*ooof*: Monochrome Richard

Let’s talk a bit about b/w photography today. Richard’s previous photographic output does not contain much b/w work. That, of course, is not his decision – the photographers he has been working with, by and large eschewed reproducing him in b/w. With the exception of five portraits for Red Magazine in 2007 and a few b/w’s in the ill-fated (unpublished) Project Magazine, Richard only makes an early b/w debut in a group shoot in spring 2005 for a magazine (photographer??). The absence of b/w portraits, however, is conspicuous and begs the question: WHY? –

B/w, of course, takes us back to the history of photography. Don’t worry, I am not going to go off on that tangent, however much a history nerd I am. Just to say that b/w was initially the only photographic reproduction that the early inventors of the method could achieve. Over time, the (chemical) processes of photography evolved and became accessible to all. And yet, b/w proved to be enduring as it was achieved by a relatively simple process that amateurs could recreate in their understair cupboard darkroom at very little cost. Colour, on the other hand, demanded more and different chemicals and a lengthier process, hence never caught on as popularly. After decades of skepticism, photography eventually got even recognized as a medium of art itself. But *only* in b/w, not in colour. Colour photography did not make it as “art” until the late 1960s (Stephen Shore was one of the forerunners in the US, Paul Graham led colour photography into art galleries in Great Britain). It was predominently seen as a medium for commercial photography – as in advertising and fashion shots. – Within the realm of portrait photography, b/w has always maintained a high profile, if you pardon the pun. And so it comes as no surprise that a number of b/w versions of Richard’s actors’ headshots are reproduced and accompany his page on his agents’ website. Interestingly, Richard’s colour portraits are also being edited and converted to b/w by thousands of RAfficinados on tumblr and elsewhere – a sign that b/w is still/more than ever? seen as a particularly expressive form of photographic representation of the human face…


What goes on behind your pretty forehead, Richard?
Armitage in a fashion photo by Paula Parrish for Fault Magazine
Sourced via RAcentral

It is, however, curious, that it should be in the context of a fashion shoot that Richard crops up in b/w again. The latest shoot of him for Fault Magazine – already discussed to death by me here and here, and pulled out of the dusty cupboard again upon special request of tumblr RArmy member suddenwaves, – features Richard as the model for a fashion spread, but also accompanies an article about him. In light of what I wrote above, an unusual choice by photographer Paula Parrish – but then again that is her style and she is not unprecedented in shooting fashion in b/w. Those of you who were “conscious” in the 1980s will remember the iconic fashion photography of Peter Lindbergh, Richard Avedon and Bruce Weber, who transformed fashion photography (alongside others) into an altogether stylized and art-conscious medium with their classic photography. A lot of it made it onto many a teenager’s bedroom wall – supermodels galore – along with the rennaissant return to b/w street photographers like Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In some of the previous discussion of the Fault shoot, some readers have expressed the opinion that b/w is not the appropriate medium for a fashion spread. One could argue, that colour is one of the defining characteristics of a garment. But is it so in this shot? We know that Richard is wearing denim trousers – just visible on the bottom left – and a casual breast pocketed, striped shirt. Whether this shirt is grey or light blue or indeed pink – it does not matter so much as the defining characteristics here are the textures and the details of the tailoring – the unusually asymmetric breast pockets, the rough fabric, the casual collar.

It is only logical that this kind of garment is worn by a man who is not the epitome of an upper-class ponce. No Bertie Wooster, please, more of an action man. John Porter comes to mind, and if Thorin were alive in 2013 (eh, or if he were not a fictional character, I guess…), he might be wearing a comfy shirt like this when he is relaxing after a hard day’s pursuing of Smaug. Richard is slowly but surely becoming the synonym for “stubble” – and doesn’t the stubbly beauty complement the shirt perfectly? This is not a shirt for a pretty boy – it’s a shirt for a MAN (and yes, that demands capital letters here). From the chest-emphasising pockets to the roughish texture of the fabric – this is action man attire. Accordingly, and quite fittingly, this kind of man (and attire) has to be set in scene outside. No clinical studio backgrounds or plush curtain drapes – a mere brick wall anchors our model outside and gives context to the clothes.

