*ooof*: Guylty appr*ooof*s

Hello and apologies for a delay in my posting. I am sure you will forgive me if I tell you why: I was in London last week. Yes, you know why. I had high hopes for capturing Armitage (figuratively speaking, of course) with my lens from a pole position in the press pit at the red carpet. Well. It was not to be. The forces of Mordor (or something like that) were against me. And so I have to fall back on other photographers’ work to bring you another *ooof*. Let’s hop right in.
First of all: I am a total sucker for black on black! Dark backdrops are just so dramatic, gritty, a bit dangerous, a bit mysterious – much like me. Just kidding. Anyway, dark types in front of a black background are usually a big no-no in photography. Well, not for the pro, but amateurs very often get this set-up wrong when the dark hair and dark clothes of the subject seamlessly blend with the black background and the viewer is left with a pale floating face. Now, that can have its aesthetic merits, of course. (Anyone remember the iconic Queen cover???) But that kind of effect is probably unwanted for straight-forward promo shots. Instead, a promo shot has to get the subject across – in an appealing, flattering way. That leaves the photographer some artistic choice – and some photographer manage to choose better than others…

This is what you get when a woman photographer does a shoot with Richard.
Guylty approves, Ms Will! Oh, Guylty approves soooo heartily!!!
Images by Victoria Will sourced through Richard Armitage Facebook Page.

As the caption of the image says, the photos were taken recently by Victoria Will, a portrait and fashion photographer based in New York. Will has actually had quite a few big names in front of her lens – Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt, Bill Clinton… It pleases me to see that Armitage is now getting exposure to high-flying photographers who are really good at what they do. And that does translate into the images we are now getting to see of him. A nice development considering barrel-distorted balloon shots and cheesy discoloured anti-oooofs from way back when Armitage was not yet a name big enough to commandeer top photographers…

So what does Victoria Will do here, in order to separate Richard from the background (haha, sounds as if he is embroiled in fisticuffs with an aggressive piece of cloth…)? Oh nicee nicee niiiiice… She lights the background separately so it takes on a slightly lighter hue of black, indeed it looks almost blue. You can see how the light diffuses towards the sides and then blends into blackness where it doesn’t reach. It fulfills its purpose, however, setting off Armitage’s dark hair and his black outfit from the background. Bravo, well done – that is how we do black on black. But there’s another approach visible in this shoot that I really like – because it very much mirrors what I do when I do portrait sessions. Study the collage above for a minute. Particularly images 3, 4, 5 and 6 show Armitage with a range of expressions on his face; especially his mouth gives his change of expression away. It is clear to me that the photographer engaged very closely with her subject: She chatted and entertained him, asking questions, prompting him to talk, to move, possibly gave some directions, but in any case had her sitter loosen up by keeping him occupied with talk. The result is a relaxed looking Armitage, happily talking as if unobserved, able to forget the big black eye of the camera that is trained on him. He does still connect with the photographer – he acknowledges her presence (and her questions) by looking at her through the lens, but he is not posing stiffly in those shots. He appears more life-like and “real” than in the remaining images of the collage where he is obviously holding a pose and thus giving a carefully chosen look and “likeness” of himself, self-censored images that have passed the scrutiny of his own consciousness.

While my favourite shot of the whole shoot is the one top right, I cannot help but concede that the pictures I have mentioned above are (literally) more moving: they show a slice of (Armitage’s real-life) self, less consciously made for an audience of fans and movie-goers, but simply recorded moments in time. For me, they are much more “him” than the posed images. And much of the representation of real self actually depends on the photographer. By that I do not even mean the filter of interpretation that may obscure the subject, but I mean the actual representation of the subject as him/herself at the photo session. You see, the success of a (portrait) photographer in general is very much dependent on the photographer’s ability to connect with his subject. The most technically brilliant photographer will never be able to shoot an evocative and true portrait or a sitter if he/she is unable to capture the essence or at least a facet of the subject’s personality. In order to do so, photographers must be sensitive observers and easy communicators. Nothing will get a sitter at ease as quickly and as easily as well-tempered, sensitive and subject-centered talk. A photographer who mutely shoots will merely picture clotheshorses or lifeless mannequins but not the body and soul of a fellow human, celebrity or not!

