try looking at it my way, just for a moment'.

What is your process of creation ?

Some shoots are planned to a degree of details and some just happen, I usually start with some ideas and along the way to creating them other ideas come to mind and away we go.

However I also did an amazing shoot in the summer, I had seen a model on a website and I was immediately captivated with her body, muscular yet feminine. When we finally got around to arranging a shoot, outdoor locations near her home, I arrived at the stations and she suggested locations she'd seen, there was so little planning it may as well have all been improvised. We used some woodland and an old barn and I just flowed creatively. Nothing planned yet beautiful work produced.

Other times I have a clear idea in my head and am quite obsessive about creating and capturing it exactly.

What a lucky man !... What locations do you tend to use mainly ?

I did a book entirely shot on-location at models own homes, it was such a change from the sterile studio environment I had been in for the previous few months.

I shoot in studios, other interesting locations, outdoor locations (both urban and rural), homes, anywhere.

Everywhere is the best place for creation, you're right. Some words about your gorgeous models ?

Most of my models are private clients paying for photos of themselves, however I rarely show those works as examples so most of the models you will see in photographs I show are professional or semi-professional models, though I do only use models who have a personal interest in the style and can bring something of themselves to it, some passion, the last thing I want to work with is 'a body for hire'.

On the whole my models have been amazing, many are now friends, my life and my work is enriched for having spent some time with each and every one of them.

"Untitled Sarah"

I understand. How do you feel at the end of a shooting ?

As well as combinations of exhausted, mentally drained, etc...

I am always on a high, I carry my camera home like it contains something precious and beautiful, which it usually does.

Art Model Louise

And have you some challenges you're dreaming about ?

Every time I pick up my camera I feel a challenge. Continuing to make my living this way is always a challenge, continuing to explore my artistic self is always a challenge. I'd love the challenge of working with a celebrity and capturing them my way instead of theirs (for a change).

Everything should be challenging otherwise it gets boring.

"With a twist"
Art Model Louise

You have you published three books... Bravo ! Is there one to come ?

Yes, three books so far :

'Beautiful Bondage', the art of rope bondage, volume one' was shot in early 2006 and produced in partnership with my then-assistant John Grinter, it was a combination of decorative rope bondage (another passion of mine) beautifully photographed and a how-to guide for the rope ties.

'London Bound'
was shot in the first half of 2007 and took rope bondage into the homes of real London women, many were trying bondage for the first time, it's all real and photographed in a very 'real' way. I have copies of my books here and this is the one I pick up and flick through most of the time, I love it myself.

'Fine Art Nude Photography', so-titled as I feel my nudes fit squarely in this category, is a compilation of 250 fine art nude images I photographed between 2004 and 2006.

They are all available via my website.
I have also had work used in others books and magazines etc and I have other books planned for the future.

Bravo ! It's so difficult to be published nowadays... Maybe a message to send before we leave ?

'Buy Photographic Art'. Photography is an art form, the technical knowledge required sits happily in the background while we photographic artists create.

If you think a photograph is beautiful, mine or someone else, buy a print, you will be able to enjoy it every day, it can only increase in value and you have touched a photographer deeply, buying a print says 'I love your work, I love this piece so much I need to own it, keep doing what you do'. Even the most arrogant of artists are touched by this.

You're right !... And this site is made for ! Thanks a lot Mark, I appreciate your kind and so quick participation.