*ooof*: A Light On Upstairs

It seems as if my plea for more b/w love RA  was heard. And even in the shape of something that comes much closer to the Hollywood glamour of George Hurrell that I talked about the other day. B/w is always classy – it is pared back and reduced to shapes rather than colours. With his strong features, RA makes an ideal b/w sitter, his penchant for black clothes and his dark hair and stubble helps, as it sets off his pale skin. And even in front of a blown-out background his face alone commands enough attention.

RobertAscroft-30

Classic Male Beauty in Close-Up.
Richard Armitage in a portrait by Robert Ascroft.
Image via RAnet.com

Just for the sake of the argument, however, let’s pretend that this image of Richard’s is actually a large format (LF) image – because I would like to pick up where I left off the other day when I went on an enthusiastic trajectory into the world of large format photography which a few of you were kind enough to endure indulge me in 😉 And this image could easily be one such, even though this time the tell-tale frame is missing. The clue might be in the blown-out background (because it is the same as in the LF full length portrait) and in the fact that this image is actually really big – if you click through to its largest size, you will see what I mean, keeping in mind what I wrote about LF images being 35/56 times bigger than a normal (full frame) image. Disclaimer: I have no way of corroborating this, however, so I am just “pretending” that this is an image that originated on LF.  However, using LF for portraiture has its difficulties (more about that later) and it is much more readily used for architectural photography, for instance, than it is for portraiture. The reason for that lies in the technical possibilities of the LF camera. Let me explain about the wonder of an LF camera. For your information I will pepper this *ooof* with a couple of links to some explanatory images of mine that will show you the LF camera in action.

Essentially, all cameras are nothing but a box – with a hole. A really simple device that anyone of us could build ourselves and use as cameras. So, imagine you have a box. At one end of it you have the film holder. Opposite it you have the shutter through which you will let in the light to expose your image. That is the premise of a simple “view cameras”. Now, the special thing about LF cameras is that they come with a flexible body and a movable front and back (unlike a conventional SLR or automatic that is simply the “box” with interchangable or fixed lens). Click to see. The front and back are called “standards” – on the front standard you will have the lens board (with lens), on the back standard you have the ground glass. While the lens is a standard camera lens, the ground glass is something that most of you will be unfamiliar with. It is basically a piece of frosted glass. When you open the shutter of the lens, the light will fall through the aperture and form a perfect image of what the lens is “looking at” on the ground glass. Mind you, according to the laws of physics, the image that is reflected on the ground glass will be left to right and upside down. Click to see.  In order to focus the image on the ground glass, the bellows can be squeezed together or pulled out. Sounds great, doesn’t it? You get a 4×5” large image on the ground glass which you look at in order to frame, focus and compose.

However, now the difficulty comes in. The rear standard is also, where – logically – we have to put light-sensitive film/paper in order to catch the exposure. But if we had our film in the camera while we focussed and composed, it would be in the way of the ground glass and would obstruct the reflection of the image on the ground glass – we wouldn’t be able to see anything on the ground glass. Hence the rear standard is actually equipped with an opening mechanism into which you can slot the light-tight film holder *after* you have carefully focussed and set-up the shot. Click to see. Do you see the challenge of photographing with an LF camera? You need to focus and frame the shot *before* you actually put the film in. Added to that is the slight problem that the image you use for focussing and composing is upside down and left to right. You can imagine that all this slows the whole process of taking a picture right down. It is a process not to be taken cursorily – you need to take your time and take care, otherwise you will ruin the shot. And when shooting film, that is an expensive fail! A sheet of film costs roughly € 1/$1 and if you have it processed in the lab, it’ll set you back another $/€ 5! For one (ONE) image!!!

The beauty of it is, however, that because this process slows you down and forces you to take care, the outcome generally is spot-on. As a little guideline: My final project for college was shot on LF. It was a comparative, architectural study of 12 interiors. I took 36 shots on LF which *all* bar TWO turned out perfectly in focus, perfectly exposed, properly framed. In parallel, I shot with my DSLR just for back-up and took 500 extra shots – of which there were only 20% that reached the aesthetic and technical quality of my LF shots. So LF has its merits. Plus – it takes you right back to the early days of photography, because these are essentially the same cameras that the pioneers used.

