*ooof*: Deep Space

After a couple of portraits I would like to return to imagery that provides a bit more visual interest than head-shots and clinically staged full-lengths on neutral backgrounds, and that invites interpretation that is based on the scene as well as the body language and facial expression of the sitter. The situational arrangement of the sitter in a location can be perceived as a distraction from the subject himself – after all our gaze is distracted by the extra information contained within the frame. But it also enhances the overall mood and message of an image, and as such tends to be easier to read than a headshot without any context. Visually I find such images much more interesting and inspiring – at least in terms of my own creative response to them. (Finding an angle for a ficlet has become rather difficult these days when I am working from a headshot. The obvious starting point is always the situation as a sitter – but how many stories can you weave around that?) I am glad to be returning to a location-based shot that gives scope both to some exploration of compositorial devices as well as a launching point into a situational interpretation of the shot in the shape of a ficlet.

My chosen image for the day is one of Blair Getz Mezibov’s images for Esquire UK, shot in early summer 2013 in London’s Town Hall Hotel. With many of its original interior characteristics still intact (despite the council abandoning the building in early 1990s and the subsequent descent of it into near-decay), the building in its reincarnation as a luxury hotel has become a much sought-after film location with its sharply-angled marble staircase, sweeping curves of the council chamber seats, warmly wood-panelled walls and iconic ceiling-suspended clock in the lobby. The denotation of the location is obvious: a classy, elegant setting that connotates luxury through its apparent absence of opulence but reinforces the luxury connotation through the demonstratively pared-back design and use of expensive building material. A perfect space then for presenting luxury clothing such as evening wear.

getz mezibov esquire gucci

Armitage stood up?
Image by Blair Getz Mezibov, 2013
Shot for Esquire UK, Dec 2013 issue
(scan by Aprilsviolet)

Unlike aย  lot of commentators I very much enjoy and like the Mezibov images. While their success at selling a suit in particular may be questionable – after all we do not get to see much detail of the individual tuxedos – and their function as a detailed representation of the sitter’s physicality is definitely lessened by the distracting impact of the visible setting, the images have a strong visual appeal that mostly builds on the architectural features of the location. Using architecture as a feature in the images taken in the Town Hall Hotel is fairly logical (otherwise: why shoot *there*?), but apart from that, Mezibov is apparently very fond of using architectural characteristics as compositorial devices in his (fashion and people) photography [cf. Mezibov’s website]. In his series of photographs for Esquire, the sitter has to compete very hard with the location for the leading role in the images! Maybe that is why diva Armitage looks so grumpy in most of them?

Preceding my evaluation of the image I must point out – caveat – that I am a huge fan of architectural photography. It is my favourite genre of photography, due to my love of large format technology (which is primarily used in architectural photography, even today!), as well as my general preference of clean, linear aesthetics which are exemplified by the lines and perspective of architectural vistas. Thus, any photographic project that attempts to extricate Armitage from the context-less studio and places him in an architectural context, will please me automatically. Right from the first appearance of the shoot in Esquire, I was drawn to it because we get to see Mr A in a specific context/environment and not artificially posed in front of a neutral backdrop. The shoot on location allows Armitage to *act* rather than to *pose* – something, I believe, that plays to his strengths. For the viewer that may mean that we do not get to see Armitage *as such*, but the actor. – But that is no news, actually, because any kind of photography, gives us an image that is already filtered through the aesthetic choices of the photographer and the conscious participation of the sitter. How much Armitage is in a photo of Armitage is determined by the photographer and the sitter – chances are, there is merely the outer skin but not much more.

