Juan StevensUntitled (2014?)

I feel like I need to say about this upfront that while I think it’s deeply flawed, I do also think it’s a splendid image.

The points of criticism I have are that with the frame of the window in the background and the positioning of the woman, the composition does not suggest extension beyond the frame edges–thus her feet are essentially amputated, relegating her to the position of a signifier for both physical desirability and carnal accessibility. (I also love that the sharpest point of focus is slightly behind her head.)

That being said it is countered somwhat by the backlighting which controls what is concealed vs revealed (identity vs graphic depiction of erogenous zones). That aspect of the image is impressively sensitive and astute.

From the standpoint of visual grammar, this is a mess. The strident blue cast is beyond over the top.

Although that cast does contribute an undeniable tonal immediacy to what is depicted, it’s overly stylized in a way that isn’t justified by the context suggested from the frame.

It’s clearly full day-light beyond the blinds–pro-tip: as much as you think those standard issue Venetian blinds in your suburban cul de sac community can be made to recall Sin City, you’re dead wrong.

But let’s stick with the idea of Sin City for a minute because there’s something worth teasing out there. Sin City hinges on a visual conceit–a world embodying the overly stylized tropes of film noir.

Hollywood studios and backlots allowed filmmakers access to almost unlimited lighting and control over that lighting. So in most B&W movies through the early 1950s, you can tell whether a scene is happening at night or in the daylight just by how it’s shot. It’s not always convincing but it is consistent.

But as people moved towards shooting on location, this shifted. You can’t haul unlimited equipment all over town, obvs.

When I used to teach a crash course in lighting for cinema to undergrads, the question I always got was how to shoot exterior night scenes. And that’s a good question that lacks an adequate answer.

I think when people ask that they mean: how do I shoot something so it looks like Taxi Driver or Blade Runner or Collateral? And the truth is: you don’t shoot something like that because only Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Michael Mann are going to be able to command that kind of perfection in craftand they can’t even pull it off every on every project they complete.

The prevailing idea has been based off the notion that moonlight is blue–it’s not really but it is perceived as such. Thus you had a period of shooting day for night where you shoot something in the middle of the day, underexpose by 2 stops and use a special filter–if you’ve seen an American B movie with exterior night scenes from the 1970s, you’ll know this because while it’s clear that they mean for you to think it’s night, it’s all very heavy handed.

I’m pretty sure it started on TV but the first time I remember seeing it was in an early Guillermo del Toro movie where a lot of bright lights were gelled blue and the scene was flooded with light to suggest night.

Film stocks and sensors have improved dramatically since the early 1990s, though. The issue is that with the move toward digital and the fact that digital formate fundamentally does not have the dynamic range to render vivid much less true black, the blue as indicator for night has become more or less codified.

I’m willing to give this a partial pass, however. I think that you could actually selectively darken the window so that the bed linens are brighter. Point is: that as a sketch this is top notch. I see high end fashion shit that costs thousands of dollars that doesn’t have a tenth of the diamond-in-the-rough insight as this. I just think that a great idea deserves to be revisited until you do the idea justice in execution.

As far as what I told those beginning filmmakers. How important is it that the viewer knows that it’s night. Is that all that matters? If so, then you can absolutely steal a page from Chantal Ackerman’s eternally underappreciated Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, Bruxelles–where mother and sun go walking every day after dinner in the pitch dark night. Or, with the improvements in film stocks you can go murky available light like Kiarostami’s Where Is the Friend’s House? Whereas both David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson deploy tactics similar to noir to different effect–the former is all about including practicals in the frame to suggest the source of the light and then using that a means of distracting from the staged lighting that is meticulously pieced together; the latter uses only just enough light to carve the scene out from shadows. (You won’t ever get quite the same effect, but it’s absolutely possible to improvise something in keeping with the principles guiding both of their decisions in your own work.)

Also, although I personally loathe his aesthetic, Hype Williams is someone with nearly endless versatility in his approach to low-light shooting.

Flora BorsiHome (2015)

Generally–for me–photo manipulation is a turn-off.

It’s not that I find it inherently dishonest or anything like that–in fact, I find the conceptual implications of photo manipulation super intriguing; it’s the fact that it is so rarely attempted by someone with any real sort of well developed craft.

Although, Borsi’s Photoshop approach is almost certainly too clean and minimal for it’s own good–only an inept idiot would dispute that she’s got some goddamn mean fucking chops.

I’d be absolutely in love with this based solely on the interplay of color. (In that regard, it reminds me of Amanda Jasnowski; while avoiding Jasnowski’s tendency to favor high key lighting as a means of compressing shadow density.)

And I’m intrigued by the process. Yes, the orange heat blur is not consistent given the flames. However, there’s no way to get that completely 120% correct, so she adds just enough to sell the drama and then focuses on secondary details. (The subtle bluer around the right shoulder and the careful way the light given off by the flames cast on the body.)

But what floors me is what I see as one of the conceptual notions underlying the image: the burning vegetation recalls the shape of the lungs–and presumably having your lungs on fire is a pretty serious affliction.

Yet, with this degree of Photoshop mastery, Borsi could have made it look as if these were her lungs. She decidedly doesn’t. They appear outside the body.

And I begin to view this as a comment on how damaging it is to effectively set women on fire simply because society has sexualized female bodies.

Anastasiya Shevela. (2015)

According to the tags in the original post, this image was made with a sheet of 4×5 Kodak Ektachrome.

Long story short: Ektachrome ‘replaced’ Kodachrome. (The scare quotes are to respect the opinion that Kodachrome was without equal and irreplaceable.)

It’s a fine grain color positive (or slide) film. It was discontinued in 2013.

