*ooof*: Shadow Man

The first *ooof* of the new year. And Guylty was momentarily bled dry. No idea which picture to choose. Frankly, there are too many of them no, never enough! So here is my appeal to you for help. Suggest something for me.

sarah dunn portrait

Eye see you, Richard Armitage
Armitage in a portrait by Sarah Dunn, 2013

A classy shot of a classy man. Photographed by Sarah Dunn, Armitage poses for a head-and-shoulders portrait that has been post-produced in b/w (I presume). He is formally dressed in suit and knitted shawl – I think my fashion-resistant SO has been wearing the same since 1994 (not kidding!) tie and gazes into the camera with an intense look. The head slightly and characteristically inclined to his right, the intensity of the stare is lessened, yet the message of the image is intensified. While the sitter ostensibly takes back some of the challenge that comes with a direct visual connection (usually denoting confidence, self-assurance, even assertiveness), the image does not convey a sense of aggression, but of thoughtful deliberation. Much of that is caused by the focussing on the eyes. They are almost always at the centre of an image. Not in the literal sense – the physiological arrangement of the eyes in the upper third of the head does not allow for that – but in the sense that a clear, unobstructed look at the eyes is central to our interpretation of a portrait and of a person. These eyes are clear and bright, the catchlights evoke a sense of life and liveliness in an otherwise static pose.

This emphasis on the eyes is further reinforced by the lighting of the portrait. The fail-safe lighting employed in studio portraiture is usually three-way-lighting in which the sitter is set in scene with three lights ( a) key light to illuminate the face of the sitter, b) fill light to light surrounding room and bring up the light in general and c) accent light that can be used to lighten up the background or to place accents on the sitter). However, to me the lighting in this image looks as if only two lights have been used. There is an accent light that brightens the background and thus separates the sitter from what is behind him, preventing his dark clothing to melt into the otherwise dark background. The keylight has been used very cleverly here. As is pretty conventional, it is placed at about 30 to 40 degrees to the right side of and a little bit above the sitter. However, Dunn manages to direct Armitage in such a way that the light from the flash does not just illuminate his right side of his face, but it very cleverly just about manages to light up the left eye as well, while leaving most of left half of his face in shadow. That way, both eyes shine brightly in this image lending a more open and friendly look to the face. (A half-obscured face, in contrast, would indicate ambiguity.) The dark shadow that is created by the nose serves to add three-dimensionality to the image, as does the lucky little streak of light that graces Armitages nasolabial fold.

Mr A has continuously pointed out that his inherently evil features suit the dark of shadow better than the light of day. His Army continuously refutes this. We are probably blinded by the light of his handsomeness. As a neutral observer and photographer I have to agree that his characteristic facial features – the Armitage proboscis nose-jobbed or not, the angular forehead and the projecting lower lid folds – work really well with strongly directed light. He creates beautiful shadows, and his expressive eyes can make use of the dramatic ambience caused by half-light, adding overtones of menace, doubt, fear or worry very easily. However, as a fangirl *and* photographer I would like to say to Armitage: Bullshit! In the bright lights of the red carpet *I* observed him at, the “menacing” face looked rather unthreatening and friendly. The difference is not caused by light or no light – it is caused by the facial expression that good Mr A puts on his mien. If he cared to smile more in his images, he’d soon be Hollywood’s go-to man for happy daddies, hot heros and sweet sweethearts. He probably won’t hear me say this, though, because his ears are permanently damaged by the din of blasting ovaries that surrounds this man *huffs*. I do not blame the photographers for basking Armitage in shadow, either. That face is just hard to resist – how could we fangirls refute that – it begs for strong light. And strongly lit portraits always have an air of classiness, especially when post-produced in the contrast paradise of b/w…

Photographer Dunn certainly also brings her own classy photography skills to the table here. Her fake LF (?) Elvis shot was subject to an *ooof* in December. She has also proven herself to be quite fan-friendly in that she has held little polls for followers to decide of which of her many sitters she may post another shot. I have heard much criticism about the use of Social Media for self-promotion, i.e. bargaining with the public and promising images in return for new followers on FB or Twitter or whichever platform the respective artist is using. Frankly, I do not think this is an issue that we can complain about – especially as the outcome was always in favour of Richard Armitage’s followers in that the overwhelming response was for another shot to be published of him. We got what we wanted – and in return we had to give something back to the photographer; we had to click “like” and subscribe to her on FB. Which is free. (And which could easily be revoked without any repercussions.)