And thus picture 2 is my favourite. Armitage is at ease, with a friendly smile that looks unposed and genuine. He is mid-movement, pulling his leather jacket down with his right hand. This movement has given him a purpose at the exact moment that Will has released the shutter and therefore avoids the stiffness that we occasionally encounter when Armitage has to pose consciously and specifically for a photo. (Red carpet pictures, even the most recent ones from the London Hobbit premiere, are cases in point for me. I have heard observers describe his pose as reminiscent of his past as a dancer, i.e. “poised” and full of (controlled) tension. Personally, I disagree. I find him looking awkward and uncomfortable in those shots, standing that little bit too erect to be comfortable, too consciously posed with pushed-out chest, drawn-back shoulders and arms stretched down his sides. To me that does not look relaxed, but forced. You can almost imagine a comic book thought-bubble above his head, giving a stream of consciousness  insight into “Armitage the Poser”:  “I must stand straight… Don’t forget to smile, Richard… No blinking… Does my nose look big in this? Better look dead-pan at lens… Look at cameras…  Arrrgh, when is this over?… Dang, where shall I place my hands?… Go on, take your bloody shots and let me go!!…”) In this shot, however, the act of moving and of reacting to the photographer has taken his thoughts away from his situation as a sitter. He may even have been surprised that Will has taken a photo at that moment, (as most sitters do not expect to be snapped mid-movement or mid-talk) but luckily his surprise only becomes visible the split-second after the flash has signified the taking of the picture – and thus does not register on the sensor.

I know it is dodgy, if not down-right sexist, to ascribe the success of this shoot to the photographer’s gender. Besides, it is my very own, subjective opinion that this shoot represents Armitage particularly well and others will disagree.  But I do think that by and large more women than men have a talent to connect (easily) with other people, to make them feel comfortable and to evoke a sense of security which allows their sitters to show their real self. In an industry still dominated by men, women photographers ought to capitalize more on these, their specific talents because they can produce outstanding results, as this shoot clearly tells.

I’ll be interested to hear what you say, dear readers. Is this a shoot you consider good, representative and droolworthy nice to look at? Personal Styling of Armitage and even my much-applauded black backdrop aside – what is your take on the captured moments? Armitage or not, that is the question…

All text © Guylty at me + richard armitage, 2012. Please credit when using excerpts and links. Images and video copyrights accrue to their owners.

~ by Guylty on December 18, 2012.

47 Responses to “*ooof*: Guylty appr*ooof*s”

  1. Wonderful analysis, Guilty!
    You so wonderfully and step by step explained, what my last photographer did with me. She is a woman and clearly has the sensitivity to do what you explained. I fully agree with what scenerey you create as background for those shots. They are separate from the rest of shots.
    (I like the 5th best ;o) Can’t really explain why, just because he does not seem so aware of himself and in this picture just is.)
    I also fully back your analysis of the red carpet shots, though I adore the latest. Still, what you wrote ‘in the comic bubble’, went through my head, though I would never have been able to analyse it like you and find out why that is.

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    • Sorry, Guylty! – My brain and memory ;o(

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    • Hey cdoart – many thanks for backing me up! You know, although I speak with the authority of a practicioner of photography, I am never too sure whether my analysis will hit the nail :-). Oh, and glad to hear I am not alone with the red carpet-image-aversion.

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      • Aversion might be a bit much, for my reaction to the red carpet shots. To the ones before “The Hobbit” certainly, but those latest are just too adorable, to cause aversion for me ;o)
        But still, I had the impression, that he would have been glad if the torture just could end and if he could have done, would have run for cover. And especially the shoulders back and breast out part hit a nail with me. Though, who would object, if it is RA in the picture 😉 Certainly not me ;o)))

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        • What I forgot to mention and what nudged me in the shower 😉 is, that he represents two opposing poles for me at the red carpet events for TH, which get my full attention, though I do not come to a last result about him, because those opposing elements are in complete balance.
          He for one represents and wins me over with his relaxed and confident and just joyful smile. For another, he gives me the impression of staying willingly fixed and patient and openly friendly and attentive, but would rather be elsewhere, out of the shooting line of attention. But I think, that is the only way to handle and get through such a mass event 😉

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  2. You ‘re right with expressions … beautiful session …. and luck in London, we hope to tell us of some “close encounter with RA”

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  3. I said on FB that I wondered what it would be like to see him shot and lit like this and it’s beautiful. I will say he looks really uncomfortable in the shot where he’s leaning over the arm of the chair. When the Rolling Stone Hobbit issue came out I was wondering what Annie L would do with him. Pipedream.