As does the pose. This is casual wear. This is a casual wearer. Richard is leaning relaxed in a chair. He has his right leg casually crossed over his left knee. He is taking a break. But he is alert. The left index finger across his upper lip is a gesture of thinking and concentration. His gaze confirms the pose – his eyes are fixed onto the camera (maybe sliiiiightly to the left of the camera?), with a hint of a furrowed brow giving us the indication that there are brains behind the handsome exterior. Even with the face slightly obscured, the viewer still can interpret the face and the man: “I am a doer!”, this face says. “I am concentrating, determined. I am serious. I have thoughts going on behind that finger. I am not merely acting a clothes horse here. I am *more* than a pretty exterior.” All of this is conveyed in a pose, a gesture and a look in the eye. And what is more: It is put into the service of advertising the clothes. Because with every fashion image we are sold infinitely more than just a garment: We are sold an image, a life-style and a dream. This particular one sells us the dream that whoever buys/wears these clothes will be an active, intelligent doer, a man that oozes confidence and self-assuredness, who is strong, possesses good taste and style, who has everything going for himself. Who could better sell clothes than actors???

To return back to the initial question – why does Richard not get photographed b/w more often? The answer lies probably in his profession. Most of the photographic portraits we see of Richard are produced in conjunction with a promotion for a film he has been connected with. Ergo, his images are promotional images. Advertisements. For himself as a product (“the actor”) and his work (“the role”). And photography in advertising… see above *ggg*. In a business that sells dreams, the more life-like an actor or a character is represented, the easier for the audience to buy into this dream – and to literally buy what the actor is endorsing. I am sure that this is a dilemma that Richard is aware of, thinking man that he is. While he has to put himself out there, keeping his face in the magazine pages and maintaining presence in order to be a bankable and bookable name for producers and directors, he also has to carefully weigh off the benefits with the disadvantages. Connection to commercial ventures can be fraught with unwanted associations. Maybe it is exactly that thought that is going on behind his forehead right there and accounts for what some of you identified as a hint of unwillingness or annoyance in the video of the photoshoot?

For my part, I would love to see Richard in more b/w images. With his classic good looks, his expressive face (…) and intense emotional range I can imagine him reproducing rather well in some contrasty, close-up monochromes. The glamour photography of 1940s Hollywood studios comes to mind. What would George Hurrell have done with Richard? He would have dressed him in a sharp suit, and turned the lights onto him. If I could get my hands on him, I would give him a Bogart-esk outfit, dim the lights in the studio and seduce him … eh no… place him on a chair. No props, maybe a cigarette for the effect, but just some harsh light, some dark shadows and a glittering catchlight in one of his eyes. While I dim the lights, I would ask him to turn on the stare. It would probably burn the whole room with its intensity. Pop – there goes my heart.

How would you have him pose?

~ by Guylty on February 5, 2013.

28 Responses to “*ooof*: Monochrome Richard”

  1. I love this pic! Even tho others have stated that it appears RA is not so happy during the photography, I have loved everything I’ve seen of it


    • Hi Cindy – yes, I love this pic, too. I prefer this to the grainy, textured ones that I *ooofed* previously. Why obscure such a beautiful subject with unsightly stains and blotches ;-)… And the clip of the shoot was most insightful, and therefore I loved it, too – just to see him pose and to observe the photographer’s contortions…


  2. I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your posts Guylty. I haven’t commented up until now only because I have had nothing useful to add but I do really appreciate your knowledge and perspective. And I vote that when we have finished petitioning for RIII we start a move to get you a photoshoot with RA. I would love so see those pictures!


    • Dear bollyknickers – thank you so much for saying that. You are making my day! And I doubt that you have “nothing useful” to add. Everybody’s perspective adds to the discussion. I just hope that I am not lecturing too much so that you feel you can’t add your views.
      As regards the petition – oh my, I’d be so on for that… But the pressure… 😉 Nah, I would love the challenge.


      • No- you don’t lecture at all! It’s very accessible for a novice to understand. The posts are helping me analyse why i like some pictures more than others and i realise i do generally prefer candids – which is why it would be interesting to see the results of a professional such as you , who is also a fan, doing a shoot with him. Keep up the good work!


        • Interesting that you prefer the candids, Bolly. In a way, I have to admit, they are much truer to the person in it than the posed shots. I should really do an *ooof* on a candid, soon. Do you have a particular one that you like?


          • Two fans met him on the set of Black Sky and took my favourites shots. He looks so young, relaxed and happy.


            • Yeah, I’d love to see a candid evaluation as well


              • Oh, Ladies, you are in luck, so to speak. I have already done a candid analysis once. I did it upon request of one of the lucky ladies who got to meet Richard on the set of Black Sky. Perchance, this might be one of the images you liked, Bolly? If you would like to have a look, here’s the link to my tumblr page, where I *oooofed* it (it was before my cooperation with Servetus…) http://guylty.tumblr.com/post/35275267869/ooof-of-the-day-an-ooof-can-take-many-shapes


                • That was a very interesting piece and it did sum up what i think i love so much about the candid’s – it’s the genuine delight RA seems to show when meeting fans. His smile goes right to his eye’s – there’s no sense that he is putting on an act or in any way finds it a trial. So either he genuinely does love it, or he is an even better actor than we give him credit for and an extraordinarily generous human being to boot. Probably a mixture of both but either way, wonderful traits which make him even more attractive to me.