The images, however, are not free. Upon the danger of repeating myself: The images are the photographer’s capital. The currency for them is real money. Or in lieu of that – widening her reach by gaining more followers. This is important because even photographers with regular gigs such as Sarah Dunn – she is a regular photographer for Warner Bros. and does a lot of their promotional stuff – are free lancers. They get paid only if their images are used. Or if they have been booked by an individual, a studio or a magazine for a shoot. In this business, networking is everything. With every shoot you have done, you have made another connection. With every celebrity you have photographed, you have got another endorsement in your portfolio. Dunn should have no worries when it comes to that – she has photographed so many acting superstars, her portfolio blinds you. All the more reason to like the way she communicates on her FB page. Very modestly she has placed herself firmly in the dark. When she shows up in a BTS video or a photo, she is in the shade or shown from behind. Essentially she lets the imagery speak for herself. That is an attitude I very much like and identify with. If you would like to see how she works, check her FB page which also contains a number of BTS clips where you can see her in action and imagine her shooting RA.

 

The man felt close to cardiac arrest when he turned the corner into a dark alley off the Boulevard. Had he not been so out of breath, he would have sighed with relief, when he spied the shadowy doorway in the gloomy shadow. He slipped into the entrance, leaning against the inconspicuous door and to his surprise the wood gave way. Just what I needed, the stranger thought, and made his shaking legs walk into the gaping darkness beyond the door.

He found himself in what could only be described as a sleazy dive. Thank God it was so dark in here, noone could see him – he immediately went to his right where he had noticed a flickering neon sign indicating the jacks, clutching a soft bundle to his chest. No sooner had he entered the grimy dungeons of the men’s toilet, he could hear muffled shouts and conspicuous kerfuffles out in the bar he had just vacated. He hurried into one of the wooden stalls, locking the door behind him and taking care not to touch the splintered wooden walls and soiled tiles behind the loo. Where the hell had he landed? And for fucks sake, where had that momentary madness come from?

He strained to make out what was being shouted outside. Moments later the hubbub on the other side of the toilet doors had died down. This time the sigh came from the depth of his stomach. They had not seen him nip into the jacks, he was safe. The man busied himself with the bundle. Thank God he still had everything. His hands ached from the iron grip in which he had clutched the bundle. He untangled his things and then balanced on his toes, trying to make himself half-presentable again. There, the tie was last. All in place. He took a deep breath. I have to get out of here. He opened the door of the stall and stepped back into the toilet. Stepping up to the dingy hand basin, he caught his reflection in the spotted mirror. The light from broken lampshade cast an eerie light onto his face. Richard peered at himself. Naked Day on Wilshire Boulevard. Never again.

~ by Guylty on January 7, 2014.

66 Responses to “*ooof*: Shadow Man”

  1. LOL! Great post and great ficlet 😉

    I do love this pic, too. (What a daft comment. There’s hardly one I don’t like…)

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    • PS there’s something very Hitchockian about this pic…

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      • Hey and thanks. Yes, it’s the whole b/w thing again, and the shallow depth of field that makes everything beyond his eyes look slightly soft (=fuzzy, in non-photographic terms), just as it was in the good old days of manual, analog photography. Plus, the strong lighting scenarios are very cinematographic.

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  2. Lol…love the ficlet!

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  3. That is *not* the picture we discussed! huff… 😉 I love it! I’m a total sucker for the light/shadow contrast, so these kinds of B/W always appeal.

    Masterful ficlet!!

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    • You know what, Obscura – I had the dedication ready for you, when it all of a sudden came to me that that was *not* the image you had suggested but the other one, in the dark shirt. *duh* By that time the *ooof* was done – so RA in the black shirt of sex will be done another time. As for the ficlet: that started out (in my mind) as a Raymond Carver parody – and then went a completely different way. As usual. These ficlet things have a mind of their own. I have no idea how you manage to write a multi-chapter fanfic!

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      • LOL…more bang for my buck!! “Black shirt of sex” indeed…tunica nigra carnalis…or something like that 🙂

        I have to go back and double check details all the time to make sure I’m not mucking something up!

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        • detail checks on multi chapter fic that is….all kids + 1 extra in residence today – brain mush.

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        • Oh I love it when you talk Latin to me baby, all the way *ggg*… tunica nigra carnalis, now that sounds lethal!!
          See, all that planning and plotting is what I can’t see myself doing. My attention span is that of a goldfish – except when it comes to reading other people’s brilliant work.