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  4. Which image is that, Jazzbaby? Number 1? Yeah, black on black works pretty well with Armitage… Re. Annie Leibovitz – interesting idea. However, she is big into elaborate set-ups, very theatrical, dramatic, almost like paintings. Personally I wouldn’t be into that at all – I prefer photos of Richard really to focus on him and not on a story. But that is personal preference, nothing else.

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  5. Hello Guylty! Good to see you back! Lovely post! I adore this shoot except maybe pic#7, because that particular pose looks a bit granddaddy-ish to me. 🙂 As I think I told you in London, the hoodie/leather jacket combo was my favourite look out of all of his press junket/premiere outfits as I think it’s something he’d be comfortable wearing in his private life. Love that he looks so relaxed on the pictures. My favourites are 2,3,5 and 6! Indeed, droolworthy! Looking forward to your next ooof! When are you going to see TH again?

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  6. Heya Judit!!!! Yes, that style combo is right up my street, too. Makes him look really cool and young. – Ah, it was so cool meeting you in London! Meet again for The Hobbit part 2?! – I am going to watch it again with my family this weekend, Saturday. Can’t wait, actually!!! xxx

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  7. Thanks Guylty! and you’re right, this photo session is beautiful. My favorite is “smiling Armitage”from the (lovely 🙂 ) profile.

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    • A lot of things come together in this shoot – a good photographer, great setting/backdrop, the subject feeling comfy in his own skin and own clothes (even if chosen by a personal stylist), a relaxed atmosphere created by the photographer = bingo! This will rank high under my favourite shoots, too, Joanna.

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  8. (Hi Guylty, welcome to blogging. Don’t think I’ve had the chance to comment on your posts yet).

    Oh dear. It seems I’m forever the opposite of general fandom reaction. Let me first say I agree that RA looks more relaxed in these pics and are probably close to the real him. Also I’m thrilled female photographers are cracking the glass ceiling.

    That being said – well – remember the senior high school portraits where the photographer tried artistic angles, and if s/he felt really ghastly, might superimpose a dove or a second portrait in the upper corner? These shots remind me of those: same rippling dark background, same poses, same over-bright lighting. The only difference is that she caught RA in motion. It also highlighted his retro haircut (with which I have a mostly hate thing now), giving some of the photos that granddaddy feel using the same chair granddaddy used. 😉 IMHO, RA doesn’t photograph best in lighting like this. It’s hard to explain. Some of these pics almost don’t look like him. They are more like his grandfather, and I don’t know what his grandfather looked like.

    So, if she was going for the anti-glamor shots, then she succeeded.

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    • Thanks for the welcome, Judiang! And hey, I am happy to hear dissenting voices, too. It would be boring if we all agreed… Your granddaddy comment made me think. You’re right in the sense that the kind of lighting used here is not *that* flattering. It is fairly harsh lighting from the upper left of Richard (no softbox that softly diffuses the light) and from some angles we get Richard’s laughter lines in full glory. I don’t really mind that on him – I’m glad to see him pictured at his own age. (Do the same to me as a sitter and I’d be furious 😉 It has happened to me and I nearly killed my photographer friend…)
      Re. Haircut – yeah, not quite my thing either. See, we do agree on some parts 😉

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  9. I love these photos, and you explain why so well. You are absolutely right about the rapport needed between the photographer and the sitter to catch the glimpse of the sitter’s essential self. Black on black — I still remember a photo I saw in Horizons (talk about ancient history!) that was black on black, and completely stunning. Now you’ve explained how the magic is worked, I can see it so well. Oh, yes… *guuh*