                  Actually that picture wasn’t one of the ones i was thinking of though! I don’t think i can say too much because i don’t want to mention fans specifically without their knowledge or permission but i will say that in one he is wearing the same outfit as here and in the other (a head and shoulders) he is wearing a blue shirt and just a hint of white singlet under. I’m going weak at the knees just thinking of that one!


  3. The Bogart-esk outfit, harsh lights and some shadows..it sounds great Guylty!:) As to your last question..I’m afraid to even think about it 😉
    PS: This is one of my favorite Richard’s photos, I just love to stare in his eyes.


    • Hehehe, Joanna – yeah, imagination is a wonderful, yet scary thing *ggg*. As regards the stare: It’s nice *not* to see a smouldering look by RA once in a while, but a serious, dead-pan gaze. Another sign that he might be moving away from the hunk image? Ah well, if that was what he was trying to do, he has utterly failed with his last role as Mr Majestic…


  4. I just loved your amazing analyse of these b/w pictures. I love RA in b/w , because of his classic looks he looks perfect in b/w. I can really see him as a star in an old movie.

    Myself I’m grazy about 1940s and I wear that kind of style clothes almost everyday. I’m actually not that fond of the male fashion of 1940s, I love the hats but the clothes are abit too big and clumsy (and RA is so hot in slim clothes). Still my dream would be to see RA in a romantic 1940 war or noir film. I have so many ideas. My favourite actors are actually Richard Armitage of course and Gary Grant, James Stewart and Gregory Peck. I think I have seen almost al movies from 40s and 50s. Those days the actors looked like men. I would so love to see our dear Richard in a movie like these other three actors have been in (But I have to say that none of those actors were as close as hot as Richard, even if Gregory Peck was pretty hot).

    And I’m so in love with al these fashion shoot pictures, I want him to do more fashion shoots. Maybe because I’m a fashion nerd, but I really think he is good at this, it’s al about the eyes and face really and not the clothes.


    • I think RA falls right into that category with Cary Grant, James Stewart and Gregory Peck and is one of the reasons he’s so appealing.
      Guylty: Love the photo and your analysis which makes me appreciate the photography even more. For some reason this photo looks like it may have been “retouched” — maybe because his face is so smooth (other than the stubble). Is that just part of process now?
      Re the statement about weighing the disadvantages, it seems there was a time when actors would rarely appear in commercials/advertisements because it was considered “selling out” but now you see it all the time. Although RA has done a lot voice overs for commercials — wonder if he will continue.


      • I am with you there, Thora – the 40s certainly were a glamourous and glorious period for film. And the more I think about this, the more I believe we are on the right track here. Richard should be cast in a 40s style film. Steven Soderbergh shot a brilliant film a few years ago – The Good German – with Cate Blanchett and George Clooney, filmed in b/w on original equipment from the 40s. I loved the result, the slightly scratchy, faded film look, but as the story was set in the 40s too, the clothes and the haughty manner of acting… Richard would fit in very neatly, I think – classic looks, as you say, and a face that is equally suited for a villain as well as a saviour.
        Sloan – yes, re-touching is standard nowadays. It’s hard to tell here because the image isn’t high-res enough to say for sure. They ‘shopped cleverly, though, leaving his laughter lines around the eyes. But his cheekbones look a bit smooth to me… – Yeah, the whole advertising thing is tricky. I am always amazed to see big names such as Brad Pitt etc advertising products – do they really *need* to? Have they not got enough money? Or is it for the exposure?


        • I’m sure exposure is a big piece of it. I read someone who shall not be named recently saying David Beckham needed to do clothing ads to maintain his wealth now that his soccer days are numbered, and I thought, no, what he needs to do to maintain his wealth is keep on investing, which I am sure he is already doing. He could donate all the money from the photo shoot to charity.


  5. Thank you for another great analysis guylty, I love black and white photography. There were some gorgeous b&w shots of Gregory Peck on Tumblr the other day and I couldn’t help but think of Richard being photographed the same way. 🙂


    • Oh, I must have missed the Gregory Peck shots… He was gorgeous (Roman Holiday, anyone?) Actually – there we have it! How about Richard in a re-make of Roman Holiday. I can picture him as a hard-hitting journalist, trying to ensnare a young innocent princess, only to hopelessly fall in love with her. Who do we cast as his princess?