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          • I picked “carnalis” especially…just the right punch *rwrrrr* 😀

            One shots are fun too, “wham, bam” and all, but I find I like weaving an intricate plot, and working not to get lost! Now pictures? I look at, like it or not and that’s about it…I don’t take the trouble to notice the details…unless some expert points them out. (How’s that for our daily dose of mutual appreciation? 🙂 )

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            • *mwah* Perfect dose. (Cheque is in the post.)
              Maybe maybe I should try my hand at long-form some time. It just seems I never have the time to concentrate on something long. (That sounds wrong.) (Grah, what is it with me today? My mind is firmly in the gutter… *ugh*) It kind of goes along the same lines as your current RL troubles: I wish I had the time to concentrate *only* and *exclusively* on a longer fic (or even photo project) for a months. Instead I have to work *duh*. I want to win the lottery.

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              • *snort* If your mind is in the gutter, definitely DO NOT read my reply to your reply at AncArm! What a pair…maybe we need a virtual time out chair?!

                Concentration is definitely an issue for me with the plottier stuff..I need uninterrupted time to get my brain in gear, and that has been in short supply lately. Interestingly, it’s a bit easier for me to budget time when I’m working – family’s expectation of when I’m around are different I guess.

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                • Too late, already replied.
                  Uninterrupted concentration at a length of time is key. Getting half an hour here, 20 minutes there just doesn’t do it.
                  It’s funny how a bit of pressure is very motivating. Unfortunately doesn’t work in my set-up where I work from a home office.

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                  • Ugh…pressure in the home office set up is usually of the “I’m hungry, when is lunch” variety around here…more irritating and disruptive than motivating. Props to you for getting any work done!

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          • tunica nigra carnalis–I can’t stop saying it– it sounds so deliciously decadent!!! LIke a dark chocolate cover caramel cover Richard shaped truffle.

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  4. The steely-eyed Richard in this pic reminded me of a crime boss that has just ordered a minion to off one of his enemies. Cold. merciless and calculating. I guess the cold could be the result of running around
    Wilshire Blvd. without his knit tie and a few other things. Loved the ficlet and the photo. Thanks for the analysis and the fic, as usual thoroughly fun.

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    • That’s where my imagination initially took me. As usual, it veered another way. But yes, there is something about that seemingly open look – but then your eyes go down to the mouth that doesn’t smile. Ambiguitage in full force.

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  5. Yummy. A pic after this little girl’s heart.
    Or at least I first thought so. I have come across this special photo quite some times during the last weeks and I always liked it. But I never gave it a second thought although I am a big admirer of b/w and this kind of 50s atmosphere. But only today I found time to glare at the pic for more than a few moments. Was not too heavy a burden, though. And then after a few seconds (or were it rather minutes?) of staring (and drooling) it suddenly crossed my mind he is a bit cross-eyed in this one? Or is something wrong with my visual? Ok, my glasses are the shape of the bottom of a bottle but so far I never had problems with perspective.

    And the ficlet? Difficult to get my mind out of the gutter after imagining Mr. A. strolling casually along Wiltshire Boulevard in his birthday suit.

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    • No, I don’t think he looks cross-eyed (says this bottle-bottom wearer :-D). But I see what you mean. I think it is a trick of the light: The sidelighting catches the white of his eyes. The left eye appears bigger because more of the white is shown on that side of the eye. Also, there is only one catchlight in his left eye while there are two in the other.
      I think the little stroll down Wilshire Blvd turned into a bit of a hunt. No doubt the Army had its spies out there (they are now on a 24-hour-patrol). It went a bit out of hand, and RA had to run for cover, literally, clutching his bundle of clothes to his chest. I think he had left his shoes on, though…

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      • At least he had the wits to choose Wiltshire Boulevard and not Piccadilly Circus (10 degrees C) or Times Square (2 degrees C). If you need volunteers for the Army spy troops I will happily held my hand up. OTOH it maybe would be more worthwile to be the one who offers shelter. Could do that as well. All for the greater good. I have decided to be extra willingly good this year. Or so.

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        • LOL. He chose the safe route there, it seems. The sunny climes of California a certainly more conducive to streaking than ball-shrinking European winters *coughs* – sorry to be so blunt. (I obviously did not sign up to the “extra-good” faction this year…)

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  6. I like this photo a lot. There’s definitely tension in the shoulders and face. He does lend himself to black and white, doesn’t he?

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  7. The photo sure warms a frozen girl up. No school for the second day due to the cold weather, so I could check my e-mail early. Still need to work out yet, thought I would check to see if you had a new *ooof* and you have.

    I remember those ties from awhile ago, maybe 80’s and early 90’s. Anything knitted today will work. I put on a sweater that I have not worn in a couple years to stay warm.

    Thank you for teaching us more about light and dark in pictures that is.

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  8. Loved the ficlet!

    Is it just me or is there something unpleasant about his mouth. Love the eyes, hair, etc…

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  9. I love the knitted tie, never sad that before actually.