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    • Black on black is sooo cool when done right. Should really only be done by people who know what they are doing. Luckily Victoria Will did. – I do wonder what the man himself thinks about this shoot. Given that he describes himself as “vain” in that 60 seconds interview with Freeman, I suspect he mightn’t like the attention that his laughter lines are getting in this… It’s a good thing he is not that big a star yet that he can censor the images before they are released by the photographer…

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  10. […] latest *ooof*, concerning the black-on-black Victoria Will photos, please go down a post or look here. There’s some interesting discussion already in the comments; don’t hesitate to add […]

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  11. On the “breast forward” posture — I know it’s not a sign of relaxation, but I’ve always liked it, for a few reasons — one is that he looks like if he raised his arms he could be Superman. Another is that we see the full chest expansion. A third is that it’s something he’s been doing a long time — it somehow makes me think of his days as a dancer.

    I guess maybe part of what I’m getting at is that I don’t see as the sole point of photography the need to capture a naturalistic likeness. I wouldn’t distinguish so fully between “posing” and “natural,” I guess.

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    • This is an interesting point that has been raised for as long as photography exists. Is photography a tool for documentation or is it a creative art? It is both, of course, and photographers as well as viewers have their own preference as to whether they like the documentary or “interpretatory” aspect of photography. Personally, I belong to the documentary crowd – hence my preference for “real”, “life-like” representation of Richard.

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      • Most of the images I really love come from at least four hundred years ago (I’m on record as hating the impressionists), so that influences my view on the whole documentation question. Obviously, as a historian I am not opposed to documentation. There are some settings in which that’s what you prefer (e.g., birthday parties). I’m not sure the red carpet is one of them, though.

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  12. Oh nice pics indeed. The difference here is that he seems less aware of when the picture is taken, unlike being on the red carpet where he knows countless cameras are pointed at him from all directions. So the energy is less static than when he needs to pose.
    I usually find myself looking at his hands during official public events like the premiers, his face may look somewhat relaxed & friendly, his hands usually tell a different story.

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    • Well observed, CC – it is often other body parts that give the subject’s state of mind away. I though as much when I looked at the London premiere shots where Richard can be seen clenching his fists. Could have been impatience, nervousness – or simply the weather. It was bloody cold that evening!!

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      • Tucking his thumb into his fist and worrying at it is a clear nervous / tense sign of his — but I agree, I wouldn’t have known how to distinguish that from that instinctual thumb tuck when it’s cold outside.

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  13. […] two weeks’ time. There is another reason why I am following Servetus’ suggestion. After my last *ooof* which concentrated on the photoshoot of Richard by Victoria Will, this will provide quite a […]

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  14. […] raise and bring this picture analysis back to where I started last week, namely the comparison to Victoria Will’s black-on-black portrait shoot . And that concerns what I would call “capturing the essence” of the sitter. If you remember, I […]

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  15. […] A productive period for the lucky New York chapter of photography professionals. Armitage sat for Victoria Will, and did a fashion shoot with Paula Parrish for Fault. And largely unbeknownst to me, he also did a […]

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  16. Hmmm… I agree that these pics show more of the real RA. The red carpet photos- I’m pretty sure he doesn’t love those (yet). They still look good, but are not relaxed. But actors learn to handle fame stuff as it comes along…

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  17. […] Richard Armitage as photographed by Victoria Will, December 2012. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com. Why are you hiding your left thumb? *Ooof*ed by Guylty here. […]

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  18. […] deliberate aspect of the sitter. Often, this way you get the best and the most telling shots. (cf. my comments on the Victoria Will shoot ) Or you create horrible duds when you don’t pay attention. […]

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  19. […] the man? (Certainly the case for me *ahem*).I consciously observed this for the first time when the Victoria Wills shots came out during the Hobbit promo in December 2012. Then the Tracey Nearmy shots had us all […]

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  20. […] Will started as a newspaper photographer and gradually moved into commercial photography, focussing on fashion and editorial. Her tintype project is most evocative of all her work, despite the (deliberate) impurities on the LF positives, left by the chemical residue. ooof […]

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  21. […] out in two weeks’ time. There is another reason why I am following Servetus’ suggestion. After my last ooof which concentrated on the photo shoot of Richard by Victoria Will, this will provide quite a […]

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