Yesterday I let myself play a little bit and acted on a self-portrait idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a few months. What was supposed to be a quick setup to test the concept ended up producing a final image.
I first got the idea for this picture when I found and signed up for About.me (an online service that allows users to set up a simple, clean bio page linking to various web sites and services). I really like the simple but flexible formatting template that About.me has created. The variety of profiles featured in their directory demonstrate the possibility of great creative diversity within a limited structure.
Part one, making the picture:
This photo was made by composing a scene with a 4x5 view camera and then using a second camera to photograph the ground glass, composing loosely enough to see the 4x5 camera and some of the out of focus background. The final image is rotated 180 degrees to make the ground glass image upright and as a result the camera appears upside-down.
What you see is the combination of three exposures. For the first two, I draped a black cloth over the space between the two cameras to avoid ambient light contaminating the ground glass image. This is just like the classic image of the photographer ducking under the black cloth behind a big view camera. The first exposure was the main scene lit entirely by strobes. This was necessary because the image projected on the ground glass was far to dim to capture a portrait with ambient light alone - the long exposure would have left me a blurry mess. The second exposure was a longer exposure of the scene to allow the cool late-afternoon window light to burn in a bit. The third exposure was taken without the black cloth and adjusted to properly expose the 4x5 camera body and the surrounding scene. These three shots were easily merged in Photoshop with little other manipulation beyond the usual dodge-and-burn adjustments.
Part two, the concept:
Everything about this photograph relates to the idea of what a successful self-portrait should be and a desire to go beyond an obvious solution. I like to see pictures of people in their creative spaces and wanted to take that approach for my photo.
Right now, for me that place is this corner of my unfinished garage. I made the workbench out of plywood salvaged from some unneeded storage cabinets I took down to free up this space. I do need to insulate and finish the walls so I can use my workshop all year - the winter is too cold and the summer too hot. But I like the character of the rough space and am reluctant to simply hang drywall in there.
I don’t think that just taking a picture of me with a camera would be a successful self-portrait. So much of how I work is about the process of making images so I like that this portrait kind of tells the story of it’s own making, but in a way that I feel is balanced with just being a decent and interesting picture. Plus, I am such a tinkerer and at home in the workshop - and all of that stuff informs my work as a photographer. I like the way the image in the ground glass ended up being bookended by lighting equipment on one side and a drill press on the other. It wasn’t intentional or planned, but it worked out well.
And, yes - working with the view camera made me want to load up some film holders…