*ooof*: Behind the Scenes

Finally I am taking the opportunity to indulge in a truly favourite shot of mine, the ‘Armani’ image from Blair Getz Mezibov’s formal wear shoot for Esquire UK. Well, yes, I know… That’s coming immediately on the heels of last week’s Deep Space Nine Mezibov and has a similar feel to it. Where’s the variety? Well, unless Armitage graces us with a cool shoot again, soon, I’ll have to work my way through the back catalogue. Seriously, I am looking at antique stuff here from 2004 in order to get some variety in…

getz mezibov chairs

Mr Richard Armitage, ladies and gentlemen.
Photographed by Blair Getz Mezibov for Esquire UK, 2013
Scan via Richard Armitage Central

So, this 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 attractive facial features or despite him not posing in a pleasing standing pose – but slouching in a chair. I am told I cannot just say “I love this because because” ;-). I have to back my opinion with reasons to make it stand up. Well, here goes: this is photography as it should be – not outwardly beautiful and glossing over everything with superficial aesthetics, but something that appears flawed and only discloses its visual attractiveness upon closer inspection. It’s a bit like an old cheese – might be a bit mouldy and smelly on first encounter. But boy, when you get your teeth into it, it tastes divine. Or so I am told. Trivia of the day: I don’t even *like* cheese!!!

Mind you, I loved this the minute I laid eyes on it. Much like Armitage, actually. But not because this is an Armitage picture which *per se*  is *always* to be loved. But because I love the deliberate but slightly subtle rule-breaking that goes on in this image. Dressed in a black tux, white shirt and bow tie, Mr A is pictured slouching in a simple bentwood chair (reminiscent of the Thonet classic) in a room with wood-panelled walls and parquet flooring. Behind him appears to be a closed double door. To his right is a pile of untidily stacked bentwood chairs. The image has been shot from above the sitter’s head height, we are slightly looking down on him. The only light source appears to be incidental light from his right – windows to the room? The main elements of the image are a) the wood colour from the background and b) the dark wood chairs and c) the isolated sitter.

In an age of glossy aestheticism, where everything is photoshopped to the max and beauty reigns supreme, this image breaks the rules. For starters it breaks the rule of showing the subject in a flattering pose. This is definitely unflattering – a man sprawling with his legs wide open in a simple chair. We see big feet, thin legs, a folded up frame, a grumpy face. Are we supposed to buy this man’s suave poise and smoothness? Well, there is no poise or smooth. Rule two falls by the wayside, too – if we want to emphasise the beauty of a sitter, we place them in beautiful settings that enhance the classy elegance of them. Fail. We are in what appears to be an unused room, indicated by the untidy pile of chairs. Is this a backroom? An untidy storage room? It is, in any case, not the sort of environment that we would expect an expensive tuxedo to turn up in. – Within the whole composition other visual elements strongly clamour for the viewers’ attention. The piled-up chairs are hard to overlook – and thus rule number 3 has been broken, which would stipulate that the composition ought to focus on the human who is displaying the advertised goods in the shot. And lastly, even some of the details in the shot do not really follow the rules of aesthetic fashion photography: The lines of the panelling are not aligned with the orientation of the frame. They are slightly off; the angle of shooting was not straight on. A minor detail which however could detract from the overall beauty of the shot.

All of this together has an unsettling effect. We are wondering how this could be used as a fashion shot in a classy magazine, advertising expensive clothes and picturing a handsome gentleman. This is not a smooth picture as we would expect from an evening wear shoot. We do not find the calming symmetry of the stairwell shot or the dead-pan doorway image that alleviated our senses with guiding lines, focus points and streamlined male beauty. Instead we are given many details that grate with our usual expectation of aesthetic representation in the realm of fashion photography or even staged celebrity photography. We are challenged. We need to look again.

And suddenly we see that there is in fact a vague symmetry in the shot – between the arrangement of the piled-up chairs and the shape of the sitter, for instance. Note how the sitter has been placed with his body towards the chairs and not the other way around. Had Mezibov framed the shot a little bit closer and straight-on, the symmetry would have been obvious. The thing to do would have been to frame only as far as the regularly stacked chairs go, leaving the more untidy mess of the higher pile out. Both upturned chair legs and the sitter’s head would have roughly been at the same height, and the shape of the chair and human arrangement would have mirrored each other. But the photographer hasn’t composed his image that way, because that would be expected and boring. Instead he decided to include more of the untidy tumble of chairs to the left.

