In front of the camera: A photographer’s day as a model.
Everyone should have a friend that when you say, “I have this idea…it’s a bit crazy, but I think you’d really love it” who responds “I’m in!” without hesitation, reservation, or judgment. Well, Dan Singer is that friend to me. I “met” Dan online a few years ago through a Flickr group of mostly St Louis photographers. Then we became Facebook friends, and last summer we finally met in person to go to the Lantern Festival with another photog friend (shout out to Brenda Meis Meyer!). Dan is a lifelong artist – an illustrator, graphic designer, and photographer. He translates objects into photography in ways that I could never, ever see. Plus, he’s amazing at shooting in black and white, and using shadows and light, which made him perfect for my crazy idea.
If you know me at all, you know I have an entire closet devoted to dresses. And not just dresses, but DRESSES. Ball gowns, full length formals, vintage, thrift store, borrowed, and new. I love glamour, style, and classic elegance. A few months ago I started a Pinterest board called “Project Me” of black and white portraits of beautiful people with the idea that I wanted some new, fun portraits for my web site and other social media sites. But this would require me to step out from behind my comfort zone and be in front of the camera. It’s not so much that I have a problem getting my picture taken, but I have a hesitation of getting my picture really TAKEN, by a professional, not just the quick Hipstamatic snap shot I love so much. Last year, I had another photog friend do my original shots (shout out to Veronica Pikul!) which was my first time in front of a camera in 12 years. It was so easy and relaxed. I just pretended to be someone else while my kids ran around in the background and V snapped away capturing the chaos. But this time I wanted some serious, up close and personal staged shots. I was nervous. For what I wanted there would be studio lights -harsh, bright, non-forgiving lights. That brought out EVERY flaw in my 37 year old face. There was the bad haircut that I’ve been waiting to “grow out” and be acceptable for weeks. There was the makeup that had to be just right or the whole thing would look ridiculous. And then there were the poses. The poses that I’m sure in the originals were not poses at all, but very candid relaxed captures of beauty which is why they were so effortlessly perfect and timeless. Dan kept asking me when we were going to tackle this project and I kept saying “oh…..next week.” Finally, I ran out of “next weeks” and we agreed to Saturday afternoon. So on Friday, I sent Dan the 5 poses I thought we could do, and he went to work on researching lighting and staging and I tried, I swear, I really tried, to work on the rest.
I showed up at Dan’s house armed with a huge bag and an armload of dresses. We started with the first fairly straightforward pose – a simple side portrait which turned out “OK” (meaning we trashed all the images, and want to do it again). We moved on to pose 2, the “easy, natural” one. HA! This one was a woman sitting with her head in her hand very casually relaxed and fairly devoid of emotion. Should be a piece of cake right? Oh my…… no. We tried, and tried, and tried, for like an hour we tried, which is when we started joking about mug shots and looking completely void and burned out on life. It was at this point I started thinking “oh crap. I’m totally wasting this guy’s time. This was a B.A.D. idea….I didn’t bring my sass, I look terrible, none of this is going to work.” I’m guessing Dan could sense my frustration with not being able to properly mold my hand in any sort of way that looked natural on a human being, and suggested to move on to the Joan Crawford shadowed headshot. It was somewhere 3 or 4 clicks into Joan that he came out from behind the camera and said “no. look at me.” and that’s when I remembered that this wasn’t about ME, it was about art, it was about projection, it was about anything other than Christina Kling-Garrett standing in front of a camera, and I relaxed. I can’t say enough how much I love this image. It was amazing to watch him take the raw shot and create a final image of exactly what I wanted it to be. How he finished it off and made it, made me, beautiful.
Pose 3: Joan Crawford
The fourth and fifth poses were old fashioned tin-type shots – more artsy, more harsh, more abstract. In ways they were easier to do than the first two, simply because I was more relaxed, but it was still hard to capture the raw natural emotion of what I wanted. Dan did an incredible job with the post production to get them how we envisioned them.
Pose 4: Julia James, 1912, photographed by Alexander Bassarno
Pose 5: photograph by Edgar Degas, 1895
Dan and I have talked for months about how we should a share a studio space, and I joked to him how much fun it would be to just have a closet full of clothes so we could take pictures any time we are bored. We still have “the big shot” to do when it’s not 18 degrees outside, and I’d love to redo those first two poses, so I’m going to have to learn to loosen up, relax, keep my head straight, and my hand natural. When I was getting ready, I texted my cousin-in-law who’s senior pictures I’d done a few months ago that now I know how she felt when I was all up in her face. I think it’s a very valuable lesson for any photographer to have to be in front of the camera themselves every so often. It certainly taught me vulnerability and how terrifying it is to be the subject and have someone staring at you, and showed me how you need to get the model out of their head and help them pose, and direct them.
My “Project Me” idea board: http://pinterest.com/klingsandthings/project-me/