For this shot, Mezibov decides on classic composition: He uses symmetry for the set-up in that he places the doorways in the exact centre of the image, creating equidistant lines from the doorway(s) to the left and right edges, and even from the skirting board at the bottom and the dark line in the panelled wood under the upper edge to the bottom and top edges of the frame. This symmetry creates a sense of calm and harmony and results in an aesthetically pleasing balance. The use of symmetry as a compositorial device can be dangerous, though: Symmetry can appear conventional and boring, unoriginal even, as it is too obvious a stylistic device, especially in a set-up that has a particularly strong and literal focal point – here: the three consecutively receding doorways. But rather than making the composition appear stagnant, Mezibov breaks the symmetry by placing his sitter off-centre. He deliberately upsets the perfection of the symmetry, proportion and balance by popping an obvious foreign body into the shot. (Another possible reading, however, is that he arranges the sitter in relation to the dark line of the moveable wall (?)/door, creating symmetry between those two image components.)

While the symmetrical composition evokes a feeling of balance, the image interestingly also works on visual contradiction. The receding doorways in the centre evoke strong a feeling of perspective. The viewer is almost “sucked” into the image – I perceive a “pull” from the picture in that the three rectangular and consecutively and perspectively shrinking doorways attract my gaze and propel me forwards, into the image. This is accentuated by the lines of the parquet flooring which force perspective with their converging lines. On the other hand, the horizontal lines of the panelling “block” the feeling of the pull. They are almost like metaphorical stop signs, barriers that halt the forward movement, most noteably on the wall behind the last doorway. Another contradiction is the juxtaposition of the angular, linear, inanimate setting and the living body placed within. There are further contradictions such as the dressed-for-company man vs. the absence of people in the setting, or the obvious colour of the setting as opposed to the non-colour clothes. Another possible contradiction is the casual pose of the sitter in an environment that exudes an air of elegance (the shiny, wood-panelled walls) and formality (the suite of rooms is reminiscent of the interior architecture of a palace which has connecting doors instead of corridors).

I find it hugely interesting how my gaze works on this image: I initially start off by seeking out the face of the subject, only to be immediately sucked into the suite of rooms to the left of his head. I resist, though, and turn back to Armitage as soon as I have interpreted the setting. While photography can only represent the world in two dimensions, this image manages to convey a sense of space and depth – despite shooting at a tiny aperture with long depth of field. (Shallow depth of field usually can convey a sense of depth or perspective distance much more effectively.) This is due to the aforementioned perspective lines of the flooring as well as the decreasing size of the doorways in the suite of rooms. It is also created by the layering effect of the walls: The overlapping walls obscure the rest of the room that is seen partly through the doorways – our world knowledge tells us that this must be a consecutive suite of rooms. Although not as strong here as possibly outdoors, there is also the contrast in shade of the walls which set them off from each other and evoke a sense of depth. The inclusion of a subject near the front of the image manages to give us a sense of scale – we understand how large the wall openings are, and we can then make sense of the seemingly smaller opening further back and recognise it as a doorway of the same size – except further away – and not a couple of mirrors, reflecting on themselves (as I have heard mentioned somewhere else. That would not really be possible – because that would leave the photographer bang in the middle of the shot…)

As for the sitter himself – as a viewer we are completely detached from him. Not only by the sense of perspective that places him out of our reach, but also by his averted gaze. Without his connection via the gaze, we are left to be the unacknowledged observer. The body language with the crossed legs and the hands in the pockets adds to an impression of disconnect, as does the lowered head and the slight frown. As a portrait this image would only be valid if the depiction of Armitage as a withdrawn, grumpy loner reflects a significant part of his personality. But what do I know. The lack of a connected gaze allows more attention for the clothes, though, so in that sense, Mezibov hits the brief. The choice of setting is certainly in keeping with the image that is projected by these clothes – classy, elegant, well-made, expensive, designed, unique, exceptional, and to some degree traditional. And even though I do not get to drool over the details of Armitage’s physique, I still like this image. It challenges me to look closely, to peer in and to make sense of the whole composition rather than only the facial details in a headshot. Personally I find these images more artistic than many of the recent headshots because there is more scope for composition. But that’s just me.