Shooting people this way has added difficulties: Again, you need to pose and set-up your sitter before you slide in the film. That means that your sitter needs to stay *exactly* where they are, do not move forwards or backwards, otherwise it is possible that the shot may get out of focus. Thankfully, nowadays we have strong flashes that easily light up the scene and enable us to shoot at very fast shutter speeds. That is a luxury the early photographers did not have. They dealt with shutter speeds of several seconds, mostly shooting with daylight. As no human being can hold still for longer than 1/30 of a second (unless dead or possibly a plank of wood or as animated as Sarah Caulfield), most of the genuine, antique images from about 100 years ago tend to be slightly fuzzy. In order to get sitters to hold still, photographers went so far as to clamp their sitters’ heads in specially designed holders. There are even (corroborated) stories that customary images of mothers with newborn babies actually did not contain the *real* baby, but the corpses of recently died babies. Well that may seem a bit far-fetched. But they certainly used stuffed animals instead of live ones when they took pictures of families that included pets. (Still with me? Thanks for reading this far and you’ll be delighted to hear that I’ll leave it at that – enough of a history and techniques of photography-session for today, although there is still so much to say about LF photography… *sighs*)

*Our* little pet here looks very much alive and well, thank goodness. In fact, the set-up here enhances Richard’s looks beautifully. This is again an example of an image that looks very simple at first sight – but you can spend a long time looking at it without getting bored. And not just because Richard is in it. The amount of detail in this shot positively makes me squee with excitement. We get so much information here, it would surely be too much to process, were it done in colour. This is Richard, down to the last pore of his skin, the last bit of stubble on his chin *ooof* . We can discern individual lashes and almost count his chest hairs. (Indeed we could. Believe me. It is possible. I have checked. In the interest of proper research. Yeah, right.) I think Ascroft has been very clever with this image on various accounts.

For instance the pose and lighting. This is Richard in almost-profile. Ascroft has angled Richard’s face in such a way that he is lit up by the background (I guess), but also catching enough light on the side of his face that is turned away from the lightsouce. Thus, he generates darker areas on the side of the nose and on the side of the face. Armitage’s sharply angular forehead this way does look slightly softer, as does his nose. I quite like the way the light catches his stubble. The hint of eyelashes of his right eye is positively delicious – a wonderful detail that Ascroft did not oversee. The shadow on Armitage’s temple also darkens the lines at the side of his eyes, leaving only a few of them on view. Those, and the tuft of hair on his temple that catches the light add an air of sophistication to this portrait, imo. Particularly the highlighted temple-hair looks as if it is grey (as do some of his stubble hairs) – which I find incredibly distinguished sexy, actually *coughs*. Because the light is catching on his forehead pretty strongly, it mostly drowns out the lines that are there. With light on the ridge of Armitage’s nose, it is not in too stark a contrast with the background and therefore appears less angular than usual. The side of his nose catches a tiny bit of light, thus not burying it completely in shadow but making it three-dimensional. Also observe how Armitage has been told to angle his torso slightly further towards the camera than his face, thus affording us a better view of his throat and the bit of chest plus hair, both nicely illuminated and kept free of shadow. Masterful direction!

As for Armitage’s facial expression – this is benign awareness of a photographer. You can tell how aware Armitage is of the camera, and yet he does not seem flustered by it. He is focussing is gaze to something on the floor in front of him, carefully avoiding to look at the lens. There is a hint of a smile in both eyes and mouth – just the merest hint, which allows us to imagine what he may be contemplating while he is posing. To me he looks slightly introspective while not completely shutting out his environment. He could be looking up the next minute and grace us with an apologetic smile that he is indulging in something so selfish as a portrait session ;-). – The slight angling down of the face is another beautiful hint at Armitage’s modesty. It also reminds us of his height – while we do not see how tall he is in comparison, we are nonetheless reminded that Richard has to look down to most people when he interacts with them.

While it doesn’t quite fit the bill for an actor’s headshot – mostly because it is not a frontal shot – I think this is a wonderful advertisement for Armitage’s classic good looks. If he is contemplating a move away from action-based roles, this shows him as perfectly cast for the role of a romantic lead. “There is a light on upstairs”, as one of my dear fellow RAficionados once said after meeting him, and you can tell from this portrait.

All text © Guylty at me + richard armitage, 2013. Please credit when using excerpts and links. Images and video copyrights accrue to their owners.

~ by Guylty on April 9, 2013.