    Just amazing picture, he looks so beautiful, like an old fashioned star.

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  10. Oh my hell, I love your ficlets!
    The pic ain’t too bad either.

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  11. Thanks, Guylty- love the air of mystery in this shot. As to the ficlet- I had absolutely no idea where you were headed, so well played!

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    • Yay, that’s great. The intention was to leave the reason for his running and hiding as vague as possible. I am glad that it worked that way for you.
      Mr A is very good at mystery…

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  12. How DO you think of your stories? Soooo good.

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    • Thanks, Besotted :-). Idk, the ficlets have a mind of their own. This one lent itself to something mysterious. I had planned it as a Carver parody, but then it suddenly went a different way. They kind of take on a dynamic of their own…

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  13. Please do the image from that shoot with the looooong neck, please, please. I really want to have at that neck. Just saying.

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  14. A hahaha! *snort* A hahaha! Bless you, Guylty 🙂
    Alarming picture, but I like it.

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  15. I don’t think the issue was whether she used social media and images of Armitage to promote her work (in essence, what else does she have to promote her work except her work?) but the way she did it. For me, anyway. I got tired of her tone really quickly and I *felt* exploited in a way that I don’t in response to (e.g.) Peter Jackson. But I didn’t care for most of her pictures of Armitage all that much, anyway, the Elvis shot being one exception. This is another, I think I somehow missed seeing this one when it first came out. There’s something so self-consciously exploitative about some of her images. Your ficlet’s reference to the sleazy dive fits well. I feel sleazy, uneasy, looking at a lot of her pictures, and I wouldn’t say I’m someone who feels uncomfortable with her own desire.

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    • I am not sure there is any other way of using SM to promote work. It is a bargaining between the seller and the buyer. Since we are not paying and just want to *see* the images, the photographer wants something else in return – likes and favourites = more reach. – I am probably immune to that kind of exploitation because I work in SM and am used to this kind of calculated bargaining.
      Interesting response to her images, btw. The sleaze impression is partly due to the use of shadow in the image. Shadow = disguising, hiding something. The photographer and the viewer then become something like a voyeur, observing something that is not meant to be seen. Maybe that is what gives the impression of deliberate exploitation? This image certainly has a feeling of intimacy in it – and while that is what some viewers crave, it may also make us feel uncomfortable because intimacy is not really in the bargain in the fan-star-interaction… We are suddenly witness to something we perceive as private. – But that is exactly what portrait photography is about (imho) – some raw emotionality or vulnerability that gives you an insight into the sitter’s character. Yeah, there is a certain amount of awkwardness in the shot, and publishing that could be seen as exploitative. It may just all be in the eye of the beholder? I find Dunn’s shots very interesting in their variety – from clinical to intimate.

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      • I don’t disagree that a bargain is being offered. That’s part of how social media work and I do it too (albeit in a different way). But again, how you do it is crucial. Every prostitute knows that not all come-ons are created equal. I had felt annoyed by her tone almost from the beginning but the point at which the turnoff effect occurred (not just for me, there was a tumblr post on this — I wish tumblr were easier to search) was the point at which she started taunting Armitage fans for not trying hard enough. Well, whatever, Sarah Dunn, I’d say you don’t have a clue if you have to insult your audience in order to get them to respond. The thing is that when I take (or don’t take) the bait from Peter Jackson, it’s clear what is there or isn’t there. When someone starts insulting me to get me click, based on a product that I can’t even see, that makes me tetchy and oppositional. After the point at which she was trying to put ARmitage fans in competition with some other fans to see whose picture she’d reveal first, I unliked her page.

        For me, this photo is *not* intimate and maybe that’s part of the problem. Rather than seeking first to tell me something about Armitage (which Dunn was poor at doing especially in comparison to Hassler, I think, whose photos really grew on me as they got away from the weird clothing and odd poses and focused on the subject, and which I ended up quite liking once I saw them all), this one seeks something else first. It’s intimate (overstating) in the sense that a come-on from a prostitute is intimate — it makes reference to things that are intimate and offers them to me, but at the same time the form of the comeone makes the intimacy seem inherently ironic.

