Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kicking Myself - Photography!

The new edition of Metalsmith, the annual "Exhibition in Print" is fantastic. Susan Cohn curates "As Seen By Others: Photography As Strategy", an exhibition which I didn't enter as I didn't really think that it would be very interesting, nor did I think that it applied to my work. Now I am kicking myself for being so short-sighted, especially after the day I have just spent in my house... more on that later.

In the presentation, Cohn talks about the way in which images of jewellery - and other crafts - do not necessarily reflect the reality of the object but can often reflect the maker's intentions about the object. I am not going to go into any depth here about the issue - read it; it is worth seeking out if you don't subscribe - but suffice to say, I hadn't realised that I actually had any sort of strategy for presenting my work photographically but realise on reflection that I do.

My own practice for photography has always been to "Leave it to Andrew". Andrew Neilson is my photographer of choice for photographing my work without props or models, the images I use to submit entries for shows and competitions and the ones which make up the majority of my portfolio images. I discovered Andrew by accident, a chance meeting between him and my friend and colleague, David Webster. When we talked, he was interested in photographing my work and I was interested in seeing what someone more used to photographing "classic" fine jewellery would do with my work. The results are, if I may be immodest, amazing. Without the collaboration of Andrew, or someone very like him, I would not have been able to get the exhibitions and shows that I have done.

This was brought home to me especially in the spring when I was preparing for the SCC "Enough Violence: Artists Speak Out" show. I realised at that point that my own work was not enough and I chose to work with photographer Simon Murphy on a collaborative project which saw him contextualise the work I had made by taking environmental shots using the pieces and the people they were made for.
(I will be posting photographs of this project after it has opened at the SCC on 27th September.)

Andrew has taken a couple of shots of my work on models, work which he did out of his own practice rather than commissioned by me and I really like them: he has captured something of the spirit of the pieces depicted...

Photograph Copyright Andrew Neilson, 2008; Model, Lynn Docherty; used with permission.

Photograph Copyright Andrew Neilson, 2008; Model, Anita Neilson; used with permission.
Simon photographed my "Empire State Human: A Post-Industrial Codpiece" with me as the model, again catching the spirit of the piece:

Empire State Human - A Post-Industrial Codpiece, 12

All of this has set me thinking about how my "regular" photographs are reflections of my intent and I think that it  has something to do with the way in which my jewellery often references traditions of fine-jewellery, which may be why using Andrew's fine-jewellery, Bond-Street-Quality images works so well for me.

Which brings me to today. As I've mentioned before, I am entering "Suspended in Green" and have spent the week making "L'Heure de la Fée Verte: A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe" from a piece of corroded iron pipe, a broken Victorian hand-made glass bottle-stopper and lots of gemstones. Unfortunately, because the entries have to be in by tomorrow and because I left it so late to apply, Andrew hasn't the time to photograph my work. Undaunted, I decided to set about copying the work he does for me and I'm very glad I did. Not because I think that my images are as good as his - good they may be, but they are not stellar - but rather because I have now spent nearly eight hours producing five images. I have never complained about the prices he charges for his work and am even less likely to do so now!

I started off having to learn about my macro-flash.

New Macro Set-Up

The lens is the excellent Panasonic-Leica 45mm f2.8 Macro, which I do know very well and which I use a lot but I had bought the flash ages ago, second-hand from a camera shop in Glasgow and have never really used it very much, largely because the times that I've used it, I've not been very impressed with the results. Today, due to the time-constraints, I was forced to read the manual: what a difference that made. I also decided to shoot in RAW format so that I could produce print-quality 300dpi images and as I have a new Linux computer running GIMP, I couldn't rely on my Photoshop skills to win the day. All-in-all, not very auspicious.

The light-box was improvised from four chairs, a broom handle and a bedsheet and produced these less-than-dazzling results:

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - Original Shot - 1

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - Original Shot - 2

Absinthe Spoon-Pendant - Original Shot

With these RAW shots, I went to the computer and this was where the real work began, first of all with the 'developing' of the RAW files into something usable. Unfortunately, GIMP doesn't handle this format, so I had to install a new programme, UFRAW, to do that and then learn how to do that. Once I got the images into GIMP, I then had to learn how to make the changes I needed, using what I had learned in Photoshop and trying to emulate that in the new environment.

My aim was to produce some images which fit in with the ones which Andrew has taken for me in the past, something suitable for an application, so better than a "snapshot" and, as such, I rather stole his style. I know that he doesn't use a softbox - largely because someone once emailed me to tell me to sack my photographer for not using a softbox! - but found that the images I took without diffusers were too harsh. In order to emulate the controlled hard-edge quality of his work, I used a lot of digital tools, probably more than he does. I am actually fairly pleased with the results but I am also sure that Andrew won't be losing my custom any time soon.

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe - 1

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe - 3

Absinthe Spoon/Pendant - Front