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Project 1 – Mise-en-scène For this project I have chosen to research and reference the photographer Hedi Slimane. Slimane, born in France to Italian and Tunisian parents, studied History of Art at the Ecole du Louvre. His other career is as a designer; currently he is creative director at Saint Laurent Paris. It was during the period between 2006 and 2012 that he firmly established himself as a photographer also, first with an online photographic blog, ‘The Diary’1, and later, in 2011, when ‘Anthology of a Decade’, a four volume series of his photographic work in Paris, Berlin, London and LA, was published2 and his body of work entitled ‘California Song’ was exhibited at MOCA, Los Angeles3. He shoots predominately in black and white, in studios and on location and, as his subjects, models, musicians, actors and artists and their environments and accoutrements. He favours a very direct frame, often positioning the subject of a portrait moreorless in the centre and cropping below the collarbones; in the studio, these subjects are pictured against a dark, uniform shade of grey. With such minimal scenery, he doesn’t seem to play any compositional puzzle games or archly follow golden rules and ratios; he just presents a window onto the subject exactly where you would like it to be were you to vie for their attention and gain intimacy with them. The resultant images are highly seductive. In fact, Slimane had this to say on – in his native language – ‘Chiffre d’Or’ or harmonious proportions: “The idea is interesting. [Though] vulnerability is beautiful to me. There might be a need to fabricate your own beauty paradigms. I guess I never quite bought into any kind of ‘standard’4.” Really, he was talking about people but it is interesting to consider that he might approach photographs the same way. On photography, has also said, “[It] has always been about documentary, the depiction of the instant, a moment, sometimes a place5.” For the purposes of this task I looked at one of his more expansive images; shot further back, it suggests more of a setting than his typical portraits.
[ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hedislimane.com/diary/ [Accessed 15 October 2012]. Milligan, L. (2012) ‘Hedi Slimane’. Vogue, 1 March. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/spy/biographies/hedi-slimane-biography [Accessed 15 October]. 3 Davies, D.M. (2011) ‘Hedi Slimane: California Song’. AnOther Magazine, 11 November. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/current/view/1539/Hedi_Slimane_California_Song [Accessed 15 October 2012]. 4 Burley, I. (2012) ‘Hedi Slimane on beauty’. AnOther Magazine, 8 March. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.anothermag.com/current/view/1818/Hedi_Slimane_on_beauty [Accessed 15 October]. 5 Wilkinson, I. (2012) ‘Hedi Slimane Interview: ‘California Song’ at MOCA Los Angeles’. The Daily Beast, 20 January. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/20/hedislimane-interview-california-song-at-moca-los-angeles-photos.html [Accessed 15 October]. 2
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(Fig. 1) Hedi Slimane. (2012). Saint Laurent Campaign [Photograph]. This image features Christopher Owens, guitarist and singer of the band ‘Girls’ from San Francisco. It was one of the first images to be released of Slimane’s first Saint Laurent Paris Campaign6; here he is acting as both creative director of the fashion house and campaign photographer. Owens had featured prominently in Slimane’s ‘California Song’ and described the process of posing for Slimane in those photographs thusly, “He wanted me to very much be myself, you know; there wasn’t any kind of styling or weird things like that, which are always uncomfortable. He just wanted me to do my thing and be very natural. But, at the same time, he knew exactly what he wanted to do as far as the structure of the shot went7.” In (Fig. 1) Owens is shot in a raking light that effectively models the serratus anterior muscle on the right side of his body. Compare the contrast in tone of his shoulder blade and the space behind him at the top of the picture; this use of tenebrism8 and the strong diagonal9 created is reminiscent of Caravaggio. 6
Fischer, D. (2012) ‘Here’s Hedi Slimane’s First Ad for Saint Laurent Paris’. High Snobiety, 10 September. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.highsnobiety.com/2012/09/10/heres-hedi-slimanesfirst-ad-for-saint-laurent-paris/ [Accessed 15 October]. 7 Considine, A. (2011) ‘A Fashion Designer’s Second Act’. The New York Times, 9 November. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/10/fashion/hedi-slimane-designer-turnedphotographer-at-the-top-of-his-game-again.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 [Accessed 15 October]. 8 Johansson, F. (2012) ‘Tenebrism’. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/587198/tenebrism [Accessed 15 October]. 9 Alexander, N. (2012) ‘What Are Four Characteristics of Baroque Art?’ eHow. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ehow.co.uk/info_8152917_four-characteristics-baroque-art.html [Accessed 15 October].
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(Fig. 2) Test shot. Here I am playing with some of the ideas of (Fig. 1), most successfully the presentation of musculature. (Fig. 2) was produced while attempting to establish the lighting, framing and setting for a full motion video shot to be captured with my Canon 5DmkII; it is, in fact, a still image produced by the camera and has been triggered with a cabled remote, just visible in my right hand; during this test I learned that this is not the best way to establish the frame as the 5DmkII does not capture video in the same screen ratio as it captures stills. Furthermore, on the video a moiré or ‘strobe’ effect, uncreated by the still, was visible over the surface of the upholstery, which featured a high relief weave that was in turn hit by the raking light, (Fig. 3).
(Fig. 3) Video detail.