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        • Now we are getting somewhere *ggg*. I like it when we can discuss opposite impressions/interpretations.
          Visually, Dunn shows more variety and use of technique than Hassler (probably also due to the fact that Dunn is endorsed by a studio, has other resources at her disposal than a lot of other photographers, and possibly more time allocated). I am not sure whether I can agree that Dunn’s shots “pimp out” the pretended intimacy in another way than Hassler’s. These are both *staged* photo shoots. Both photographers essentially have the same goal – which is creating some evocative images of an actor, and they both go about that task by setting him in scene as attractively as possible.
          There is no intimacy as such in their images – there is the pretense of it. Hassler pictures it with less “atmosphere” (and by that I mean shadowy light and grainy film/high ISO) than Dunn. I agree with you in the sense that I find Hassler’s shots more natural and reactive – they seem to picture a moment of *action* whereas Dunn presents a moment of *acting*. In Hassler’s shots it appears as if the sitter is reacting to the photographer in a natural, “conversational” way, whereas Dunn’s images have an air of more posed still-ness and deliberateness. The latter is more characteristic for classic portrait photography, whereas Hassler’s style is much more suited for fashion photography. The different styles may be inherent in their personal practice but could easily also have been a result of a brief.
          I can see where you are coming from with your criticism of Dunn. I did not follow the whole SM marketing strategy (I stay away from that in my private life – have enough of that in my worklife) and was thus not antagonised by her tactics. When it comes to my personal opinion, I am not a huge fan of pseudo-atmospheric, grainy shots, I prefer the clinical “every-pore-is-visible” images. Totally subjectively I nonetheless like Dunn’s work a bit more than Hassler’s.

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          • I don’t disagree that every photo is a representation. (This is why I have zero principled opposition to manips — though I know you don’t like them.) Still, that doesn’t keep photos from approaching their tasks in different ways. As you note action / vs acting as what’s on display. To some extent, here (especially because I look at *many* fewer photos than you do in my day to day life, but I also think because I have an inherent suspicion of the trope of irony — I think I’ve told you that I only ever write humor when I’m in a terrible mood), I feel like these photographers deal with the fact of representation (representing intimacy as opposed to giving it to us) in light of the inherent problem of irony that it calls forth, in different ways. For me, Dunn is unsuccessful although the photo you picked above is probably the best of that particular pose / lighting sequence.

            [Rhetorical assumption — Representation leads viewers to confront the problem of irony insofar as we know that what is represented is at odds with (what we know about) “the real.”]

            If you take Hassler, once you move away from the shots that are clearly primarily about the clothing (the watch plaid jacket in front of the yellow taxis, the plaid shirt against the garage door, and so on) — it seems to me that on purpose or accidentally she gently humorizes her situation as commidifier and Armitage as commodified. We know commodification is occurring and she deals with that playfully. In those shots Armitage is being sold in the same way that the clothes are; it’s just that you can purchase the clothes in stores, a place where you can’t buy Armitage (though the viewer is buying him in other ways here). The white shirt doesn’t fit, for example, he’s taking off the tie in a way that’s not very considerate to the tie, the plaid seems an almost dandified color choice against the pale, serious face, Armitage’s facial expressions seem to betray an awareness that he’s a mannequin and a sort of amusement about it — and then there’s the paradoxical hands on face shot where the hands say “don’t look at me” while the eyes look out and engage with the viewer past the formulaic gesture. I love that kind of symbolic language, admittedly, but it seems to me that she gets at something fundamental there (even if not tremendously sophisticated) as an insight about the Sitz im Leben of the actor in general, in a more intermediate sense the one who is selling fashionable clothing, and perhaps, given what we believe to be true about him, Richard Armitage in particular. She also very much manages well IMO the problem of energy vs fatigue in his facial features in those photos, so that he can have both the signs of the man who’s lived a bit of life — the faint edge of signalling that he’s got a bit of “verbraucht” behind him and is thus masculine (and the convention of the real man being uncomfortable in fancy clothes is very much operating here) — even as he’s fresh, beautiful, energetic (enough) to sell these clothes. Hassler’s wasn’t my favorite shoot but as I saw more of it, I liked it more and more.