The effect is that this image looks more incidental – and thus more real. The location looks haphazard and untouched, although we have no way of knowing whether it was Mezibov himself who arranged the chairs in an idyllically chaotic pile. Assuming he found the scene just as it is pictured here, Mezibov composes his image in such a way that he is creating a sense of tension between the formally dressed subject and some rather informally tossed chairs. It is these kinds of contrasts and juxtapositions that photographers love. And oh, Richard does detachment so elegantly…

I am aware that this is an unpopular image within the ranks of Armitage’s well-wishers. Probably for all of the reasons mentioned above. But an image is more than the sum of its visual components, or its denotations. It comes down to the individual connotations found within an image – they make it hard to explain why one likes one image over another. While I perceived the vague symmetry between the seated arrangement of the sitter and the pile of chairs at first glance, I could’ve easily been put off by the slightly off angle of shooting because I am a sucker for straight-on, dead-pan shots. I probably honed in on the subject, though, and was touched by something. Maybe it was that this image looks almost as if Armitage was shot without him knowing or realizing he was being photographed (the “incidental-ness” of the image). This could have been a pause in the shoot where RA has turned away and sat down to relax between takes. A moment of unobserved reflection, of getting away from it all. An opportunity to relax the  muscles, fall into a chair and to breathe and renew energy for the rest of the shoot. A moment, however, that is not serene and entirely relaxed because the sitter’s frown and hands are giving away the  tension. He is holding on to the front of his jacket, closing or opening it. Or is he picking his cuticles, in which case this could be RLRA concentrating inwards unless there is some fascinating action going on bottom right. I may have possibly been experiencing a feeling of protectiveness towards the sitter. There is something vulnerable in the open-legged pose, the unrestricted access to the genitals – not in a sexual way – but implying loneliness, abandonment and isolation, emphasised by the fragility of the exposed ankles and the whole lower body in proportion to the bulk of the torso. It makes me want to reach out and ask if he is alright, making sure he is comfortable, making him lose the frown and making him smile instead. “Are you hiding yourself away behind the scenes? Why are you in the backroom, Richard?” It makes me want to *react* and therefore drags me from passive consumption into action.

Mind you – *all* images of Armitage do that to me. I just can’t get enough of them.

In the end it was one of the servants in Rivendell House who took pity on him. He had been standing by the door for most of the meal, hist stomach growling and his mood with it, observing the rest of his company being wined and dined by Lord Elrond. He could not sit down again without losing face, so he had sulked by the door, occasionally throwing a glance at the table. He wasn’t missing much, apart from the food. And even that had looked far too Vegetarian for his carnivorous taste.

But his stomach had protested with loud rumbles, and with the conversation at the table strained, dried-up and died-down to the occasional monosyllabic comment after his abrupt exit, a passing servant had heard the slurping rumbles from his belly. Humiliating. Unmajestic. The next time the man returned from the kitchen, he had discreetly lingered outside the doorway, whispering to Thorin “I have left a plate with hors d’oeuvres in the room right here behind you. If you feel peckish…” Thorin did not like the kindness of strangers, especially when they were domestic servants. It made him feel obliged and he did not like that.

He was about to dismiss the man with a condescending swat of his hand, when the door to the dining room opened and a latecomer emerged. “Oh no”, Thorin moaned through clenched teeth. “The Minister of Enterprise. Elrond is pulling out all the stops. He obviously wants to put the pressure on”. Before Sir Reginald Gandalf, the eminence grise of industrial relations, could spot him, Thorin turned in one swift move and slipped through the doorway behind. “Listen…”, he caught the servant by his sleeve as he was scurrying back to the kitchen, “what’s your name, man?” “I am William Beaumont?”, the servant answered with a frown. “Well, ‘Bill Bo’,” Thorin sarcastically shortened the name of the man, “I may make use of this room yet. Can you organise me an ashtray, I feel like a sneaky fag.” Bill Bo nodded and hurried off.

