Paying My Dues To Peter GowlandThursday, October 04, 2007
Some years ago I photographed a high tech executive. I then took the photograph to my friend Ian Bateson who manipulated it so that instead of having the executive look at the camera he was looking down. I placed by straight 8x10 next to a computer monitor and I loaded Ian's digital image on to the computer. The resulting photograph showed the executive on the screen looking down on himself on the desk. What was particularly striking (for me) in those early days of Photoshop was Bateson's ability at manipulating the photograph with the skill of an illustrator and artist who had, in his youth, done his share of life drawing. Bateson knew (and knows) how skin behaved. He knew (and knows) how skin droops. He was able to manipulate Photoshop realistically because of his knowledge of anatomy.
In the early 80s I was blindly pursuing the photographic "art" called glamour photography. Glamour is an in-between (between the clothed and unclothed) type of photography that is now seen, because Maxim rules the magazine stands, as tame and cheesy. The king of glamour (note that Americans do not use that u in colour and behaviour but keep that u in glamour) was Peter Gowland.
He pioneered in the 50s and 60s the use of the electronic flash with young women wearing bikinis while frolicking in California beaches. And like Bunny Yeager, who made Betti Page famous he photographed his women uncloathed in poses that did not show any of the bits and pieces.
In the 80s the process was to get the young lady to come into your studio. You had that perfectly stupid idea that some wine and loud heavy metal music would eventually lead the young lady to suggest that she would take it all off. And, yes, this happened a few times. And I felt extremely guilty about it. It is far easier now to book a model who will come to your studio and undrape immediately. And in many cases not only do you not pay them but you have young women calling you and willing to pay you if you will photograph them undraped.
Lost in all this is the fact that if one studies the undraped human body and experiments in the movement of limbs one is able to understand how the body behaves. One understands how to manipulate grace if grace is not there. And once these bodies are photographed with clothes - grace, poise and confidence can be exploited. My portraits today are all the better for all those glamour photographs and nudes I shot in my past.
In my attempts at glamour I remember fondly Annette (top left and right), who patiently posed for me for lighting experiments I had no idea on how to do. And she even managed to look her best in spite of those lighting experiments.
Here you see a photograph of Peter Gowland with that horrible pioneering flash unit the Honeywell Auto Strobonar. I had a couple of them (they still work!). They had a habit of failing when you needed them not to.
And also here is a photo by Gowland of the exotically named Ava DeLa Sabliere.