Mise-en-scène | 4 I had shot as flat and unsharp an image as my 5DmkII would allow, as I had understood was advisable for better flexibility and ultimately better quality in post-production10. This naturally had the effect of making my image a much softer image, which was noticed by the group upon presentation in a raw state; the question remained how close I had gotten to the image produced by Slimane and whether the anticipated post production operation would be enough to close the gap or would in fact reveal that I was coming up short with my ad hoc lighting solution. That lighting solution is a collection of household bulbs, one or two of the reflector spotlight type flanked by a few more of the energy saving type to further mold the illuminated area’s edges. I also taped up flags and reflectors as required. The result is inevitably dim, requiring a combination of camera settings of the low-shutter speed, wide aperture, high ISO variety. There is just enough light to make an image. Other feedback from the group concerned mostly the dressing of the scene; the change from portrait to landscape was noted as an aside. It was felt that the velvet cushion in Slimane’s original was key in communicating its message of luxuriance and that it produced a pleasing visual contrast with the marble-like complexion of the subject; such invited the viewer to think with tactility. Shorn of this feature, my image failed to create the same impression. For my next test I decided it would be important to get closer to a source image of Slimane’s in the respects that my first test was not.
Maschwitz, S. (2012) ‘Prolost Flat’. Prolost, 10 April. [ONLINE] Available at: http://prolost.com/flat [Accessed 15 October].
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(Fig. 4) Hedi Slimane. (2008). Kate Moss [Photograph] Libération. This image was selected because I recognised some of the details as being close to that which I could arrange, even if I didn’t recognise myself. Nevertheless, it was as important to get as close to the visual of this image – in the same way that Google, for instance, defines close when searching by image and offering ‘visually similar images’ – for the final experimentation with image grading to be worthwhile. What follows is a screengrab from the video that I produced with this image as inspiration, before and after a simple photoshop experiment in altering the tone.
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(Fig. 5) Screengrab, as it comes off the camera.
(Fig. 6) Screengrab, after manipulation. This has revealed the differences between Slimaneâ€™s and my lighting, which are perhaps inevitable considering the variance in methodology; I need to access better lighting to compete at a higher level. I suspect Slimane may also have used a longer focal length than I was able to in the room I was working in. As a test it is useful to show the position of the limit I can currently push against and suggest how far off Slimane I still might be, given greater resources. By far the most important thing that these tests have given me, however, concerns my transition from the still to the moving image. I had got used to shooting self-portraiture as a still photographer and being, if not literally, on both sides of the camera, alone. When shooting these tests, I approached the task in much the same way initially; my belief was that with a DSLR capable of
Mise-en-scĂ¨ne | 7 shooting HD video the change would simply be one of recording mode; in one sense that is all that has changed, technically; I had been shooting stills in constant light anyway. However, I found it very difficult to get anything that appealed to me on review. When shooting self-portraiture, I usually shoot lots, sometimes posing in all manner of ways in quick succession if I am looking for something new, sometimes posing one way and making only a minute refinement before each release of the shutter if I think I am getting or have gotten close to a picture in my head. Either way, I need only happen upon the perfect performance once and enact it for as little as a thirtieth of a second; I shall never again look upon the process as unfavourably as I have done in the past. For full motion video, it must be sustained! Hard enough, this is magnitudes harder when you cannot know, while it is happening, whether you are getting it. Any discomfort is telegraphed to the viewer and it is even less possible to be comfortable in two places at once than it is to simply be in two places at once. Of course, I would consider my tests wildly more successful should they have been tests for a final, still image; I am almost there. The footage, I would not like to show. From these tests, I desire to film someone else.
(Fig. 7) Hedi Slimane. (2010). Ann Kenny [Photograph]. This is the final image from Slimane that I want to look at, of the model Ann Kenny; it is more in line with the type of image from Slimane that I first described, and it is about performance.
Mise-en-scène | 8 To expound upon the narrative I would ultimately like to suggest, which I have not approached in either of my previous testing sessions, I would like to make a film examining the mythology of Joan of Arc. A friend has confided in me a dream they have had in which they are the inheritor of Joan’s sword and possibly also her mantle and I am interested in having them recount their dream for the camera in a shot of the style of (Fig. 7). I would like to bring in another influence at this time that might couch the mise-en-scène of (Fig. 7) in the language of film-making and take it out of the studio portrait shoot context that Slimane gives it, which lends it certain connotations; that influence is the Danish film-maker Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968). Dreyer is famous for his film of the same story that inspired my friend’s dream, ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928); during this film he ‘depends almost exclusively on close-ups and medium shots of Joan of Arc and her interrogators … Dreyer championed the close-up because he believed the soul is visible in the human face.11’ What is particularly interesting to me, here, is that the stark walls of the set in which Joan’s torment is staged often create a background as uniform as that of Slimane’s studio photography, albeit in shades of grey far closer to white; this, whenever Joan is framed tightly. It is, of course, black and white images that Dreyer is producing in 1928. Again, the subject, Joan, is located centrally within the frame as Slimane has shown to be engaging in his work.
(Fig. 8) Carl Theodor Dreyer. (1928). The Passion of Joan of Arc [Film Still]. ‘Always a storyteller, Dreyer explored non-linear film narrative by controlling his images and creating significance through simplicity. … Dreyer’s art sense commands both extremes of mise-en-scene12.’ It is by focusing my attention on both the work of Slimane and Dreyer simultaneously that I believe I may bridge the gap between their worlds of stills photographer and motion picture maker, by following the path laid out. 11
Pramaggiore, M. & Wallis, T. (2005) Film: A Critical Introduction. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 12 White, A. (2001) ‘Carl Th. Dreyer’. The Criterion Collection, 20 August. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/226-carl-th-dreyer [Accessed 20 October 2012].
Mise-en-scĂ¨ne | 9 As an addendum, it is with sadness that I report that this plan did not come to fruition; the friend who had the dream was unavailable during the time that I needed to shoot. I still harbour the ambition to shoot my Joan of Arc film and hope my friend can yet be cajoled to make it with me. With no one else to call on and no desire to continue shooting myself I looked around at what I had and concocted a piece using as many of the principles of Slimaneâ€™s lighting and framing and postproduction, previously described, as I could. It is also a metaphor for the realisation that my attempt to make the film I wanted to make would be stymied.