            Opposite impression with Dunn — I only really liked one photo instantly and I liked the others I saw less and less as more of them appeared (which perhaps signals my weariness with her social media push — really, you’ve got nothing more than that to give us? This is another way that Jackson is just incredibly practiced — he always gives a little more rather than a little less so you really do look forward to what is coming.) In contrast, Dunn’s work [not the “Elvis” shot — I’d have to talk about my reaction to that separately, although it also involves a kind of response to irony] reminds me of a genre of photography popular in the US in the late 80s and early 90s that you could buy for yourself in shopping malls, called “Glamour Shots.” I think the company is still around, although its heyday is over. The point was to give the sitter a kind of professional photography experience (on the cheap) that enhanced their “glamorous” features. A lot of women did it as a makeover thing. People who did this wanted to see themselves as gorgeous and glamorous according to the prevailing cultural assumptions for that perception, which were a sort of pastiche of what you could achieve with basic studio photography in a mall setting with filters and lighting effects and various tropes drawn from film and art. The problem was that the trope(s) took over and the people themselves almost always looked ridiculous to anyone but themselves. Either the photos were inadvertently ironic insofar as the subject’s physicality couldn’t conform to the trope (the beautiful young ingenue painted as Marilyn Monroe, which is a really cruel thing to do to a sitter) or the glamor trope became so empty of content that the result was just trashy — it was all about the hair, makeup, costume. This photo doesn’t quite fall that low (those luminous eyes — it’s just very hard for him to appear trashy), but the problem in most of her shots of Armitage is in my estimation acute and this photo hints at it. It looks like it could be a publicity shot for an actor in a 40s noir film, except that we know Armitage isn’t a noir actor, and it’s not 1940 anymore. Thus the picture inherently doesn’t represent anything like verisimilitude about the subject — or even try — or capture anything real except that possibility that he might bear a resemblance to a 40s leading man — which betrays your fundamental rule for capturing something real, whether a moment or a perception, about the subject. Moreover we know that the tropes are applications here rather than attempts at verisimilitude, so that the image screams from its generic features “I am not real.” It thus begs for an ironic reading. But because it takes the trope so seriously it can’t get there either. There’s nothing playful about it, the representation fails and falls into irony without any apparent awareness of that problem on the part of the cooperative sitter or the IMO rather clueless photographer.

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            • Oh shit – I do not see any irony in this image at all. That could be me a) being humour-resistant aka German b) in APM or c) in FPPM (fellow photographer protection mode). Or wait, is that exactly what you are saying? There *is* no irony in the shot, but there *should* be? Why should there be? Because Dunn visually quotes from 1940s Hollywood Glamour style despite knowing that her sitter is not a 1940s Hollywood star and despite him not effectively copying the 1940s Hollywood star gaze? I think that is actually something that could make this image stand out in a pastiche-y sort of way. Irony would be the obvious path (nowadays) – Dunn veers off from it because she doesn’t shoot him with *that* kind of facial expression but with an assertive, yet distanced look on his face. I do not find that ironic. Not even involuntarily ironic. But then again I didn’t read the image with that trope in mind (at least not consciously – subconsciously, well, maybe, hence my Raymond Carver-inspired ficlet.) But I will concede that the hard-to-read facial expression undermines the echo of Hollywood Glamour photography in the style of the image.
              Are we too conditioned nowadays to interpret everything in terms of irony and cynicism? Where has the straight-forward appreciation of beauty and aesthetics gone? I know, we are questioning the validity of beauty and aesthetics because we have learnt that they are inherently subjective categories, hence we feel a need to interpret the depiction of beauty or to find a message in the chosen aesthetics. Yet a work of art can be appreciated just for its beauty…
              Yes, portraits are about capturing something real. Something that exists in the sitter. And which the photographer identifies with the image. I am afraid I am overfamiliar with the subject here (I wish *haha*) because I have no problem whatsoever interpreting some kind of perceived-by-me Armitage facet into each and every of his images. The “real” here is not as easy to grasp as “This is a 1940s film noir actor, because the visual style tells me so”. The “real” can just as easily be something completely conjectured but perceived by me as real – like the often assumed discomfort of Armitage at being the subject of a photo shoot. That is what I see in this image, despite the direct connection of the sitter’s gaze with the camera. There is a reserve in the image – which is absent in the Hassler shots – but after comparing the Dunn shots with Hassler again, I think that is due to the (assumed) static posing of RA in Dunn’s images [cf. also the MaxMovie image] vs a seemingly more dynamic shoot by Hassler.

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              • I don’t personally believe that we can attribute an object “just for its beauty,” or rather, in order to make the proposition intelligible, we’d still have to define what beauty was and then we would differ, so in essence, there is still a “because.” No beauty w/o aesthetics. I may have a reaction that “x is just beautiful” by which I assume I’d mean that I was emotionally overwhelmed by the feeling that something was beautiful (and I have that reaction regularly, and it totally has its place), but without a content for the term “beautiful” it’s hard to know what that even means once I’ve backed off from that reaction. IMO there’s never not a because or a definition or a qualification. But this is something you and I differ on (you also wrote sometime last week “love just is,” a statement with which I couldn’t disagree more strongly), and I would characterize that notion, that one can’t explain love, as one that is shared among many Germans I know 🙂 as well as some Americans. But if I believed either of those things I wouldn’t be writing here — they essentially would tend to invalidate my critical stance.

