Shasta / by Mike Stacey

There are other photos from this shoot here and here.

I feel really privileged to have been able to photograph Shasta. Having never photographed an African person before, nor many dark skinned people, this was an opportunity not to miss. Photographically I love how African skin shines, it has an amazing sheen to it and I wanted to highlight the beauty of that.

November's a busy time in Sydney for travelling models but Shasta had booked her trip to Sydney months ago and we had arranged the shoot well ahead of time. I picked her up from where she was staying in Sydney in the early afternoon and we drove out to La Perouse for the shoot. I had planned something totally different for this shoot originally but some personal issues prevented me from doing that idea - it involved a studio and a fair amount of styling. So, back to basics, which is what I've been doing lately and loving it. Straight up impromptu portrait work - work it out on the day type stuff. I'd asked Shasta if she had a few things, like a denim shirt and jeans and that was about it. She added some other things, like a lovely black dress and some underwear and that was pretty much it. She brought two wigs and a fair amount of other stuff but we went through it in the car and I had decided to leave it behind and just go real simple and natural.

Set 1

We did the 15 minute stroll from the car down to Henry Head and started shooting in the main building, the old gun emplacement building, which has a number of rooms and north facing windows. 
Starting with the denim look, we shot around a couple of the windows and then around the entrance way to the building.

Set 2

There's a white lighthouse here that I'd never used for any of the many shoots I've done at Henry Head and it seemed a no brainer to shoot Shasta against it. These needed to be nude - the shots I was seeing were minimal - skin and white concrete.


Set 3

A quick stroll over to one of the lookout bunkers and luckily my favourite light was happening right there. Was loving being able to shoot Portra 160 - I haven't been able to for ages due to the fact that you need a lot of light to use it. Being early afternoon and hot sunny Sydney coastal day, it was perfect. This is a beautiful film for portraits, skin tones are off the scale. I shot nearly everything as digital and also as film, although the film shots were the priority. Interesting but predictable comparisons were available for nearly every set of images. In terms of aesthetics, tones and dynamic range etc - thumbs down digital, thumbs up film. Proof is in the pudding, time and time again.

We shot portraits inside the bunker with Shasta wearing the back dress she had brought and a little bit extra makeup. The skin tones rendered by the film are outstanding and this is exactly what I wanted coming into the shoot.

We also shot on top of the bunker - climbing up there was pretty easy for a girl with legs that long! Something else I nearly always do is shoot some back lit images so I got myself into Shasta's shadow and photographed her 3/4 length and also some tight portrait crops. I love shooting from a low angle with these type of images - it emphasises the strength and power of the woman being photographed. My focus is ALWAYS on the eyes, they are the most powerful, sexy and compelling feature of any woman (or person). So when shooting from a low vantage point, the body parts that are closest to camera would assume a greater level of attention unless a shallow depth of field is used. So I'm normally shooting close to wide open. The beauty of the body is still present in the image, the shape, curves, shadows etc are all there, they're just softer being a little out of focus - and then the eyes, towering above all the body parts, sharply in focus - are in total command. Shasta pulled these shots off exactly as I'd wanted with very little direction. I'd explained to her at the start of the shoot in general terms what my work is about, what I like and why; and the things that don't work for me in an artistic sense. I think that went a long way because nearly every pose was spot on for expression and poise.


Final Set

There's a lovely textured sandstone platform I'd noticed last time I was here - and shooting Shasta on that was the last set of the day. I took some pictures from ground level lying down, and close up, getting Shasta's body curving into the out of focus parts of the image.

Those last two shots are my favourites. They capture the human aspect of Shasta, as opposed to the model aspect - both aspects are great for differing reasons. If you're wondering why she's smiling it's because there were some walkers approaching from behind me - there was nowhere to go and nowhere to hide anyway so we just kept shooting :)

All these photographs were shot on film, either Kodak Tri-X or Kodak Portra 160. Film was all processed at home in the sink. There are many more great images from this shoot that will slowly appear here on the blog.