I was advised by my tutor to avoid the ‘Views’ option so I considered the remaining possibilities, ‘Crowds’ or ‘Heads’. Here in France profonde it is so sparsely populated that a crowd is considered to be three people and though I toyed with the idea of ‘3’s’ as in two’s company, three’s a crowd I preferred the ‘Heads’ option.
Which presented me with a similar problem – we don’t know anyone here so gathering candidates was tricky. I decided to wrangle the brief a bit and look at different kinds of heads. Though human heads are somewhat scarce there are vegetables a-plenty around here and cabbages have heads, surely? Likewise lettuce, broccoli and all those other squeaky-leaved delights; so I embarked on the (freely interpreted) assignment with endives and Garduno in mind.
I have been impressed by the work of Flor Garduno, a Mexican photographer and erstwhile assistant to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who makes calm and understated images of figures and organic forms. Here are some examples from her book “Flor”.1
These are my photographs of her book so not ideal in terms of quality but they convey the general idea. They are printed rather dark with the lighter tones restricted to selected areas, which draws attention to them and shows the texture without compromising the form.
I planned to produce my final images in b/w, leaving the contact images in colour. Indoor working has considerable appeal at the beginning of February so I contrived a little tabletop arrangement in a spare room. I selected a lucky cabbage to stand in whilst I tried to work out how to light it, make a background and a foreground surface.
I wanted the background dark so chose a deep red material which could be darkened further in editing without affecting the leafy subjects; there is very little red in them. A slightly rustic but plain ground was provided by some planks I found.
I began by lighting it with flash but the room was a bit too small for ease of movement. Also I didn’t like the rather sterile result, so reverted to natural light from an overhead Velux window. Overcast but brightish skies gave a good even and soft illumination but rather too much of it and somewhat flat. The pictures below show what I got to in the end – one large cardboard flag to keep the light off the background, a reflector to throw some light under the ‘subject’ to lift it away from the wood and fill some shadow areas plus another flag wielded by my glamorous assistant to shadow the wood to the right. I like this subtractive lighting technique where you begin with far more than you need or want, then gradually take it away from some areas and favour others.
Shiny side out for the reflector, it’s warm but the final results will be in black and white
Not enough headroom here for elaborate lighting but cardboard is quite effective
The remaining images were produced with minor variations of this setup. The exposure times were too long for handheld shots and in any case the tripod is a big help with repeatability. 400 ASA to give a bit more speed, there’s no problem with noise at the size they will be viewed. I set a 2-second self timer delay to help prevent finger induced shake. The exposure data appears on a (hopefully discreet) panel at the lower edge. I did a little bit of editing to the RAW files but not much. Here are my selected images:
The last b/w image of the endives is probably the most successful although I do quite like the colour image which I have included below it.
Garduno’s work functioned as a kind of roadmap for me and I wasn’t attempting to replicate her output, rather keep it in mind as a guide. In any case I believe that copying is a perfectly acceptable learning tool, given that the chances of producing anything remotely akin to the original are pretty small. As a learning aid it is not so much the similarities to be found in the comparison but the differences – those are the features which distinguish the student’s work as their own.
From producing these images I have learned that – for this type of work – most of the endeavour is in the ‘art direction’, choosing, placing setting out and lighting the subjects. There is time to consider things and make incremental adjustments which is gratifying, seeing a ‘look’ develop, but one needs to know when to stop. I was slightly surprised how much I liked the last colour image, perhaps it’s the muted hues which don’t shout “colour” so loudly. The background was successful because it isn’t visible. The wood is a bit too rustic but it’s not intrusive.
The ‘contacts’ are a representative sample of all the exposures made; including them all would take up a lot of space and many are very similar.
1 “Flor” Flor Garduno 2002 Edition Braus