Let’s ring out the old year with an *ooof* – neglected as they have become, not least because there are too many new images that merit a look. While my “to be *ooof*ed” folder is brim-full, I have picked the most recent image, and one from a photographer whom I haven’t
honoured subjected to an *ooof* yet. Mitchell McCormack’s shoot for DaMan resulted in a number of drool-worthy images. And even if he is not Armitage’s favourite photographer – his images easily live up to the Armitagean accolades of Dunn’s imagery. Here is my chosen end-of-year offering:
Is Mr A a giant or is he continually being placed on chairs that are straight from Lilliput? Here we have RA posing on a silver chair in a studio environment. The chair is at an angle to the camera, and thus Mr A has also turned his body away from the lens and looks off-camera to the right. Assuming a slightly hunched pose, he has folded his right leg backwards while leaning forward, with his hands loosely clasped between his knees. Dressed in denim trousers, a dark jacket and a grey scarf, here is Mr A in a decidedly unsexy pose.
Previously an enthusiastic fan of all studio photography – because it demands more technical skill and creativity than location shoots imo – I have to admit I am beginning to get a bit bored by it all. I am craving context – props that evoke a story, combined with the pose and facial expression of the sitter. The white background – clean, fresh and calming as it may be – feels clinical and ultimately bland. (That is not to say that McCormack’s images are boring. There are a number of shots where he has given context to RA: lounging sexily on a sofa, showing off a ring, sitting in a studio/loft environment. ) An yet there is a reason why the studio images are ever-popular: With the lack of props, there comes a lack of distraction and subsequently a concentration on the sitter. His features, his pose, even his clothes, gain more weight in the overall composition and impact of the image. And how could that be bad when it comes to Mr A?
Once again I prefer an image where Armitage looks away. I am trying to figure out why I seem to prefer those images to ones where we get the straight look from his eyes into the camera. Are the full-on gazes too close for comfort? And for whose comfort? The longer I study Armitage in his photographs, the more I come to the conclusion that I like the veiled looks better than the full onslaught. The reason for that is that the full-on gaze is clearly a pose, offered by the sitter because he is *aware* of being photographed. The images, however, where he looks off camera, could be interpreted as incidental shots, as RL snapshots, almost, that to me appear much more *real* and life-like than those where he is consciously posing and acknowledging the photographer – and the viewers by extension. It tickles my imagination more to contemplate what is going on in the studio while Armitage is looking *away*, than when he is looking *at*. For me it carries the possibility that he was being himself (like in this)- something that he rarely looks to me when he poses deliberately (like here). This could be totally in the eye of the beholder, i.e. me, but I always seem to detect an edge of discomfort in the latter – an awkwardness in the pose, the slightest hint of insecurity in the smile, a little defensiveness in the way the shoulders are held – whereas the former seem to be more relaxed, more honest, less “acted”, simply by ignoring the camera and avoiding the conscious acknowledgement of the “I am being photographed right now” mental trigger.
Granted, this is a posed shot, too. And RA would not have been able to ignore that he was being observed/photographed. After all he is sitting on that hard chair, in front of a white background, with lights glaring at him. But McCormack has directed him well. We get to see the hands whose veins are put into relief, and his three-quarter profile is nicely lit so that we not only get the nose in all its glory, but also a look at the elven ear and the textured stubble-cheek. Even the clothes are nicely lit – we can see some detail on the jacket, and we can make out that his trousers are made of denim.
And Guylty particularly loves the fact that the shoes are worn without socks. Total trigger!!! With the light coming from above Armitage’s left shoulder, it illuminates all the important bits nicely. Beauty light at its best – softly lighting up everything that is pleasing to the eye. And where the fuzzy shadow hits, i.e. on Armitage’s right arm, leg and foot, we can rely on our brain to substitute the shadow with light. We have his lit-up left side to tell us what it must look like.
I totally love determining the technical intricacies of a photo – the type of light, the direction, the technical props used. It’s a little bit like detective work, and for me it always has the added benefit of understanding what the photographer did, and possibly copy the approach in one of my own photographs.
This kind of copying is done by photographers all the time, btw. And no, it is not plagiarism – because I can guarantee you that I would most probably not be able to recreate this particular set-up identically. One of the things I had to do for one of my photography exams in college was explaining the lighting set-ups in a photograph that was printed in our exam paper. I remember staring at the picture for minutes, trying to understand all of it – noting where the shadows were, where the light reflected, which parts of the photographed object were dark and which were illuminated, the light (or lack thereof) in the background. Immensely gratifying when you finally cop on how it must have been done.
