Whilst studying portraiture, I found myself pondering the ways in which we capture people as photographers. On a daily basis people capture images of themselves and their friends, family and peers, photographs that imortalize a person in a moment for a lifetime. These photos are then used to reflect a persons character, who they are and what they do. As much as I enjoy capturing a beautiful still image that truly captures and reflects the character and essence of an individual, I also can't help but think that still imagery should not be the only medium used to capture a person.
Unlike a photoshoot, which is well co-ordinated, with a model remaining perfectly poised and positioned for the camera, people spend their lives constantly on the go, moving around and doing things that make them who they are. As individuals, we are not defined and characterised simply by our outward appearance in life and in photographs, but by the things we do in our day-to-day lives that make us who we are. In an attempt to try and capture these things that make us who we are, photographing them would seem like the obvious go-to. However, I think that in many cases using a different medium, such as video, would make more sense to truly capture an individual.
For example, in the instance of this particular portraiture project, my model was a dancer. Trying to capture the character and essence of a dancer in still photographs seemed, to me at least, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It made no sense to me to try and capture the beauty and talent of a dancer using still imagery, when using video would be a better suited medium in order to capture the art form that truly reflects her. Therefore, I wanted to use video to make a sort of 'moving image portrait' - something that would properly capture the craft of the dancer, but could still be considered a portrait of the dancer's true self. Rather than carrying out a photoshoot, I wanted to create an artistic video capturing the movements of my dancer. Rather than simply filming her dancing from a single perspective, my intentions were to use multiple angles and shot types to capture different aspects of her dancing, so as to fully accentuate the beauty of her movement.
Research, Influence & Ideas
When researching the photography of David Lachapelle, I found that alongside portraiture photography, he has also been the director of photography on some music videos, one of which was a contemporary dance piece with the famous Royal Ballet Dancer Sergei Polunin. I really liked the idea of creating a contemporary dance piece that was set to a more modern piece of music. In David Lachapelle’s video, the piece was set to the track ‘Take Me To Church’ by Irish artist Hozier. The lyrics of ‘Take Me To Church’ carry quite a profound message surrounding homophobia in different religions. Coming from Ireland, Hozier has stated that organisations such as the church “undermine humanity by successfully teaching shame about sexual orientation - that it is sinful or that it offends God.” He says that the lyrics of ‘Take Me To Church’ are about teaching that love is love no matter what sexual orientation, and that the song is about “asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love,” rather than shaming people for their sexuality.
‘Take Me To Church’ broke a lot of boundaries in the music industry in terms of the message it was conveying, which I think is mirrored in Lachapelle & Polunin’s video. Polunin was originally a classical ballet dancer, however decided to leave the Royal Ballet as he claimed “the artist within him was dying”. Rather than pursuing traditional ballet, he wanted to explore more artistic styles of dance. His choreography to ‘Take Me To Church’ breaks the boundaries of classical ballet and takes it down a more modern-contemporary route, much like Hozier’s ‘Take Me To Church’ lyrics were breaking the boundaries in the music industry.
I researched further into different styles of dance, and came across a second video featuring Sergei Polunin, this time performing alongside fellow dancer Kristina Shapran for Garage Magazine. I really liked the way that this video had been filmed; the studio the dancers are in is completely empty and white, meaning that there is nothing in the background to distract the viewers away from their dancing. In post production, the film has been slowed down, giving their dancing a more gentle and flowing look, which corresponds well with the music. The use of black and white in the film also adds a more traditional/classical element to it, making it look more sophisticated and crisp. These are elements that I intend to use in my own work.
Sergei Polunin, "Take Me to Church" by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle Dancers Sergei Polunin and Kristina Shapran performing for Garage Magazine
The track I have chosen to use for my video is called ‘Last Orders’ by Nothing But Thieves. The lyrics of the song depict the scenes of a night out drinking that escalates into a bar sprawl, describing the harsher sides of what revelry can bring. The lyrics conjure up imagery of quite intense violence, “A fight broke out/someone took objection to my face/with a bottle” “I thought I was dreaming but some girls are screaming/and my face is streaming blood as well/soon as I had spoken like some demon woken/now my nose is broken what the hell”. In comparison to the lyrics however, the music does not reflect the horrific story being told through the words. In contrast, the music is very soft and flowing, with an almost surreal/dreamlike feel to it. With this in mind, I wanted to make a video that would fit with the flow of the music, rather than telling the story being told in the words. When I listened to the music I decided that a dance performance would fit well with the tempo of the track. This would then create a juxtaposition between the story of violence being told in the lyrics and the delicate dancing shown in the film. I wanted to experiment with the composition of a piece of dance with my chosen track, to see if the style of dance I had in mind would fit with my music. I downloaded the video of Sergei Polunin and Kristina Sharpan’s performance for Garage Magazine, as this style of dance is closest to what I will try to create myself. I added the video and track to the timeline in Adobe Premiere, and began to adjust the positioning of the track so that it would fit in with the timing of the dancers movements. I was happy with the way the dancing and music fitted together, so I now intend create my own video.
