A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Noam Gagnon-Bullfighters & Wondrous Polaroids
Saturday, September 29, 2007

In recent years I have simplified my photographic technique and kept it simple. I remember once in actually bragging that I had used 8 different lights for one shoot. At the same time I have kept in mind that we live in a one star system. This means that at any given time when we are outside we will cast only one shadow. If there are any inhabitants in the triple star Centauri System they would cast more than one shadow.

In the last few years I have come to like using a 3x4 ft softbox (a rectangular nylon box with a flash on one end and an opaque nylon cloth through which the flash shoots through). You can see part of it on the right hand side of this first photo which is a scanned b+w Polaroid of dancer/choreographer Noam Gagnon who is one half of the two-person dance group Holy Body Tattoo. The other half is Dana Gingras.

I like to position my subject not too far from my medium gray wall and then I get my 3x4 softbox as close as I can to my subject. Depending on how far from the wall and how near my softbox is, that gray wall can go from almost black to a light gray. If you look carefully at that Polaroid you can see that on Gagnon's right hand side of his face there is a little Rembrandt upside down triangle of light. I like to play with that triangle. I can make it more intense if I ask Gagnon to ever so slightly rotate his nose towards the light on his left hand side. I like the mystery and the drama of this lighting. But it is important that the dark side of the face have a slight light or an indication of it in the eye.

This is my present style. But it clashes completely with the needs of the Georgia Straight which uses cheap newsprint and an economical printer. This means that true blacks usually reproduce as muddy dark grays and so on. They would reject this original Polaroid as they would the 10th exposure (it did not fit into the contact sheet of 9 exposures). I also rejected it as I did not think the portrait was strong enough with the smile. Gagnon recently spent some time in Spain and he told me that there was something of the bullfighter in his three pieces. Of all the shots I took of him the one that I picked is the one that to me looked the most had I photographed a bullfighter and not the dancer. Only in that frame was Gagnon's neck stretched out to look like that elegant bullfighter Paco Camino I so admired in the 60s.

I took one Polaroid for each of the two setups you see here in the original contact sheet of only 9 shots (the 10th exposure did not fit on it). Gagnon and I decided we liked the second setup with the softbox as opposed to avant-gardish ring flash one.

In the contact sheet the x marks the photograph that is running in this week's Georgia Straight. You can see what it looks like by comparing the dark x one with this one which is the one I sent to the Straight.

But with all my recent fiddling with my new Epson V700 scanner that gives me more of the inherent sharpness of my original Polaroid (as opposed to my older Epson 1640SU) I have come to see the Polaroids as objects of beauty.

As you lighten them the background gets an interesting mottling that I like. And when I scan these original b+w Polaroids as four colour they develop a slight cool blue tint that I find charming. This picture on the left is the original Polaroid from the top scanned to my satisfaction. My camera enables me to either use Polaroid (on a Polaroid back) and or film on a film back. Before any portrait session I take a Polaroid first before switching to negative b+w film or colour transparency. More and more, of late, that first Polaroid is becoming my favourite and I don't even shoot straight film anymore.

Noam Gagnon will be appearing next week at the Vancouver Cultural Centre beginning October 2.


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