And yet, all of that pales in comparison when you have a subject to look at that not only pleases the eye but also teases your brain. The hunched pose. The loosely folded hands. The inquisitive facial expression. The styling. It all meshes in our brains to create a picture of the man – not only the way he *looks* but the way he *is*. Interpretation, conjecture, guess-work, *of course*. But that is and remains one of the fascinating fallacies that makes both looking at RA in his photos, but also watching him in interviews or reading about him so endlessly entertaining: However much light is thrown on him, he remains a mystery. Because he is forever creating his own image himself – sometimes with the help of a photographer, sometimes with the assistance of an interviewer, and other times even on his own, when he reaches out and communicates via Twitter. In all of it, I am hugely entertained and intrigued. And even if he contradicts himself every once in a while – he remains my personal favourite.
He lounged in his comfy chair with his iPad and a glass of Pinot Noir. South Island, of course. Ahhh, the rich, earthy aroma of the fermented grapes spoilt his taste buds. He closed his eyes with a sigh and savoured the luxurious warmth of the wine, as a wide smile graced his stubbly cheeks. The perfect accompaniment for the task his fans had set him for New Year’s Eve: Accounting for his year. They had sent him a list of “essential questions, 2014 edition” that he was supposed to answer. As the dust settled on the closing year, he reflected on the challenges he had mastered. Three promo tours, two films, two stage productions, numerous interviews, one con, lots of photo sessions, recordings, public appearances. He had achieved a lot.
Right, let’s get to it, he thought. He reached for his wine glass again, swirled the ruby-red liquid and took an appreciative sniff before he downed a generous sip for courage. Then he opened the document on his iPad.
“Dear Richard – congratulations on 2014. As your fans we were delighted to see more of you than ever before – off and on-screen. We particularly enjoyed all the public appearances, photo shoots interviews, and tweets where you allowed us a glimpse at you, the man. However, could we please get the fundamentals right? You keep contradicting yourself in your interviews. You claim that socks and aftershave are the perfect Christmas pressies, and a week later you say there is nothing worse than receiving such. What is it then? Our essential list of questions is attached at the bottom. Please answer and tweet. And finally, please tell us the question that you were never asked in an interview but would love to hear.
With fond greetings – your fans”
Richard curiously opened the attached list of questions. “Please add your answer in red.”
Hariclea asks Favourite premiere: BOTFA London
Micra asks Best Independent Styling Choice: pink socks (match that, Ilaria)
Linda60 asks Proudest Moment: Opening Night, The Crucible
Austoz asks Best Taste encountered: Salted Caramel
Sofia asks Favourite interviewer: eh… controversial
Jazzbaby asks Most played song: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now by Samantha Fox
Obscura asks Favourite hobby: Praising others
cRAmerry Least favourite hair length: Chop, extended edition
Zee asks Most creative moment: my first tweet
Guylty asks Most enjoyable photo shoot: Selfies
Perry asks Least favourite characteristic: Vanity
Hedgehogess asks Favourite past time: 11 am
Kathy Jones asks Biggest Challenge: Ice Bucket
Helen asks Best Day in 2014: Sunday
Abby asks Favourite Party: Labour
Jollytr asks Best new skill: hashtagging
KellyDS asks Biggest mistake: Tweed jacket over bulky jumper
Mezzmerizedbyrichard asks Greatest success: Not getting lost on way to BOTFA premiere
Armitagebesotted asks Most graceful moment: getting out of the limo at the London premiere
The list went on – many more fans had submitted questions: Katia, Barsine, Alyssa, Stephanie, Raoverload, Mimi, Katharine, Dededotti, Christine, Herba, Judit, Jennifer, i.f., Katie, Miapatagonia, Richardiana, Riepu, SH, susiederkinssd, sahraobsessed, suzy, nokisuu, Richardtreehouse, Utepirat, Fedoralady, Donna, April – but it was getting late, and his wine glass was empty.
Time to wrap, he thought. But one more request to fulfill. He extracted himself from his comfy chair and took his iPad to the kitchen counter. Propping up the iPad to stand in its cover, he pulled one of his silver kitchen chairs under his lush bum and plonked down. With his arm outstretched, he fumbled with the apps on his iPad. When the little red light started flashing, he pulled back his arm, and looked up at the iPad camera. Here is my question for you, friends. And I cannot give you the answer. But I hope you can? He drew an audible breath, and the slightest flicker of insecurity flashed over his stubbled face. But then he quickly added Will you follow me another year? He paused and leant forward, his hands folding between his knees. He switched on his sparkling puppy eyes from under his softly folded frown.
~ + ~
Thank you for all your support this year, dear readers, I am thinking of you on this New Year’s Eve. The *ooof*let is dedicated to all who find themselves in it and all those who I may have inadvertently and shamefully forgotten. It is for you, my fellow fans.
Best wishes for 2015, love,