Dancers Sergei Polunin and Kristina Shapran performing for Garage Magazine, with the track 'Last Orders' by Nothing But Thieves overlaid
I started off with the filming of my video, using a fairly simple setup. I used the dance studio for my location, as there was plenty of room for my dancer to move about. The curtains in the studio provided a plain black background, and the overhead spotlights illuminated my dancer well, creating high contrast between the dark black background and her light, pale skin. Once all my footage was filmed, I then moved into Final Cut Pro to edit it. When I was filming, the track was playing in the background for my dancer, so I began by adding the track to my timeline and cutting in each shot that lined up with each section of the music. After I had added my shots to the timeline, I edited the exposure settings of the video. The spotlight in the dance studio was very bright, so I reduced the highlights and midtones a little, so that she looked less overexposed. I then desaturated the video, so that I would be left with high contrast black and white film. The final thing I needed to do with my film was slow down the speed of it. Whilst I was shooting my camera was filming at 60fps, so that when the footage was slowed down in post production, it would remain smooth and fluid. Filming at a lower FPS would have resulted in less smooth video, that would become quite jumpy when slowed down. I wanted to slow my footage, as it made the movement appear much smoother and flowing, which fitted more with the pace of the music.
In the first 1min 30secs, the dancing is intended to mirror the pace of the track. At the beginning of the track, the tempo is slow and is mostly acoustic and quiet. In order to mirror this in my dancers movements, I asked her to move in time with the music. At this point the track was also very minimalistic, with only a few instruments in use, so I kept her movements to a minimum at this point too, mainly using gentle arm movements and soft footsteps.
At 1min 31secs, the second verse begins and the dynamics of the track shift. More percussion is brought in, and the verse begins with a sudden clash of symbols. I attempted to reflect this in the movements of my dancer with much quicker movement. In the previous shots there was very little movement, whereas this shot shows a sudden contrast between slow movement and quick movement, mirroring the way the tempo of the music goes from slow to fast
At min 54secs my intention was to have a ‘pirouette sequence’ which would show different shots of the movement at different ranges/angles. As her arms raise into the movement I included a close up shot of her hand, so as not to miss the elegance of its movement, which can be overlooked in a full body shot. I then timed the moment that she spun around with the clash of the symbols, so that the swift movement of her hair mirrored the quick clash from the symbols. I also used a jump cut which zooms into a closer shot of her face as she spins around, so that the focal point is directed to the movement of her hair and face.
At 2mins 12secs, the music reaches a crescendo; a sudden soar in volume. In order to reflect this, my intention was to have my dancer jump from one side of the frame to the other. I would time the moment that she was airborne with both feet off the ground with the sudden soar in the music, so that it would seem as though when she took off from the ground, it was reflected in the music with the sudden increasing volume.
At 2mins 22secs, I included a shot of her slowly raising her arms above her head and then dragging her fingers through her hair as she bows her head down. I used this mainly as a transition into the next shot, which begins with her in the same position in the centre of the shot, only this time facing the camera.
In the following shot beginning at 2mins 40secs, the dynamics of the track change again, transitioning from the smooth and fluid vocals into an instrumental with clashing guitars. The track sounds more distressed at this point, so I directed my dancer to mirror this in her movements.
In my final sequence, starting at 3mins 10secs, I included a close up shot of a hand movement as a contrast to all of the full body shots that I had previously been using. The final movement sees her sweeping her arms up into the air and ending with her arms over her head as she looks down the camera. This was intended to be the final shot, as when she stares directly down the camera the film would fade to black.
Body Macro Elements
I wanted to include some shots in the ‘body macro’ style of photography. Body macro photography focuses on certain features of a person, aiming to emphasise elements of the body that often aren’t taken greatly into consideration when a person is photographed, and accentuates their unique beauty and individually. I included shots in this style in my video, as there are many elements of dance, such as the delicacy of a footstep or the movement of a hand that would go unseen in a full body shot, and I wanted to ensure that they were not overlooked.
My final outcome, Last Orders.