Thorin turned fully into the room and arched his eyebrows. A stack of chairs was piled in the corner of the room. “Not all that grand and glamourous behind the scenes, eh, Elrond? This kind of shoddy untidyness would not go down in Erebor”, he thought to himself. Fishing a silver cigarette case from his trouser pocket, Thorin pulled one of the bentwood chairs from the pile and sat down with a grunt, resting against the back and spreading his legs in an effort to find a comfortable position. He lit up one of his small cigars and inhaled deeply in an attempt to subdue the rage that was slowly building in his stomach. As he was leaning over the armrest to stub the ashes off his cigar in the ashtray that had appeared from thin air (“That Bill Bo has a way of moving soundlessly…”), he suddenly heard the lowered voices of two men, talking on the other side of the doorway. The upper-class twang of his host…

“Have you forgotten a strain of madness is running deep in that family? His grandfather has lost his mind over his gambling habit, his father succumbed to the same greed. Can you swear, Thorin Oakenshield can not also fall?” Thorin’s hands tightened on the lapel of his jacket with the effort of restraining himself. He caught the eye of Bill Bo who had crept back into the room with the stealth of a Hobbit. He had to get out of here…

~ by Guylty on January 28, 2014.

49 Responses to “*ooof*: Behind the Scenes”

  1. An untidy storeage room? A tux not expected to show up here? Wrong. If I were to attend whatever fancy happening is going on in the diningroom next door (I am a regular guest to Sir Elronds gatherings *bragging…, although I think he is a complete schmock), this special tux would definitely end up in the unused storeroom. Which would be put to good use then. My name – btw – is NOT Anna Ermakova. I can be very discrete if the situation calls for it. *ähem
    Mr. Mezibovs pictures are very much to my liking. I am not bothered by the dichotomy of fancy clothes and storage rooms. And there is not too much fuzz around. Nothing too distracting. That suits my mind that otherwise too easily wanderes abroad. But then thats maybe because of the sitter – he always manages to keep me focused. Good boy. If someone else was to pose for this shoot I would be more picky. Is it just me, or is it a long time no new pics had surfaced? It’s about time to do something to keep the ladys (and gents) of the (*ooof-)fandom happy, sir.

    Like

    • Hahaha, I knew exactly where you were going with tux and unused storeroom. Broom cupboards spring to mind…
      Glad to hear you are another Mezibov-fan 🙂
      And yes, somehow it feels like a veeeery long time since something new emerged. But actually that is wrong – there were all the fan pic goodies from NY, I suppose, the premieres, and Dunn and Hassler. I guess we have been spoilt a bit. If it is the same as last year, we have a loooong wait in front of us…

      Like

      • Don’t jinx it! I know I am a spoilt brat but I wouldn’t want it any other way. You don’t comment on candids, so all the NY pics fail to get ooofed. And Dunn and Hassler were a very long time ago, just saying.
        I got so used to being treated with new pics on a regular basis that I would go cold turkey without that continuing.

        Like

        • Well, as I said, we have a back catalogue to delve into. Although it has become very difficult to look through the old images. I did not save them on my HD, so I am left with image searches on Google… But I am ever so grateful if anyone suggests anything…

          Like

  2. I’m one of the rare ones who liked this photo from the beginning, even though it wasn’t a good shot of Armitage’s face. And I liked it for many of the reasons you cited, especially that the pose itself is natural. Now I’m wondering whether you’re not on to something. One thing I noticed from observing him at the fan event and during interviews was that he does play with his jacket, pulling it together all the time, which I attributed to his fidgiting -so I think there is a possibility this was during a break in the shoot, when he opened the jacket to sit down. And I like the spread legs, too, and the way the fabric of the trousers are straining against his thighs. Definitely not the way to show off the goods for sale. Thinking about the possibility that this was down time has opened up all sorts of possibilities. I may be tempted to write a ficlet of my own. Thanks for this. One of my favorites. two favorites in a row, actually.

    Like

    • Mezibov fans of the world unite 😉 It’s good to see beyond the face, sometimes. And I feel vindicated when others agree with my POV.
      The thing with the “incidental-ness” comes from my own experience with shooting. The best shots tend to be the ones where the sitter has let go. That happens either when a connection between photographer and sitter has been established and is so comfortable that they can relax and “play”. Or when the sitter thinks he/she is unobserved. Obviously we cannot tell what the case is here. But the little tic you observed may be an indication. Thanks for sharing that!