                I’m irony resistant in the sense that I don’t like irony much. I prefer sincerity. I try to be sincere; when you catch me being ironic it’s usually because I am angry about something. I accept that in the current historical mode, however, sincerity has been delegitimated as a rhetorical move, and so we can’t escape the problem of irony. Images are a key index of this in their multiplicability. For me, that means we have to know more, confront more, when we make and read images. That doesn’t mean Dunn’s is terrible image (for whatever purpose it’s created for, or even just because in capitalism we have put taste in the place of morals, as Weber would have said, so “I like it” / “I don’t like it” are completely legitimate modes of judgment), but to me, it does mean that it fails as art. i can say “that image is sexy” and not especially like it as an image of Armitage and have no problem with that.

                The “real” here is precisely that Armitage is not a 1940s film actor and all of us know that. We can’t honestly pretend to anything else; we know too much. The trope is not real to any of us and has no chance of appearing real to the knowledgeable observer, hence the choice of trope militates against the possibility of any significant credible verisimilitude in representing the subject beyond the fact that we recognize the face as that of Richard Armitage. IMO the features of the trope overwhelm any other features of the image — the image ends up being largely empty of content apart from trope. In a situation like that, I would argue, the only way to make the image interesting beyond the retreat to irony (the explicit knowledge of the viewer that the image contradicts what it says it is) is to somehow acknowledge and deal with the deception. Instead the photographer prefers the deception, indeed enhancing her attempt to fill the deception with verisimilitude. Viewers might like it, as well, we see that all the time when we watch our fellow fans processing pictures. I happen not to. This is a fantasy of Armitage that doesn’t work for me because its contradictions so are palpable that they make all imagination fall apart.

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                • Sincerity kills aesthetics. Because then we are down to mere documentation and gritty warts-and-all realism which allows no room for aesthetic representation. This image is the exact opposite of realism – it consciously does not document but presents and pre-interprets the sitter in a certain way. Some of the reaction of the viewer depends on his/her knowledge of the trope of 1940s Hollywood Glamour. And even if they do know it – like myself – I do not think that the response to the image must necessarily be one of irony. It could be interpreted as an hommage rather than a satire – of putting someone into context with a revered status, person or era and attempting to elevate him that way.
                  I am not sure what else to say.

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                  • We don’t agree; that’s fine. It’s happened before, I’m not a photographer, and I don’t look at anywhere near as many pictures as you do.

                    If sincerity kills images, though, it’s a bit hard to see how Renaissance art worked at the time, because that’s clearly one aspect of it, even if we’re stuck on the problem of nature vs naturalism there as well (Sincerity not being the same thing as either reality or realism) I also assume, although I do not share this reaction, that many of the responses to things like impressionism are based on notions of sincerity attributed to the image-maker or felt by the person interpreting.

                    If this image is an *hommage*, though, then as a critic I’m really troubled. I don’t mind if viewers see it that way (everyone takes away from an image what she takes away), but homage to what?

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                    • Ok, I suppose I equated sincerity with realism because the word sincere implies honest, unchanged depiction. But I did not say that sincerity kills images. Sincerity (in my understanding) kills aesthetics – reduces the depiction of an object or subject down to mere reproduction or documentation and does not allow for aesthetic representation.
                      I am not well versed in art history enough to evaluate Renaissance art in this context. My understanding is that it was the *first attempt* at realism in terms of perspective, ratio etc. Doesn’t mean that it succeeded in being realistic art or that it left notions of aesthetics behind?
                      An hommage to 1940s film noir and the greats of Hollywood Glamour.

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                    • Sorry, my bad — but I don’t think sincerity kills aesthetics, either. It is a kind of aesthetic, one that we’ve learned to laugh at because it is so elusive. I can see the possibility that realism might kill aesthetics, if realism were limited to pushing the button on your camera when you see an image. But even realism is a kind of artifice, isn’t it? Photographers steer things to make them look more (or less) real.

                      re: Renaissance art, you’d have to ask Obscura about its realism vis a vis the ancient world (what those of us nonspecialists who have to teach about this usually say is that at some point in the late 13th c. in Italy the regime of vision, the notion of what is supposed to be seen in a viewed image, changed drastically so that earlier representations became untenable for their viewers in the functions that images now came to have, that the early Ren involved an attempt to recover the realism of the ancients, moved during the High Ren toward developing techniques that did that, and eventually decided, toward the Late Rena or at least by the time Vasari was writing, that it had surpassed the realism of the ancients). But the Renaissance does have aesthetics (notions of sincerity and the fight over what it means to be sincere in the Renaissance playing a big role — it’s not clear if Castiglione was writing The Courtier based on what he saw in art alone or if some artist were reading debates about sincerity), but the theme is there and it hits a high point philosophically (if not necessarily representationally) in the late Enlightenment and Romanticism.