63 Responses to “*ooof*: A Light On Upstairs”

  1. Thanks for you “lesson” in photography, very appreciated. Great analysis of a great photo. One of my fave. But all Ascroft’s b/w shots recently surfaced are among my fave. Hope he will do more 😉

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    • Thanks for indulging me, Micra :-).
      I really wished Robert Ascroft knew how much pleasure he is giving us with his beautifully executed portraits. I agree – I’d like to see more pics of RA by R.A. 😉

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      • if he subscribes to google alerts, and you put Robert Ascroft in the tags, he will eventually run across your posts. As he will if he ever googles himself 🙂

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  2. OMG Guylty!!! LOVE THIS SO MUCH! Light on upstairs…. yessssss….. I have to say that that IS his best feature. ^_^

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  3. I know some people don’t like this photo because they say it ages Richard, but I don’t quite see it that way. I think he looks very distinguished, a mature masculine beauty but definitely not over the hill!

    For some reason the first time I saw it I thought of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The photo has a sort of majestic quality about it, too.

    I have a set of books on photography and love studying the history of it. Realizing how still people had to be to avoid blur, even necessitating those contraptions to keep them in line, I had a greater understanding of why people looked so miserable in so many old photos!

    And thank you for the reference to Freezer Queen, aka Sarah Caulfield. That made me laugh out loud! 😀
    Thanks once again for an excellent and informative post.

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    • I can see where the critics are coming from. It is the greyish-looking tuft of hair and the stubble. Since I am the same vintage as RA, it doesn’t bother me. I like that he is not a baby-bum prettyboy. But if you are a younger fan, it may be slightly too close to the bone…? Considering that RA is a bit coquettish about his “middle-aged-ness”, I’d say he might quite like this likeness of himself.
      There is a sculptural quality to this image, like a Mount Rushmore carving. Well, the man has a monumental nose, anyway 😉
      Historic photography is very interesting, I agree. I love looking at the old masters and love learning about how they coped with the limitations of the the newly emerging processes.
      As for Sarah Caulfield – Hehe, I was in fact thinking of her in the guise of those stinking, frozen aliens in “The Wonder Twins”…

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      • Well, I am even older than he is, so maybe I like it because I feel slightly less ancient in comparison?! Baby bum pretty boys have never appealed to me, even when I was a young thing. Give me something with a bit more individuality and character, please.

        Sarah Caulfield–I mean, really, couldn’t she have been an extra-terrestrial? It explains so much . . . *evil grin*

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        • Ooooh, I have to admit I used to be a great fan of baby-faced boys back in the day. But with the advancement of my own years *shock horror*, I find it much more consoling to lust after “real men” *ahem*…

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      • I’m not at al in the same vintage age yet as RA (sorry, I just loved your expression so I had to use it), but I got tired of baby boys when I was a kid. Mature, experienced and intelligent is sexy.

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        • Then you are mature beyond your years, Thora 😉 – good on ya! And in RA’s case there is no question, anyway – he’s simply a sign of impeccable taste in men. Period.

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      • Vintage is perfect! (we are all like fine wines aren’t we…the correct answer is YES) When I read your analyses, I understand why my photos are never very good. I struggle with the PHD cameras. I dabbled with a manual SLR for a while to try and learn the basics, but I lack the patience – fortunately for me, pottery doesn’t move much…a decent macro and I’m in business 🙂

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        • PHD camera as in “push here dummy”? (You *do* know, that in the context of Armitage, the abbreviation PhD stands for something altogether different, something that would fit very snugly with your class on (history of) sex, btw. *widegrin*… BTW – I am no camera snob. I shoot every day – but the one guaranteed shot every day is with my iPhone. A PHD if there ever was one. It is just as valid as the latest Canon 1DXX or Nikon D5000 bla… It has to fit *your* needs as the photographer, and not the expectations of others or the hope of the gadget industry to make another sale…
          As a pro-photographer, btw, I am also much happier with architectural photography or landscapes than with people photography, although I am actually quite good at the latter (if I can judge that myself…). It’s much easier to deal with inanimate objects than with the idiosyncracies of humans!

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          • I have to say I have seen some great photos taken with an iPhone. My phone is an el cheapo one so the images are crap—I stick with the Olympus LOL One thing I do find really funny—it just looks so unwieldy—is the sight of people shooting pics with their iPads. I glanced over while shooting and saw some dad was taking pics of his daughter at last weekend’s pageant with one and I got the giggles. As Benny said, hey, they DO have good cameras. Still . . .

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            • *giggles* ipad photography is absolutely ridiculous, I have to say. The smartphone is one thing, but an unwieldy tablet coputer??? I think it is completely superfluous for them to have rear cameras. A front camera for webcam capability is wholly sufficient. – I have to admit, when I wield my big fancy camera, it certainly adds extra authority to me as a photographer. But the iPhone or any automatic is not to be sneered at. It is *what* you see and *how* you photograph it, not what you photograph it *with* (except for an iPad).

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          • Crud…I forgot to press the email button and missed all th repartee :(. I do know the alternate RA meaning of PHD…don’t tempt me Guylty… I have a little Nikon that as a nice macro for the still shots I need, but I’ve been using my phone for candids. Tablets..good lord, I saw a family in NY using one to snap at the RC ice rink..it took them forever to line it up…I wanted to scream…”FFS, your viewer is 10″ wide snap it already!”

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  4. This picture is so beautiful, it’s pure art. One of my my favourite pictures of Richard. I’m such a swooner for profile, b/w and old fashioned pictures. And l like that he looks so mature, like a real man. I love that you can see in to his face, his skin, stubble, wrincles. I could study this picture for ever.

    And he looks like one of those old actors from 50s and 60s, specially with that hair thing. But hotter than any of them did. Who cares about Gregory Peck, Elvis or James Dean, just look at this man.

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  5. Thank you for the exposition, Guylty. Now I know why this photograph is one of my favourites. The photographer is brilliant, but so is the subject. *ooof* is right.

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    • Glad to be of service, Leigh. I want to petition for Ascroft to become court photographer “by appointment of his majesty the Armitage”….

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  6. Enjoyed your post and especially the parts where you are pointing out all the subtleties. I like this picture for all the reasons already stated so I won’t repeat them. I think he looks a little like Lincoln in the photo, so that may be another reason the picture reminds some folks of Mount Rushmore — but photo defintely has a chiseled look about it.

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    • I think the chiseled, sculptural quality largely derives from the pose as a profile. We see all the angles of his face – the roundness of the chin, the soft V of the lips, the sheer slope of the nose, the straight forehead – which are usually hidden in the flatness of a full frontal shot. The shadow slightly accentuates it further without being too harsh about it. Armitage as “elder statesman” – why not 😉 – there’s another possibility: How about a modern interpretation of Richard III set in 2013. Fanfiction writers to the fore, please!

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      • Hmmm…guest spot on the series “House of Cards” perhaps? It’s very Richard III-ian according to star (& producer I think) Kevin Spacey. My husband and I watched the first season and we’re hooked. RA could play a ruthless Senator……

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        • I have been hearing nothing but good things about this show…I have to sit down and watch it

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        • Nice one!!! Has slight reference also to Guy of Gisborne – I mean, the whole power thing. RA would be brilliant. Have to go back to House of Cards. I watched the pilot and did like it but then forgot about it.

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    • This pic totally looks like the Lincoln movie poster: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm291022848/tt0443272?ref_=tt_ov_i

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      • Oh wow – yes. Thanks for the link – I hadn’t seen that, Jane.

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        • Is it the same photographer? I also saw a kind of double portait made from this pic and similar one of another actor, not sure where to find that.

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          • No, I doubt it is also by Ascroft, Jane. The style of shooting against a blown-out background is actually quite ubiquitous at the moment. The Lincoln poster was most probably shot by a studio photographer…

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  7. Oh ,I love this image!. IMHO, this photo not only highlights his interesting beauty but also reflects his character. Quiet, benevolent observer always seeking to be in half-shadow.
    *ooof* Guylty *ooof*..and thank you! 🙂

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  8. One of my favourites, too!! Could be a perfect application photo for Cary Grant-like characters for example … Classical stuff, no mere action. Can’t wait for it!!!

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  9. Missed that one. Naugthy, naughty 🙂

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  10. Here I am late again. But WOW! When I first saw this picture I was thinking Lincoln. Cary Grant is my favorite classic movie actor, I have known to see one of his movies on TV stop what I am doing just to watch.
    Yes I was thinking that Richard looks older, but since we are so close in age I guess it makes me middle age too. Really I don’t feel like I am. I have always liked guys in my own age group.
    Thank You once again for the great lesson.

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  11. Replying before I read the comments.

    I loved the discussion of how the LF format works and agree this must be terrible for the sitter. I see now why you’d want to do it with buildings, though.

    And — these were the least favorite of my photos from the Ascroft shoot. I don’t hate them but I don’t ever flip back to them. (And I made a joke about “earless” Armitage in them as well.) Usually I like the surreal focus on the skin texture, hair and stubble, but not here, and I can’t exactly tell you why. Perhaps because although I love the feminine moments in Armitage’s appearance, this picture seems incredibly feminized to me, beyond my tolerance for that in a man? It’s something to with the curve of the hair styling at his forehead cowlick, his chin, and the fact that his neck is in shadow.

    Now to look at comments.

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  12. […] […]

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  13. […] attractiveness of his subjects. A photographer with a classic and classy approach. ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof […]

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