There’s no way of knowing when the sheet resulting in this photograph was exposed. It could’ve been in 2013, while the film was still ‘fresh’. If it was exposed this year–which would be my guess–it’s held up reasonably well. (There’s a blue shift due to the boat and a yellow shift in the skintone but both facets only contribute to a stronger image.)

I used a few rolls of Ektachrome before it was scrapped. I’ve never really cared for Kodak film stock–the T-Max grain structure irritates me and Tri-X has never been as smooth as the high end Ilford stocks to my eye. And I’ve had several interactions with Kodak as a company that have left a very bad taste in my mouth. But Ektachrome was solid. It never had the dazzling skin tone of Fuji’s Astia. (Now sadly also discontinued–but I do still have a small stockpile in my freezer.)

If you’ve never shot slide film you aren’t going to appreciate the nuance in this photograph. Unlike negative film–which has a sometimes a nearly five stop exposure range wherein you’ll get a ‘usable’ photo–slide film is unforgiving in the extreme.  Without perfectly even lighting, Fuji’s Provia 100 in medium format gives about ¾ of stop range; 35mm is ¼ a stop if you’re super lucky.

So, if it’s that much fussier to shoot slides as opposed to negs, why bother? Well, on the one hand, I’m a photographer who strongly dislikes the lemming-like obsession so many fashion/editorial/’fine art’ folks have with Kodak Portra. If you’re using a flash and/or have controlled lighting, you can do some interesting stuff with it. But it’s texture tends to be plastic-like and the colors skew a little too pastel for my taste. (I suspect so many people use it because it tends to provide a ‘flattering’ skin tone by default.)

The truth is: I only ever shot one negative stock which rendered what I would refer to as acceptable color fidelity–Afga’s Optima II. (I’m convinced it was better able to render grey scale in the shadow areas.) Alas, it was discontinued soon after I stumbled onto it.

The first time I shot slide film was the first time I was really even halfway on board with regard to color fidelity. So I continue to shoot it.

And I think what I’ve come to realize is slide film just renders color in a fashion closer to the way my eye sees color. For example, in the above image, it’s difficult to tell if the blue is bleeding out from the boat into the pebbles or if the pebbles were just close enough in color as to provide that illusion. A well exposed slide leaves that ambiguity. Just pop in down on a light table and you’ll see it one way or the other depending upon how you look at it.

With a negative, that distinction would be something that one would develop in printing. (And it would take a long time of futzing back and forth and printing a bunch of images that didn’t work.)

That’s why slide film appeals to me: if you shoot it and it looks like crap, there’s no fixing it. It’s not strictly WYSIWYG but it’s so close it may as well be. I appreciate it’s unforgiving nature. It forces me to think and then think again before I click the shutter.

Hunny BummyComfort Zone (2015)

These images are presented as a diptych even though they do not function as one.

They’re solid; neither composition holds up under scrutiny–the left appears symmetrical until you look at it a second time and discover it’s really not and that the positioning of he arms is actually makes it even more glaring; the wawkerjawed-ness of the second one is even more obvious but here the position of the arms actually de-emphasizes it ever so slightly.

Either way, together they round up to good because of the thoughtful use of color.

What’s interesting about the relationship between them not being diptypical (hurr durr) is that they imply a continuum between concept and execution.

The left image is simple, clear, the color pops and as a result it’s absolutely memorable. The right image uses negative space to draw entirely undue attention to the use of color–it’s like screaming hey, everyone look at how great I am at using color. However, the slight shift in the position of the arms on the right is utterly fucking sublime. (Also, you get water drops splattered on the side of the tub highlighted by the light pooling on the side of the tub.)

Split the difference in the distance between the left and right, make sure you line up the lines of the tile grout with your frame edge and include just a hint of the bathroom floor and keep the pose on the right and you’d have a great image.

EL3 Imageryromahni-7 (2014)

The B&W work EL3 Imagery has authored is so bad it borders on offensive.

It’s
mostly that his compositions are either utterly dull or nonsensical.
Yet, there is sometimes interesting considerations show with regard to
color.

He’s clearly going for and falling well short of a portraiture of immediacy feeling a la the fabulously talented ryanmuirhead;
and while he lacks the brashness, audacity and stones of radical
reinterpretation of what constitutes complimentary colors that vk-photography​‘s work, there is something instinctively compelling about EL3 Imagery’s crisp rendering of ultra vivid reds, greens and blues.

In
the case of the above, I don’t have 3D glasses handy but I’m reasonably
sure this would likely take on added dimensionality if I were to look
at this while wearing them. That’s not quite enough to carry the image
but it’s not something I can recall thinking of an image previously.

Maurycy GomulickiMINIMAL FETISH_9895 (2010)

This is problematic for the same reasons I took this gorgeous Kodachrome to task.

It’s a teensy bit off balance– the angle of the legs in relation to the lower corners and the uneven grading of the pistachio backdrop; however,  I’m unsure whether it’s a lazy approximation on the part of the artist or an expectation that viewer will get the jist instinctively round it up.

Don’t get me wrong, the interplay of colors is LOVELY. (So much so that when it disappeared from my likes before I could post it, wyoh enacted some of her ‘net wizardry and tracked it down from little more than my muddled recollection of it.)

Gomulicki is trained as a designer and painter. His work is fixated on both documentation and vibrant-to-the-point-of-surreality color palates. And I can’t look at this or any of his images without relating them to amandajas’.

I don’t think it’s difficult to see why: Jasnowski is an image maker preoccupied with image making as a mode of design, after all; and she deploys a strikingly similar palate in her work.

But that connection triggers another question: what is the relationship/where is the boundary between image making & design?

And how does any answer inform the question of the purpose of color in image making practice?