                      If this is an homage to noir/Hollywood Glamor — how are (say) Dean O’Gorman’s shots not an homage to Vietnam war photography? I’m trying to figure out if I’m connoting “homage” too positively.

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                    • I would connote homage as exclusively positive. In visual art terms, homage is a form of postive pastiche, paying respects to a revered predecessor, I suppose.
                      Can you pay homage to something ugly? i.e. war? The faked realism of O’Gorman’s shots belittle the seriousness of war – especially in context with his own statements about his “project”. I do not think that Dunn’s attempt at a film noir shot belittles the genre itself.

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                    • [Cogitating]

                      Isn’t O’Gorman’s stuff (about which we agree, as you know) only inadvertently belittling? Because he’s not got a very developed aesthetics or ethics? He admires a certain kind of image that he’s familiar with, it attracts him, and he attempts to duplicate it, to some extent because he likes playing with the toys necessary to do so. His fault lies in his failure to think about what point that activity makes. But he didn’t set out to look down on the genre; indeed, he might have set out with the opposite goal (I don’t know).

                      In other words, does the identification of something as an homage lie at least partially in the intention of the photographer (and I suppose, the compliance of the subject)? B/c then we’re back to sincerity vs irony. (I don’t know that irony has to be intentional, it could also be a natural effect of some kinds of photos, as I’ve argued, or an unconscious or unintended one). One reason that we don’t like O’Gorman is that his work doesn’t realize that in this form it can’t possibly ever hope to reproduce the essential features of the genre to which it is connected because it never considers the incompatibilities between the circumstances and qualities of realistic war photography and posed art photography — let alone makes any attempt to play with or problematize them.

                      If you like a certain kind of artistic representation, study it, and then choose it as appropriate for a particular subject and consciously employ those techniques in making your pictures, I would say that is homage according to what you are saying, so it would apply to O’Gorman as well as Dunn, assuming good will on both their parts. I can see how this photo of Armitage could be homage in that sense. I don’t think that Dunn’s shot belittles the genre of film noir (nor do I care especially if it does, I don’t care that much about that particular genre). But if I understand “homage” in the sense that I understand you to mean it, it also has to be successful on some level. We have to (a) notice it and (b) approve.

                      Maybe what I’m saying is that I can’t help but feel Dunn’s image (perhaps in the same sense as O’Gorman) is trapped in an inadvertent irony given what we know about Armitage. Perhaps she loves film noir photos and wants to photograph Armitage that way (and maybe he likes them, too, maybe they agreed on this, maybe some publicity person noticed all the press that says he has the handsomeness of film leads of that era), in which case, great, she reproduces the most essential features of the genre with some divergences (the expression on his face, perhaps, definitely the clothing) but she doesn’t account for the problem that it’s not 1940 anymore and that apart from the fact that I find Armitage unbelievably attractive and could look at pix of him all day, it’s hard for me not to laugh at that as a representational strategy. Perhaps it’s because I think while, as you note in your original comments, the lighting aspects around his facial architecture work well with noir (this was something I wrote early on about Thornton having half his face lit and how well that worked with Armitage), the other things I associate with noir are not things I can really bring to bear on my understanding of Armitage. (Especially after this weekend, when he once again seemed like Dudly Doright.) He’s never been in a cynical crime drama; he seems, in fact, remarkably free of cynicism in terms of how we see him; while he plays the role of troubled leads on the whole his approach is to make them sympathetic and understandable rather than descending into failure, debauchery, waste, profligacy, etc. He likes epic. Personally, he emphasizes that he’s attracted by danger (skiing) but that it’s not a way of life for him and that he’s rather cautious. Representationally, this is not as serious a problem as the ones that O’Gorman fails to consider; I consider O’Gorman’s photography bordering on unethical, frankly, in its failure to consider its implications, and it’s hard to see sincere or insincere fidelity to 1940s representational styles as an ethical issue, but it’s structurally the same problem that I’m running afoul of here.

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          • uch, let me edit that quick.

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  16. I just can’t stop panting over it.

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  17. […] Dunn did the same here – she shot the ubiquitous blown-out white backdrops, she shot some moody pictures with RA reclining in a chair, and she undoubtedly spotted this visually interesting corner somewhere on the […]

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  18. […] had the vague air of a film noir still in the b/w image from the same series, has an altogether different feel when edited as a colour image. Of course, with colour in an […]

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  19. […] are often monochrome and deliberately colour-drained. Watch out for her focus on the eyes. ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof ooof […]

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