      Like

  3. Is this really an unpopular image, Guylty? I’m with you, I love it! Unlike you though I’m just able to say I love it because! 😉

    Like

    • I heard from a few people that they really disliked the image – partly because of the unflattering pose, partly because of the unsightly chairs.
      And hey, I find “because” is the best reason. That is simply speaking from the heart, the gut or whatever else it might possibly speak from.

      Like

  4. This was my favorite of this series of images and the only one I liked at all on first glance. For me, you’re absolutely right that a decisive bit is the lower body position — open legs, visible ankles — this is not how you’re supposed to sit in a dinner suit. The arm position reminds me that it’s a pose but if feels, at least partially or perhaps unconsciously, like a bit of a rebellion.

    Like

    • Yes, rebellion. By a photographer who wants to show evening wear in a different wear. Or by a sitter who is tired and couldn’t be arsed :-D. I like a bit of that. This is the sort of imagery I can imagine putting up on my wall. (Never mind that Thorin is up on my wall… but if it were RA, then only in context, not as a portrait. A portrait would feel far too intimate.)

      Like

      • I feel, in a way, like the generic conventions for this stuff are hard to break with. You have an apparel item that has really strong conventions for wearing it. You can go with that and give in to the whole sophisticated, upper class vibe. If you want to show the stuff differently, you can go with the usual dodge, which is to show tie off, shirt open, man grinning, I may be wearing formal clothing but I’m not formal, anyone can wear this stuff. I feel like this post probably most accurately gives us a glimpse into what a lot of men feel while wearing this stuff, which is that, okay, I put it on, okay, I will follow the conventions, it’s a little silly to epater le bourgeois in this kind of clothing, but I’m not going to enjoy it … maybe a little bit of boyish vibe there, too? All dressed up but I’m gonna sit like I’ve got my jeans on anyway? Not sure …

        Like

        • You are hitting on all the things that I haven’t described – the break from the convention of shooting this kind of fashion in particular scenarios. Tropes of a different kind. Of course it is a risky strategy. Chances are that the commissioning magazine may not like that kind of “disrespectful” staging of the precious garments. I am personally not really into the heroine chic-images that became popular in the 1990s, but Jürgen Teller, Wolfgang Tilmans and most of all Corinne Day really pushed the boundaries of fashion photography.
          I like the idea of the boyish jeans wearer underneath the fancy Armani suit.

          Like

          • well, that’s my fantasy — usually when we see candids of Armitage sitting he’s got his legs crossed — but I find it one of the most frustrating things as a writer — tropes around us everywhere, how do we get away from them (we can’t, we have to use them creatively). I wonder how photographers do it.

            Like

            • On the crossed legs: There was a great post going around on tumblr the last few days which only showed instances of RA sitting uncrossed…
              Disregarding the tropes? I think that is easy enough. The only prerequisite is that you need to be aware of them in the first place. And then visually do the opposite. (Me being simplistic…)

              Like

              • ooh, I’ll have to check that out! thanks for the tip.

                The thing is that most people have already avoided the trope, thus creating another trope … ad infinitum. Nothing’s ever really original. Most people are bothered by this problem less than I am, but it’s one reason that I usually hate how novels end, and I think, when looking at pictures, one reason that I am keen to see that the photographer at least acknowledges any potential irony problems that arise.

                Like

                • No, nothing is original. Although that doesn’t bother me (anymore). Every approach and every artistic expression of a trope is still unique. Ad infinitum, too.
                  Irony again – yes, and successful in this case. I see your point. This is not putting on the superficial veneer but goes deeper.

                  Like

  5. My only reason not to love this photo is Richard’s lovely visage was too small for these tired old eyes to appreciate without using a magnifying glass. I did like the chaotic jumble of the chairs paired with a slouching impeccably dressed man. The chairs piled haphazardly mirror Richard’s pose, as if he just sprawled into the nearest chair to take a minute to relax. Loved the ficlet, especially Bill Bo.