His heart had sunk the moment he had seen the menu. Not only was he not overly fond of his host – a snotty aristocrat who sported ridiculously long hair and spoke in a fancy-schmancy accent – but the whole setting of his host’s company headquarters was far too faux-fine for his liking. The overly dramatic setting of Rivendell House on a sheer rock face just grated with him. It was all done for show, this architecture. And those waterfalls, he snorted inwardly, surely they were the tackiest artificial water features he’d ever seen. All that was missing was one of those pink and purple light shows… Lord Elrond had looked down his nose at him, he was sure, and not just because he was two feet taller than him.

Nevertheless, he had been convinced by his CLO Barry Balin – and old family friend who had already been his father Thrain’s right-hand man in Erebor Mining Co. – that it was advisable to accept the invitation and play it by ear. Civilised and elegantly. However, he had insisted on bringing the whole management team along – among them his Chief Risk Officer Dwight Dwalin, CCO Bo Bombur, CAO Ori Onassis, Chief Content Officer Boris Bofur as well as his nephews and heirs Kilian and Filibert. He felt better that way, back-up for navigating the sleazy business tactics he was suspecting Elrond Inc. to spring on him.

After the initial negotiations, dinner had been called. Refreshed and suited in their formal dinner wear they had been seated at Elrond’s table. “Stuck up”, was all he could think of. Tinkly music in the background and tacky romanticist artworks dotted about the room made him snort in derision. Show-offs. Wispy but no substance. He felt uncomfortable in the fancy dinner jacket he had rented in an upmarket version of the Black Tie tuxedo rental shop. Gieves + Hawke? Thieves and sharks more like, he grimaced. 1,500 Pounds for a bit of scrap that wasn’t good enough for a cleaning rag in the Erebor canteen, flimsy as it was! Bloody expensive, too. He’d had to sign a liability agreement – in case of any damage to the precious piece of couture, he sneered.

Which brought him back to the embossed menu card that had been placed in front of him. A starter of a Vichysoisse (hearty potato soup, for robust dwarves), followed by a main of “Hand pulled glass noodles with veal and crab meat” (to be eaten with chopsticks, he surmised by the presence of two intricately engraved silver chopsticks beside his crystal wine glass), the dessert “a selection of hand-rolled chocolate truffles dusted in cocoa powder”. How the hell was he supposed to eat this without making a mess on his poncy suit? Suddenly his temper flared. “I’ve had it”, he pressed through clenched teeth. “Fuck this – I’m not risking my hard-earned gold for this shit.” He abruptly pushed his chair back and got up from the table, snarling “You can eat. I will not.” He stormed away, coming to a stop at the door. “Thorin, wait!”, Balin called after him. He could hear the condescending chuckle from Lord Elrond and his sycophants. Still growling and scowling he turned around and settled against the doorway, glancing darkly from under his brow at the dinner party at the table.

His stomach rumbled.

~ by Guylty on January 21, 2014.

34 Responses to “*ooof*: Deep Space”

  1. I love this architectural setting. I always gravitate towards the geometric (hence my love for deco). The only non-geometric element in the composition is the sitter, though I guess one could say his verticality *is* geometric. As to symmetry, in a sense, the tall narrow beam on the left adds a bit more symmetry to the tall lean figure on the right, don’t you think? This was an imaginative ficlet, as they all are, and I trust you can come up with one for any image you choose for us. I’d hate to think you pass something by because of the ficlet. And now I have a yen for potato soup – perfect for a freezing snowy day.

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  2. I quite like this shot…Armitage is like the cherry on the cake of a really cool architectural vista. I love the play with perspective here – it kind of reminds me of Roman interior design where you have faux windows looking out onto faux doorways in the same kind of “tunneling” style

    (http://www.histoire-en-questions.fr/antiquite/rome-pompei-archeologues.html)

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    • Cherry Armitage – sweet ๐Ÿ™‚
      The doorways are almost like a trompe l’oeil – like the fake windows in the antique roman wall decoration – but only because of the two-dimensionality of photography.

