About Face / by Mike Stacey

Leather and Rust. Often with colour I go looking for the right split toning palette. With film it is often already there and this image is a perfect example. Hardly any editing - a sweet cool tone in the shadows and beautiful rich skin tones and highlights - showing the effect of the rusty environment perfectly.

Just a short article about a recent decision to return to shooting more film. This is not a rant about digital versus film it's just whats occupying my mind at the moment.

I hadn't worked with Romi before but we'd been contacts on various social media for some time and had said ages ago "we have to shoot some time". So the opportunity finally came when Romi was in Sydney, staying at Lee and Mel Nutter's place. I picked Romi up at 7:30am and headed down to a spot I'd shot at 2 years ago with Elena Filippi. The whole place had burnt down since then and transformed it into a completely new, somewhat hazardous, pile of twisted and rusted steel. Perfect. I scoped it last weekend and spent a lot of time trying to work out what to do there exactly. I shot my friend Eric (master of Sydney locations) there and tried to get a feel for what I'd do with Romi. I had a worrying feeling all week that I'd end up slipping back into what I did with Elena and the images would be the same.

I made a mood board of ideas and sent it through to Romi - I also discussed and borrowed some wardrobe from Gina (GIAN Styling). So, Romi would bring black stay-ups, a shirt or two and a sweet leather jacket, jeans, denim shorts. I would bring biker boots, a cute black fur and a box of sunnies (which we never used - I forgot again).

I've always shot at least a couple of rolls of 120 at every shoot, but years ago every shoot was ALL film as I didn't have a digital camera. There are portrait shoots that are all large format film - but the majority of my shoots are probably 80% digital these days.

Recently I went back through the archives and looked at some of those 'all film' shoots and was surprised at the quality. I could rabbit on about the tonal qualities and dynamic range, all the usual comparison stuff between digital and film but it's pointless. The important point is that I saw something that made me look again. Whatever it was.

So. Last Friday I decided to shoot nearly all film. At the start of the shoot I began snapping the digital and nearly got trapped  until my model Romi said "Hey! What about the film?" So the DSLR went right back in the  bag and out came the 35mm and the Pentax 67 for the rest of the shoot. Model was happy and so was I. Having said all of that I do think it's a good idea to snap some digis at the start, just gives you an  idea of what's happening and how things are looking - it's actually just the preview on the back of the camera that has that value.

My main thing is portraits - capturing the beauty of the subject (cliché I know), there's something deep there, beyond the surface - something hidden that is sometimes shown, something private, something visceral and primal. Art nude and life models aren't too used to having portraits shot of them so it's a great challenge, for photographer and model. Probably over 10 stops of exposure here in real life - very hard for any medium other than a human eye to capture that. This type of shot I love doing with film as you can off by a stop or two in camera and the results are still fine. Must say though, I nailed this one.

We started shooting in the main open part of the junk yard - some back light and colour negative film - edgy portraits 3/4 and 1/2 body shots. The rust everywhere was great and seeing Romi transform herself into the poses she went so quickly and efficiently into was awesome. This is where a great model brings so much to the table - they're invested in the outcome and understand what the photographer wants and then they just do it. I have nothing but respect.

We tried pretty much all the wardrobe at one point or another and we shot in different ways - a deliberate posed approach as well as something I often do which is just walking backwards in front of the model as they walk towards me - flow posing as they walk - Romi was so very good at this style. At Romi's suggestion we also did some art nude - I had thought this would be tricky as it's impossible (or so I thought) for a model to lie or pose amongst all the jagged rusted steel and junk. So Romi found some nice rusted corrugated iron with nails sticking out of it. I kicked out the nails and she lay down on the stuff while I walked around above her shooting down, finding the angles.

The last set we shot in some dilapidated old demountable buildings. The doorways are perfect for portraits - having reflected 'Lindbergh' lighting, dark background and black panelling on the exterior. Some short denim shorts plus the biker boots were all that were required for the 'clothed' look and then no clothes worked well too (see below). The very last shots I decided to try and shoot some close up intimate portraits in very harsh contrasty light inside one of the buildings. Romi sat on an old piece of smashed plywood while I grovelled around amidst the endless trash on the floor to find the best angles. One of these shots is included in this post - I'm really happy with these portraits - it's not something many photographers shoot with models who do primarily figure-based work. Of course hats off to Romi for trusting me with this.

All up we shot 5 rolls of 120 (50 shots) and 2 of 35mm (70 shots) over about 3  hours - one of the 120 rolls was colour. I've processed all but one roll of 120 B&W. The final word is I'm so glad I did that - shoot all film that is. Many more images from this shoot coming...

This shoot was the first one in a three day bonanza of shooting involving everything from 35mm to 4x5 and even the 8x10 late on Sunday with half exposures and a very still model (Bianca Wolff).

The next posts will be about those shoots so stay tuned. If there's some aspect of these shoots you may be curious about then drop me a line and I'll write about it!

If you need any help either starting out with film or going back to using film on your shoots, send a comment through on this post, or flick me an email via the contact page, I'm happy to help.

There is a raw primal power present in women - an ultimate control, it's the elemental thing I come back to, always, when shooting women. Straight up, no shit, no veil - beautiful, powerful, sexy. I've copped my share of criticism for portraying women in this way, and that's been based on a misinterpretation of my focus and meaning. More on that in another article. 

Romi Muse.
35mm Kodak TRI-X