A painting of me

Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 6

   10 December 2009, terribly early in the morning

Tonight is my last Figurative Photography class. Since talking about the class previously, I’ve had two more sessions photographing nude models. It’s strange how normal the whole exercise becomes. The second and third classes were more about setting up lights and figuring out what to shoot, rather than dealing with the fact there is a totally naked person in front of you. That’s not to say I got better pictures during the subsequent session.

During the first session I took pretty vanilla photos of nude people. Some of the photos turned out nicely, but a lot of them were pretty plain. So, I thought for the subsequent classes I’d just muck around with things and try to take different sorts of pictures. During the second class, in between taking regular portraits and what not, I had the models stand up and down while I took longer exposed shots. I wanted to end up with safe-for-work nudes, shots that hinted at the nudity and the human form.

During the third class, I brought my flash, and tried using that while photographing. I took some long exposure shots where I’d fire the flash and move, so you end up with an echoed image after the first. A series of shots using my flash and a flash light to illuminate the scene turned out nteresting. (And at times a bit messy.) Someone wanted to photograph the body with images projected onto it, and that actually turned out pretty interesting. The model looked like he had a full body tattoo. We ended that class doing multiple exposures using my flash and long shutter speeds in a black room. These photos have a sort of ethereal look to them.

You can see everything I’ve posted from my class on Flickr, though the set is probably NSFW. Tonights class is probably going to be spent looking at photos.

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Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 5

   20 November 2009, terribly early in the morning

Since my last class taking nude photographs, I attended two photography classes where we spent time looking at photographs and reviewing each others work. One class focused on street and vernacular photography, the another on nudes and fashion photography.

The street photography section was interesting, but since this is a topic i’m interested in I was fairly familiar with a lot of the work. There were still some new names to learn and photos to see. Sally Mann, Tina Barney, and Larry Sultan all take family photographs, but with a fine-art twist. Tina Barney is interesting in that she uses a large format camera to take what look like snapshots — except there is no way they could be snapshots because of the nature of the camera. I had no idea Larry Clark, the director of Kids, was an accomplished photographer before he became a director. His photos are in the same vein as Nan Goldin. The class covered a whole slew of photographers, ending with a look at Trent Parke’s work.

The following class started with another look at the body. Of particular note was the work by Francesca Woodman. She committed suicide at a young age and came to prominence after her death. Her portraits and self portraits are pretty haunting: long exposures, strange settings, etc. On the fashion side of things, the work by Deborah Tuberville is really interesting; she barely showcases the clothing. It’s interesting watching the evolution of fashion photography: early photographs look and feel like photographs of real live people, while what we have today is so over processed and shiny everything looks so fake.

Last night’s class was once again spent taking photographs of nude models.

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Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 4

    3 November 2009, early evening

In between photo shoots.

The 4th class in my Figurative Photography Class was the first class where we photographed the nude body. I found the experience quite surreal. Normally the people you interact with are clothed. Having a conversation with a naked person is odd. Asking them to pose this way or that way is all the more strange.

The models were regulars at the AGO. It seemed like most of my class members had taken other gallery courses at the AGO, so they had already worked with nude models before. (A few even knew the models in question.) We were supposed to have a male and female model to work with, but the sculpture class lost their model so our female mode left to help them out. The male model called up his friend, another AGO regular, and so a half hour or so into the class we had two male models to work with, Ab and Flip. Being regulars, they were quite comfortable getting naked and contorting their body. They were probably far more comfortable with the situation than the people in my class.

I found that I would get wrapped up in the way the models were posed and forget where the shadows are falling on their bodies. Another issue is that the schlong is a very awkward appendage: it’s hard to place in a photograph. More so, I think it’s hard to photograph a dude’s junk and not have it be vulgar. I’m not sure what I can say about nude photography. I found it hard to take a meaningful photo. There are a few shots I thought were standout, but for the most part I felt like I was just taking pictures of naked people. Hopefully the next time we take pictures i’ll have a better idea of what I want to photograph.

A few NSFW images from the night are up on Flickr.

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Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 3

   25 October 2009, early evening

The third figurative photography class I attended was split, more or less, into three sections. We started the class with an overview of nude photography. As with the class on portraiture, we more or less covered the history of nude photography from the advent of photography to the 70s or so. (I believe we are covering more contemporary nude photography in an another class.) As with the previous class, there were a few names I recognized, and plenty I did not.

I haven’t really sat down and looked at a lot of nude photography, so it’s interesting to see how different people approach the subject, and how it has changed over time. The very early nudes seem to have a lot in common with classic sculptures of the body, or paintings. This is to be expected to some extent. This is also probably due to the nature of cameras at the time. They were large and cumbersome, and the exposures were quite long. Most of the photographs we saw from the early part of the century were of full body nudes. As cameras get smaller, and film more straightforward to process and develop, you start to see more interesting takes on the subject. Surrealists like Man Ray were doing pretty interesting things with the nude body. Other photographers whose work I thought was quite good include Peter Hujar,
Lee Friedlander, and Bill Brandt.

The second part of the class was reviewing each others work. Everyone presented 3 photos from the previous week’s class (Stacey, Dave), 2 portraits they took outside of class (Shima), and one self portrait. It was interesting seeing what everyone decided to photograph, and how they lit their subjects.

Finally we went up to the fifth floor of the AGO to check out the Beautiful Fictions exhibit currently taking place. I ended up going to the AGO again today to check it out once more. It’s a really cool collection of contemporary photography. There is a lot to see, and a good variety of images, so it’s well worth the trip to the gallery.

Next week we are working with nude models. That should be an experience.

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Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 2

   16 October 2009, early morning

I attended my second Figurative Photography class yesterday. This class was focused on portraiture. The first hour or so was spent on a brief overview of portraiture from the last 100 years or so, looking at some important or interesting figures. Some names I recognized, like Yousuf Karsh or Richard Avedon. Others were new to me, like Mike Disfarmer. We looked at all sorts of photographs, from Karen Finley covered in chocolate to Anne Noggle’s self portraits. My favourite shot of the night was a photograph of Arthur Miller by Bresson.

The class set up for portraiture

The rest of the class was spent taking portraits. The class was split in two, with each group working independently. We each took turns modelling for the other members in our group. One person was supposed to be in charge lighting and direction, with this role alternating as we cycled through models. In practice I felt we were all cool with deciding what to do together. This was the first time I had taken photos so formally, using tungsten lights and other junk to light a subject. I regret not trying this stuff out sooner. You have so much control over the image when you can control all the lighting. I was shooting with my Rebel, and with my Leica. You can see some photos from the night on Flickr.

In the next class we are supposed to review each others work, and then begin a look at nude photography. The following week we photograph nudes.

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Advanced Figurative Photography: Part 1

    8 October 2009, evening time

Today was my first class of Advanced Figurative Photography. The AGO offers studio courses, and this one sounded interesting. I like photographing people.

Today’s class was a light introduction to things. We looked at work from past students. We looked at some of the teachers own work. We looked at a slide show on how the human body has been portrayed in the past: how we might classify different sorts of images. Finally we ended the class with a brief discussion on lighting.

The take away from all this, which I didn’t really pick up on when I read the course description, is that a big part of Figurative Photography is taking pictures of naked people. The course description made it sound like this was one aspect of the course, but it’s clear from the first class that this is probably the primary focus of the course, and this topic in general. I suppose I should have known that. We looked at a lot of really great nudes during the class. (And the work our teacher showed were his own nude self portraits.)

I think this course will be an interesting experience. I quite enjoyed the first class.

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