  6. Hello there, I’m a fan of Richard Armitage since 2010, but a newcomer in the fandom 🙂
    I’ve been a lurker in your blog since about two weeks ago, heehee, and now I decide to comment.
    For all RA fans who read this, can anybody help me editing Richard Armitage’s TV Trope page? Here’s the link: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Creator/RichardArmitage?from=Main.RichardArmitage

    Thank you!


  7. Hi Guylty, thanks for this enlightening and interesting “ooof“. I love b/w pictures and quite often prefer them to coloured portraits. More b/w pictures of Richard would definitly be a dream and treat! However I’m not so sure about the photos of his FAULT magazine feature. However I like those two best where Richard isn’t as grainy and stained. The emphasis of this photo shoots can’t have been down to clothes as they are (besides that one striped shirt) even more unidentifiable then they usually are in this kind of artsy (artistic) photography. (Probably I sound a bit antiquated here. LOL) Thanks to the earlier published video we can at least recall that it was supposed to be a fashion spread…
    What a penetrable yet soft stare (unwillingness and annoyance??). Just imagine him looking at you that way! Phew!
    Referring to your „ooof“ of Jan 9th, they unfortunately cropped the pic in the printed magazine and to my mind therefore took away all the tension and uniqueness it had with positioning Richard on the right side of it (letting his gaze having a bit of space and direction. You know what I mean?) Did you order an edition of FAULT? Then you might know what I’m talking about. I really have a problem with how they start and end his article. His photos actually don’t interact with the photos of the other articles in any way, it’s more of a distracting clash and therefore they seem so squeezed in and have no room to breathe. Those two women don’t fit at all. Isn’t it mainly about layout and style in this magazines? Or am I totally off base here ??
    PS. Did you happen to ran in one of this giant Brad Pitt ads for Chanel 5 around Christmas? I was so dumbfounded how odd it looked (and how old he looked!) and what the heck he had to deal with a woman’s fragrance. Found it downright annoying!


    • I was initially not that taken with this photo shoot as i didn’t much care for the video. However, i like the stills a lot more and i think Guylty’s analysis gives me a more positive perspective too.

      And i am in complete agreement about the Brad Pitt/ chanel ads. Dear Lord what were they thinking? I’m not keen on BP anyway but frankly he looks quite feral in those photo’s. Horrible.

      If they had only asked me, i could have pointed them in the direction of the sort of classy, Tall, Dark and Handsome man they really needed. Sales would have rocketed…


      • Yeah I was thinking about that too, why is Brad Pitt in a chanel 5 commercial, that is so weird. I don’t really care for Brad and I have really never thought he is handsome, he was quite ugly when he was younger. I actually think he looks quite good in the chanel ads even if it’s weird and he doesn’t look natural at al.

        Fault pictures of Richard are little weird too but I love them because they look more like art than a fashion photoshoot. I think the pictures are quite interesting. And I love the video but mostly because I’m interested of these things and I like watching how they do these kinds of photoshoots.

        I know it’s little weird and I’m not sure what I really like about it when actors do commercials and fashion photoshoots. But if an actor is talanted and good looking I really love seeing them in things like that. It’s a lot more interesting to see BP in a chanel ad than some random person even if that thing was quite stupid. Then to say I don’t really want to see Richard in commercials but I really want him to do more photoshoots, not only for movies. I don’t think it would be bad for him.


        • he’s done a lot of voice ads. But I had a post awhile back on him as pitchman for his own stuff — I think he’s slightly too awkward with the whole thing to be able to do it easily with a product.


  8. Guylty, thanks for this great post.

    1) for posting it just at the right time
    2) love the comment about Avedon. I read the New York frequently and it would be my dream for Avedon to come back to life and photograph Armitage for a long feature article in that publication …
    3) I like the point about the coarseness of the shirt. For some reason, it and the b/w calls to mind a prison shirt to me — the pinstripe is too thin, but the stripe and the coarseness and the black and white … there’s a sort of unachieved intertextuality there.
    4) also great point about how the eyes “look out” of the photo and have a different texture to the rest of it.

    I have a sort of tension about b/w photos that don’t quite make it to the “art” level — I feel like when a b/w photo fails to be art it’s so much more noticeable than if a color photo fails. Not sure why and not sure that I think these photos totally make it but you have given me a lot to think about.

    re the “annoyance” point — that was my issue — and I think that’s avoided here by the way that the framing is achieved. We can’t see anything of the photographer here so we don’t automatically interpret him as responding necessarily to the photographer (who is, of course, still an anonymous presence).


  9. […] Parrish has a unique photographic style that makes her images appear almost pictorial in quality, up to the point of obscuring the source image with filters and effects that look like stains or smudges. ooof ooof ooof […]


  10. […] ooof appeared first on February 5, 2013 on me+r. Click HERE for the original discussion and […]


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