We decided to cover John in Hundreds and Thousands. I got them to stick by covering him in Golden Syrup first. For this session I had decided that the blood and mud shoot with Phil was good because the subject matter is more purely about me covered in weird stuff, as opposed to being people covered in weird stuff in documentary or fashion shoots. I wanted to photograph John in his sitting room by his bookcase with pictures on the wall but I wanted the depth of field to be quite shallow so those elements weren’t crowding the picture out.
On reflection this session was a bit of a struggle. Portrait photography is hard. Setting up a composition with the right degree of simplicity is hard. When I looked back at the pictures I noticed that there was one good shot of John looking straight on at me that I like. I wish I had that shot while he was covered in hundreds and thousands. That would probably have been my favourite.
There are shots I like from this collection though. They’re mainly the more close up ones of John from the side on looking into the distance. I’m interested by the difference between the one of him closig his eyes and him looking into the distance. They’re almost the same shot apart from that but him closing his eyes changes the emphasis quite a lot. I like that.
Both Libby and Mary have said they’ve thought that the pictures where people are closing their eyes are better. The ones with eyes open are immediately about different things. In the mud one I’m suddenly the swamp thing, whereas the one where my eyes are closed looks much more serene. It’s much more like I’m in my own cloud of reflection. That’s important. These photographs are at least in part about something that’s happening inside of someone. That demands a careful balance with these pictures. I’m learning a lot from doing them. There are many more decisions to be made than I might have thought. In a way I’m trying to learn how to do portrait photography full stop.
I feel like one of the ways I’ve failed in these photographs is that they should be portraits. So far I’ve been doing them as people covered in different weird things. The photographs need to come out of my relationship with these people. They’re all my frieds after all. These pictures are both more simple and complicated than I had initially thought.
For the next set I did after the one of Tola, I figured I’d like to do my friends Chris and Kaori as a couple. They’ve both got a good sense of toilet humour so we all agreed it make sense to cover them in fake poo. I found the fake poo mix here:
It’s from the British arcaeological college and is presumably part of some scheme to get children interested in archaeology and its process by looking at diffeent poos throughout history. You can make Aztec poo, Tudor poo, Viking poo and Victorian poo. Chris and Kaori are modelling Aztec poo, which was easiest to make because it didn’t feature fish bones.
Anyway, here are some of the pictures.
I like these photographs because they look like they’re from a fashion shoot. We took them at sunset on that ludicrously hot Saturday at the beginning of October. Because of this, the light is really good. It gives the pictures a small extra dimension somehow. Libby pointed out that because Chris and Kaori are both quite beautiful people, in the fashion shoot sense the feeling that these photographs are part of that aesthetic is somewhat inevitable. This hadn’t occurred to me at the time of shooting. In fact I don’t think of them as being especially good looking. They’re mates. But when she mentioned it I did have one of those ‘Oh yeah’ moments.
This means that the pictures have a strong reference point. It simplifies them somehow, and gives them a focus that the paint ones of Tola don’t have so much.
In a way I do wish I’d covered them in more fake poo. I wish I’d been more assertive in my coverage. I should have had them covered like I had myself covered in mud. There would have been the danger of getting the poo in their eyes though. That would have been bad. This is one of the difficulties of doing the goo portraits full stop. It’s difficult to just splatter stuff on to other people for fear of doing them a mischief.
I have done a few more of these goo portrait sessions now. I like the blood and mud ones I did though my main reaction was that I wanted to see some done in everyday settings.
My next step then was to photograph my friend Tola with some paint on top his head in the middle of my local park. I’m showing a load of them here.
I’ve got mixed reactions to these ones. The wider ones have more of a documentary feel. Tola’s in the park surrounded by dogs chasing each other. He’s standing by the edge of the road as cars rush past. I quite like these pictures in their own right but they’re not what I’m trying to do. Those pictures are about too many things for my liking. I find myself looking at the flat in the background, or the dogs, and thinking about social context. I think these photographs should have quite a singular focus. They’re portraits first and foremost.