    Like

    • Ah, but sure you have Richard’s “lovely visage” memorized already, Kathy 😉 Time for some more adventurous photography appreciation 🙂
      And yes, mirrored – I really liked that.
      Bill Bo was just sooo on the cards 😀

      Like

  6. I really like this composition a lot too…artless art? I love the contrast between the extremely formal clothing, the kind of storeroom setting and the flopped on the chair look. I can see the signs of the pose, but it’s quite easy to look past them too. I also really, really like how he appears to dwarf that chair! – no pun intended 🙂

    Like

  7. I say “Chairs” to Richard for sitting for this shot. It was probably very “tuxing” for him.

    Like

  8. I like this image. To me it Armani and in a storage room it says that no matter where you are it is still classy. These photos had a Bond feel to them so to me the posture, location and all says everything. Armani is Armani in any locale. I can’t imagine why this photo would be disliked really. As your post noted you can do a lot with this if you look at it the right way.

    Like

    • Although I quite enjoy Bond movies, it must be my own personal, utter dislike of tuxedos and black tie evening wear which always keeps me from making that Bond connection. Totally valid, though. And now that you mention it, it gives rise to entirely different scenarios involving that pile of chairs. A little fight at the edge of the dancefloor, involving a gallant Mr Bond, rescuing a smoky-eyed damsel in distress from the sausage-fingered slimyness of an evil tycoon. Next time, next time…

      Like

  9. This was my third favorite of the shoot, I didn’t know why I kept looking at it…I do now! Thanks, Guylty!

    Like

  10. I have to wonder if he slouch’s in a chair in RL, after all we see him bend down to fit into pictures with others. Happy *ooof* day Tuesday!

    Like

  11. I’m really glad I caught up with this one, Guylty- you’ve made me look and evaluate more closely than I had done initially. I like the detached air, the feeling of solitude, whilst wearing clothes that are clearly meant to be shown off in a social setting amongst others.

    Like

    • The clothes put the detachment and solitude into even sharper relief, I suppose. (Mind you, I’d feel depressed, too, if I had to wear such clothes *lol*). Glad if I could point out some details that had gone unnoticed before 🙂

      Like

  12. This was my favorite photo from the shoot. Now you’ve help me understand why. I know I always like pictures that look less posed. Thanks for the great ficlet too!

    Like

    • Pictures that look less posed just give the illusion that they are more reflective of RLRA – and yes, I like that, too 🙂 Although I do wonder how reflective a RA dressed in tux is of his RL 😉

      Like

  13. Hi Guylty, Though my favorite portrait of this shoot was the profile shot of RA sitting on the leather couch–with a close second of him laying/slouching back in the auditorium seat (“Are you ready to go yet, dear? written all over his face. Ha!.)
    But I also liked this portrait for many of the reasons you mentioned. And the man can slouch like nobody’s business. Ha! Loved your ficlet at the end, too! Cheers! Grati ;->

    Like

  14. This is my second favorite photo,Guylty. I love that blase Prince in Gieves& Hawkes clothing.
    http://www.richardarmitagenet.com/images/articlescans/Esquire-Dec2013-2.jpg.
    Great ficlet ,thanks!

    Like

    • “The blasé Prince” – a novella by J.R.R. de Saint-Exupéry. “Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the Mirkwood Forest. It was a picture of a dragon in the act of scorching an animal…”
      There we go – I guess you and Gratiana have just given me leave to *ooof* that b/w picture… Ficlet in the bag, too 😀 Thanks!

      Like

  15. Thanks for choosing this photo Guylty. I really like this photo – it says to me “cellist post performance off-stage, going over performance in his head. The wall behind him looks like a bank of instrument cabinets at a university music school. I love imagining him in cello mode, but thanks for giving me a point-of-view I would never have imagined!

    Like

    • Oh, the cellist!!!! Yes. Oh I love that interpretation. You are so right, merlin. Why did that not occur to me??? Can someone please write a ficlet for that?

      Like

  16. This whole photo shoot was incredible, my favorite pics of him probably ever. Every single shot is stunning. I love this pic because it looks to me like a real man in a real situation. It looks un-posed, almost like a candid, gorgeous. The only thing missing is me in a formal gown sitting on his lap 🙂

    Like

    • Hehe, you have a thing about laps, don’t you? 😉
      I have to say this is not my favourite shoot ever (don’t like formal wear), but it was visually certainly different from the event and portrait stuff that we had recently been spoilt with, a bit more challenging.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  17. […] 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 very much against that. Instead, […]

    Like

  18. […] creates a strong three-dimensionality of his subjects and the locations. ooof  ooof  ooof ooof […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: