March 13, 2005

New Model Army

Digital original

For me, the most anticipated event of the visit to Montreal was the chance to see and photograph a performance of the British (post-punk-alternative-rock-electro-folk) band New Model Army. This is a band that I have listened too since I was 19 but have never had the opportunity to see perform live. In the fall of 2004, I'd considered driving up to Montreal to see them on an acoustic tour but, at the last moment, the date was cancelled, so I couldn't attend. Just on a whim, when the dates for the Montreal trip were confirmed, I checked their website on the off chance they were coming back - and they were - as a full band - on the very week that I was going to be in Montreal. I ordered tickets to the show and contacted the band for permission to photograph (though in retrospect , given how many other cameras there were in the audience, I didn't have to be as concerned about the photo permission as I was).
Digital original
Though I haven't done it for years, when I was in college I used to photograph live concerts in several Halifax bars several times a week for more than five years. I really enjoyed the spontaneous, uncontrolled nature of the venue and, over time, became quite comfortable with the process (though poor lighting or boring bands were still difficult to overcome and unfortunately par for the course). That being said, this concert would be my first attempt at concert photography with a digital SLR.
Digital original
I arrived at the concert with three lenses, a 35mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.4 and a 85mm f/1.8 - all fast lenses. I set the D70 to 1600 ISO to keep the shutter speed as high as possible and began photographing. The very first images were made in RAW mode but I very quickly changed to high-quality JPG to enable myself to photograph faster and make more images (I also very quickly switched from the 4gb Microdive to a 1gb CF cards, to enable a faster frame rate). The Microdive, while fast enough for my regular work with models, was much too slow for the fast response and frame rate required for a concert. By the end of the 90 minute concert, I'd made over 1,000 exposures (which were later edited down heavily) and had finally seen one my favourite bands give one of the best concerts I'd yet to witness (though the sound could have been better!).

March 11, 2005

Veronica Models in Montreal

After Gilda and I wrapped up our morning session, Joy and I had a hurried lunch (thanks to Mary-Jane for finding us a place to eat!) before heading back to the studio for the second session of the day. Besides Gilda, Veronica was the only other model I'd previously worked with from Montreal - we'd had our second session together over the New Year weekend in Halifax, so I was all the more pleased that I'd be able to work with her again so soon.
Digital original, 6 image stitch
As is my preference, I opened up the session with a series of portraits, working with Veronica against a white-painted brick and wood wall, again taking advantage of the wonderful natural light coming through the large windows. Part-way through the session, Jean-Francois, who was working in one of the other studio rooms, had to ask me something, so instead of putting all her clothes back on, Veronica just bundled herself into a sheet of thin white fabric for a moment. When I turned around after seeing Jean-Francois off, Veronica half-dropped the sheeting, just clutching a small around next to her torso - and it looked just wonderful. She and I spent the next twenty minutes or so experimenting with the fabric, and making a whole series of images, both full body and abstract, exploring the possibilities. I think this is rooted in the fabric nudes I did last fall with Kylie, yet they are different, with an almost bridal feel to them (I suspect this is a combination of the soft lighting, and the white fabric).
Digital original
The room in which we were working had a great influence on the images. Much larger then any other studio I've worked with to date, the space gave a real freedom to spread out and work with a variety of viewpoints (usually the spaces I work in are very constrained and severely limit the variety of perspectives and angles I can work from.) I took advantage of this in a number of ways, both in terms of making more multi-image stitches than usual and working with the model from more varied angles.
Digital original, 4 frame stitch
The very end of the session saw us moving from the room in which I'd work for the morning and much of the afternoon, into a much larger space on the other side of the building - if the first room I was in was large, this space was HUGE, running the entire length of the building. It was also unheated (remember, this session was in Canada in March), which was why I'd left it to the end of the session. When I'd shown the space to Veronica, she agreed it was interesting enough to work with, even with the cool temperature. For the first time that day, I left the tripod behind, and worked hand-held, making a whole series of images in the space in less than a dozen minutes. As it turned out, the only images I really respond to well were a set we produced at the end, working with a single large window and Veronica standing beside it...not much different from what we'd produced in the smaller space, (the windows were the same size) except for the perspective - I was more then ten meters away from her when making the image, giving the final photographs a very flattened sense of perspective.

Gilda Models in Montreal

While the main motivation for the Montreal visit was family-orientated, one of the first things I did once the trip was confirmed was touch base with several people in  Montreal to see if they'd have time to meet up and make some photos during my visit. Jean-Francois, who I was staying with, had offered me the use of his studio (which was actually an entire 900 square meter floor of an older office building, by far the largest studio I have ever worked in), so if I could find some people to work with, in addition to gallery visits and presentations on my work, I would be able to make some new photographs too.
Digital original
My first opportunity to work with a model in Montreal was actually a chance to continue working with Gilda, whom I'd first met and photographed on New Year's Day, two months before. Where those sessions were of Gilda working with other models, this session have us a chance to work together, focusing just on her, as opposed to her in concert with other models.

I set up in the smallest room on the floor (there were three rooms usable as studios, but the smallest one was the easiest for me to work in). With two large windows, and empty walls (one white, the rest light yellow) the space was fabulous to work in - the entire session was spent working with available light, for both digital and the view camera and, while some of the exposures were a little on the long side, they were nothing that wasn't practical with a patient model.
Digital original, 2 frame stitch
Because of the beautiful light available from the large windows, I spent much of the session working with portraits of Gilda, exploring the rich textures of her hair and the wonderful flow of her body. The whole session had a very interesting quality to it - as she had previously worked with me, there was already a comfort with the process, yet as her first session modeling alone, so there was an edge of the unknown to the images.

With the light so delicate and even, I made a large number of multiimag stitches during the session, especially a whole series of images I made against a pillar in the centre of the room. Because I wanted to experiment with numerous poses in the same space, I first made a multiimage stitch of the pillar alone, and then just made the images of Gilda in each pose, planning the blend the results together later in the computer (this is as opposed to having to make the additional images of the pillar where Gilda was not present for each new pose). This technique worked out very well, yielding not just a series of single images, but a wide panoramic image assembled from seven separate compositions (each made from 11 frames stitched together), which is visible in the patron's site's bonus material.
8"x10" film
My favorite portrait of the session was made just after we'd finished making the digital images against the pillar. Gilda was relaxing while I was resetting some equipment, and I happened to glance over at her. She had her hands pressed behind her back against the pillar, and looked just lovely. I asked if she could stay in the pose while I set up the view camera (such a quiet pose would be no problem to hold for the 1-2 second required to expose it), and she said no problem. A minute or so later, I was satisfied with the composition on the ground glass, and made the image - a wonderfully simple image, especially when set against the frenzied technical dance we had been going through minutes before making 77 images in a little over ten minutes for the digital stitches.

March 10, 2005

Arriving in Montreal

Digital original
An unexpected e-mail in early February from a friend in Montreal, with an interesting an generous offer of a French immersion offer for the youngest member of the family, led to a flurry of planning, some quick budget adjustments, and finally, the confirmation of a road trip to Montreal for most of a week in early March. I'd been contemplating a Montreal visit for some time, hoping to have the opportunity to show my work to galleries in the city and work with some of the models I've photographed in the past who live in the city. Combined with the family-orientated reason for the trip, this gave more than enough motivation for making the trip happen, and on a rather snowy day in early March, Joy and I set off from Moncton for the long drive to Montreal.
Digital original
The first full day of our stay in Montreal was spent downtown, making a visit to a gallery (which sadly was postponed until Saturday) and doing some street photography. While I was in the gallery, Joy had roamed down St. Catherine's Street photographing, so when I came out, I met up with her, and did the same, initially focusing on broad streetscapes with a wide angle lens. It was only when we came across a large university building with classical columns that I shifted from large images to details, moving out of the bitter wind (did I mention how COLD Montreal was? Bone-chilling!) and making a series of images of the columns. This trip was my first chance to work with the ultra-wide angle Nikon 12-24mm lens, and I was very pleased with its performance, both in terms of the angle of view, and the sharpness, which was very important with a subject as detailed and rich as these pillars.
Digital original

March 05, 2005

Working with a New Model in Montreal

My second day of working with models in Montreal was quite different from the first - because of a rescheduled gallery visit, the schedule was tighter, with less time for each model. This stress (I hate working with a strict time-table) was further exasperated by the fact that each model was working with me for the first time. This created a frustrating situation for me, both because I felt it was unfair to work with a first-time model under such specific time restrictions, and as I seldom establish set times for working, preferring to let a session last as long as the inspiration and energy permits (invariable, sessions wind to a spontaneous conclusion if you simply permit them to run their natural course).
8"x10" film
Fortunately, Marie-Eve and I had met up two days earlier (after a very convoluted driving experience in Verdun and DNG) to talk about my work, and discuss the process, so she had some idea of how I'd expected the session to go, and what I was like as a person. She also showed up to the session with a couple of pages of sketches of images she'd like to try to make, always a welcome contribution, especially when working with the studio, which is always a somewhat frustrating space to create in.
Digital original, 10 frame stitch
We began the session with a series of portraits, and then moved to the first of Marie-Eve's ideas - working in the large windows in the space; the first images of the set were drawn directly from her sketches, with her body practically silhouetted against the window, and the camera positioned parallel to the glass. In all, we made more than a handful of variations on this idea, with a variety of poses and positions. Towards the end of the process, I walked over to the side of the window, and caught a glimpse of Marie-Eve's body in the window. Instantly the space changed, and instead of having the model as a graphical element against the window, she had a reflection. To a degree, this drew on the Simulacra images from a number of years ago, but with the space being so evident (the mirror images were more stylized, where this window was very present in the images) the images are only quoting from the mirror work, as opposed to influenced by them.
Digital original

The end of the session was the only time during the Montreal visit that I actually used studio flash (though the space in which I was working was well equipped). As we worked together, I very quickly got a sense that Marie-Eve is a very physical model, with great enthusiasm for experimenting with the pose and body position. This immediately brought to mind the dramatic studio image I'd made in 2004 with Miranda and Kylie, and after checking with Jean-Francois who was working in the largest of the studio rooms, I set up the lighting in the third studio (which was heated) and we began to work on the final set of images. Unlike the first two times working with this idea, I was able to have Marie-Eve far enough from the background to keep it well out of focus. It was a little bit of a struggle to get the light right between the two sides of the model but, with a little bit of hectic running back and forth between the camera and the flashes, I was finally able to get the balance right. Once the lighting was right, the rest of the session was simply a process of variations on a theme, finding the best composition for each pose, and working with Marie-Eve to get the position of her body right for the lighting.

As the allotted (and all too short) time for the session came to a close, I wrapped up the work with the flash, and made a final set of portraits of Marie-Eve, shifting back to natural light for the final composition of the session.