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      • They have that effect…I had to look twice to make sure they were actually “there” and not some sort of mirror or something. It is definitely a shot that keeps my eye moving around (I suppose in that sense, I have to wonder how effective it is to sell the suit, but since I’m not the target market, I don’t really care ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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        • Yes – I don’t find it hugely conducive to successful sales. The details of the suits are never in focus. In terms of photography however… like it.

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      • Oh ho, and talk about fancy schmancy…trompe l’oeil! Those Roman panels are also a good example of horror vacui ๐Ÿ˜‰

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        • hehe, I had to look that one up. Funny – that notion completely passes me by. Togs *love* empty spaces. But I remember having it beaten out of me in art class in school. “No white” my teacher used to say…

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  3. The Erebor Mining Company!! Heehee! I love it. Love the ficlet. Can’t believe you found so much to describe in what is a simple image. Very deceptive – not so simple! Well done! ๐Ÿ˜€

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  4. Just as women can never be too rich or too thin (according to Wallis Simpson) ficlets can never be too ridiculous. Loved the photo and the accompanying ficlet. He does look out of sorts, slouching against the wall so prettily. But the best part is that his little tamper tantrum hurt no one but himself, which they can do to all of us. All it achieved was hunger pangs.

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    • I was thinking of a four-year-old, being sent off from the dinner-table, initially, and then sulking in the naughty corner. But then there was no way I could get that into a coherent, adult context *ggg*. That’s when Erebor Mining Co and its unorthodox management team was born…

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  5. I really like this architectural composition. I like everything geometric, which is why I love the deco period so much. The sitter is the only non geometric element in the photo, unless one considers his verticality to be so. As to the lack of symmetry, in some sense, I thought the tall narrow beam on the left added some symmetry with the tall lean figure on the right. I love the ficlet. I’m sure you can construct one with almost anything. I hope so because I’d hate to think you had to pass by something of your choice for lack of a ficlet. Love this one, Guylty.

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  6. I finally understood why this pic is one of my favourites, despite the grumpiness (the other one being the one where he is sitting on the sofa. I call it the ‘Bored Man at a Party). Thanks for the analysis *runs off to do a bit of research on architectural photography*

    PS : The ficlet is priceless! Diva Thorin ๐Ÿ˜›

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  7. He looks so good in a tux. Great ficlet.

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  8. Not ridiculous. One of your best ever. I LOOOOOOOVE the last line.

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  9. Ha ha ha ! great fanfic,Guylty ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the laugh.
    I think, I’ve seen several different varieties of this pose, very characteristic for him closed stance .

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  10. Wow โ€“ this is one impressive management board. Metals and minings is one of my favorite businesses ๐Ÿ™‚ Your ficlet strongly reminds me of the annual dinnerparty of the metalexchange I had the pleasure to attend for several years. All men dressed in penguin and the ladys in long frocks. So decadent. But it was then when I noticed that literally every single man looked good in a tux. As shabby as they looked in daily life โ€“ stick them in a tux and they become the perfect gentleman (as long as they keep their mouth shut). In real life most of them were very much alike our beloved bunch of dwarfs. Macho, stubborn, horrible manners – but partying really hard. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • That is very interesting – the tux as an instant makeover. But then again, you are what you wear. I certainly feel quite different when I put some fancy clothes on. (And yet I still insist on preferring casual RA :-D)

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  11. […] is my favourite shot by Mezibov. Not the rakish profile, not the classy b/w symmetry, and not the grumpy desolation of Thorin. I love this despite it not being a close-up which would allow intimate perusal of Mr A’s […]

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  12. […] background even though the wood is not really that dark (cf. the images of Armitage standing by the doorway and sitting in the “backroom“) and the black attire of the subject does not stand out […]

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  13. […] which he creates a strong three-dimensionality of his subjects and the locations. ooofย  ooofย  ooofย ooof […]

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