The closer ones somehow don’t tap into the right conventions of portraiture for me. There’s something missing from them. I don’t know what it is.
Another issue is my own photographic skills. I feel a bit like I got let down by my tripod in some of these pictures and they’re softer than I’d like them to be. I have a new tripod and a cable release now so I can deal with that. The exposure on most of them is not as good as it could be. These problems taught me a lot. I’m bracketing my pictures now, as I should have been anyway. Generally I just want to get more professional in the way I approach my photographs.
PS – I had another look at this folder of pictures the other day and noticed that a few of them which I haven’t posted here yet were much better on second looking. Tola’s a pretty phenomenal model. There’s something about the blank way he’s standing there in some of the other pictures that works well. I’ll post those as well when I get a sec.
I’ve done a few sets of these goo portraits now. I don’t have time to write everything I want to write about them now but I want to get something up. So, here goes…
These are the blood ones. Phil took them. My main reaction to these is that while they were what I was looking for, I want to see some in a more everyday context. I want to see people covered in blood and mud doing the washing up. The idea of having them against a black or white background was that it would look like more purely internal experience that was being documented. I think this does come across to some extent but I think there’s something more subtle in what I’m really after that I can only get to by taking these pictures in more everyday situations.
A couple of these specially lit ones against the black background are quite iconic though. I like that. That’s also getting to the heart of what I wanted in the first place, I think. These ones have a simplicity, directness and focus that works well. I’ve yet to post the ones I’ve done in public settings but they don’t have the same directness. There’s too much other information there. Hmmm… food for thought here.
I’ll post the other two sessions very soon. They have their own aspects that I like. But I’ll get to them. Soon.
Okay, so I have this ludicrous idea for some photographs. I want to cover people in goo and then make portraits of them. An image of someone covered in blood fell into my head a few weeks ago. From there I had the idea of getting pictures of people covered in all sorts of different things. Obviously real blood is a bit of a no go area but apparently corn syrup makes for good fake blood. I’ll use that then. I’ve asked a few people if they’d be willing to model and some people have said they’d be up for it but most people have looked at me as if I’m mad. Comme ci comme ca, huh? I guess I’ll have to to do the modelling myself. This means I can’t take the photographs myself. This isn’t such a bad thing as my housemate is a lighting cameraman with ten years’ experience. I’ll probably learn a thing or two by watching how he sets shots up.
The different things I plan on covering myself in are as follows:
tar and feathers (marmite and feathers)
different colours of paint mixed up
blood (corn syrup)
mud and sticks and the occasional stone
sequins and glitter
hair (I have a bag of my own hair available)
Possibly try all of them in one messy mixture.
I like the idea of glitter and sequins in the mud.
I’m not really sure what the point of all of this is but I want to see the final images. I want to see them and think about how I can move them further. Largely because I think they’ll be strog images. One thing I’m tempted to do is make a project inviting people to send me their own mess self portraits and then exhibit those. I think it could be a fantastic series of photographs and I like the participatory aspect.
Another thing I have been thinking is that I want to present the photographs as a film of sorts, where at some points different photographs are layered on top of each other. Different images can fade in and out of view. I like the idea that each one of these images represents something of a person and that that person can be more than one of these things at any given time. Maybe the ones of mud and clay and blood will be ugly. But hopefully the ones of paint and glitter will be quite lovely. I am especially hoping the one of paint will be glorious. I think it could be.
Thinking of artistic precursors, the only person I can think of immediately is Gottfried Helnwein. Though I’m not so committed to being bloody miserable as Helnwein. Not that Helnwein’s intentions are necessarily making dark work. I’d e pleased if these photos could attain anything like that level of focus though. There’s a sense of intimacy with the viewer in some of his pictures, especially the ones of children. They look back at you and seem to contain more than they do. This gives them a peculiar power. That’s a good thing.
This is really one of those things I want to do for the sake of seeing how it works and then building on it.