18
May 16

Man Alive 

Every poet has a line of poetry that is central to their being, and I wanted to see how that affected them. So started The Poets project, where their line is an essential part of their portrait and shown with make up.

Randall Stephens here is a performance poet, powerful and usually quite intense. The title of his work is also a key theme that he explores in his poetry – ‘Man Alive!’, a statement that in effect is a summation of every part of his masculinity. Besides being lyrically powerful, he’s also a strikingly physical presence….

So what did that phrase truly mean to him? We kept it simple this time, simple black letters, whereas the previous portrait in this series has distorted clown make up. The reason for that is we wanted to strip it down to something more raw, an essence of his masculinity.

I asked him to stare down the camera and show us what ‘man alive’ truly means.


12
May 16

The process we take 


Originally I had a different caption planned for this portrait. However, plans change.

So I thought I’d talk about the process I take with these portraits…

Each image is of someone I’d call powerful. I don’t mean powerful in the sense that they have clout (though some undoubtedly do). I mean powerful in that they have impact. These are not people who float through life. These are people who create change around themselves, who affect others because of what they do and who they are.
I shoot these portraits because I want to hear their stories. And I want to tell their stories. These portraits are in and of themselves stories, accompanied by words that hopefully add to what you see in their faces.
With each person, we sit down and talk. It’s that simple. Each session usually takes about 2 hours, and the actual taking of the photo is often barely 15 minutes, something that happens after we’ve had a chance to connect.
I don’t go in with a plan on how to shoot them. Each one is organic, and only when we’re in the studio do I start to think about the mechanics of how I’m going to light them and framing and such.
To shoot these portraits is a privilege. In fact, to have this lifestyle that I have is the ultimate privilege. So, hopefully, these portraits give back just a little to the universe.

This image is of Tatyana Leonov, travel writer. I can’t say much as Tat understandably wants to keep private. Suffice to say that she most definitely creates impact as a person, and manages to lead a life that is both inspiring and just sometimes jaw dropping.


09
May 16

A wonderful lack of cynicism…


It’s interesting what this business does to us. Being a professional creative of any kind; whether designer, photographer, art director or creative entrepreneur is a recipe for cynicism. You field ridiculous requests, ridiculous pay offers, ridiculous working conditions and deal with ridiculous people. Of course, when those offers are the good ridiculous, it’s amazing. But often, they’re not.

Taryn Williams founded and runs one of the most respected model agencies in the country – Wink Models. And then, just because she needed to have less sleep, she decided to start a new, well, start up – theright.fit.

Running a modelling agency means that level of ridiculousness is exponentially higher… Taryn here has quite literally seen and heard it all.

So it’s so refreshing to see someone that’s not cynical. 

Cynicism in small quantities is vital – it layers your hopes with pragmatism, something that only really comes from weary experience. But in larger quantities, it becomes toxic. To be creative is to be open to our dreams and the beauty of the world around us, not looking around with suspicion.

How do you keep it at bay? Well, in Taryn’s case, it seems to be by always keeping it fun. But at the same time drawing strict boundaries. And always remembering, what we do is generally not fundamentally that important. We make beautiful things, but in the end, we don’t save lives or affect people’s livelihoods. 

I asked Taryn to think about the scope of what she does, her hopes and dreams, unfettered by cynicism, and this is the result.


31
Mar 16

The first time with L…

  
As we count down the days to release for the L-FRESH The LION’s 1 in 100000 clip, let’s look at the man himself – L-FRESH. I quickly grabbed this shot while he was watching playback on his performance on set.

L’s now a friend, but I first worked with him years ago on yet another music video. However, the shoot for this one did not go at all smoothly…. In fact, pretty much everything went to hell. We had rain issues, location issues, safety issues, lighting issues, generator issues and wardrobe issues. Even our issues had issues… The whole day went out of our control.

But before the shoot day, we had collectively made the decision that all the artists (there were two featured artists in the clip, L was one of them) would be on set for the entire shoot. Oops.

L’s section was meant to be shot in the afternoon. However, because of those issues, L had to wait around for something like 19 hours before we could get to him. 19 hours! That’s friggin’ crazy.

And yet, when we got him on camera, instead of being tired or flat, he was absolutely amazing. His first take floored us. His second take was even better.

We all loved his music, but everyone on set became a true fan that day. I’ve shot L a few times since, both stills and video, and have seen him perform any number of times. He still floors me every time.

And you know what? A lot of the same crew are on this clip today because of that.


28
Mar 16

Difficult costumes…

  
We’re about to lock off the edit for our clip for L-FRESH, so I thought I’d share one more behind the scenes shot.

The wardrobe that James, the actor playing the Figure, is wearing is both heavy and extremely hot. At the first fitting on a cool evening, he started sweating after wearing it for only a few minutes.

Can you imagine how horrible it was for him in the 34+ degree, humid desert location without any shade? Clambering over rocks of course. That costume was also very difficult to manage and kept going awry too. Looked amazing, but an utter pain to work. 

We were all battling heat fatigue that day. But James really did it tough. What a trooper! And as you’ll see in a week or so when we release the clip, he did an amazing job. (PS. the editor thinks we should have put the umbrella in the clip…. I think she’s bonkers)


19
Mar 16

Success?

  
Dipping back into the archives again with this image, which shows my friends at Mak Mak almost at the beginning of their journey…

Now they’re continually recognised as one of the best macaron producers in Sydney, something they’ve achieved in only a few short years, but then? Then they were barely past starting out. And I wanted to show that.
The doorway (made of macarons) represents ‘success’, with a pathway of sugar leading the two founders towards it; from the mundane world to something else. And as they were at the beginning, they were still at the space in between. 

That’s how all of us who work for ourselves feel – we leave the mundane behind – of full time jobs and security and usually boredom, to make something special. That path is hard and long, and oftentimes we never reach ‘success’ because our ideals of success keep changing. Are we successful when we’re respected? Rich? When we have a great family life? When we’re lauded?
If you ask Carlos from Mak Mak if he’s successful, he’d likely say no. Sustainable, yes. Successful, no.

Speaking of success, this image to me is mostly a failure. I hate the attitude of ‘fix it in post’ – you should get it right in camera. That’s part of the craftsmanship of a photographer. But in this case, well, our retoucher Sam Hawken fixed the shot. 

I nearly bollocksed it up – the perspective on the two founders is wrong; the backgrounds don’t really match up; and while the doorway is an epic prop, the rest of the image doesn’t feel at the same level.

Yet, it works. Sam managed to pull the image together and make it feel cohesive. 
On a job this would never have happened. But, as I’ve mentioned before, with personal work we have the liberty to muck things up. That’s part of the learning process.
So, is it successful?


15
Mar 16

A bit of depth

  
Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of posts recently – have been both rather busy, and frustratingly, rather sick. 

Anyway, dipping way back into the archives with this shot, to 2010 and my first studio – Studio M in Zetland. Now, typical Sydney, that beautiful 1920’s warehouse has been replaced by generic apartments. But then, well, it was just a tad magical. 

This image is of one of my oldest friends, Amy. She’s a very soulful person, someone who seemingly has a connection to something beyond and I wanted to show that.
So I pulled out an old lighting technique – a dingle tray – a shallow pool of water which a light bounces into, reflecting onto your subject. Used by cinematographers for the last century to simulate the light from a water reflection, in a photograph it gives you something far more subtle – a sense of water and depth without ever knowing why.
Normally you put a black down underneath the water so the reflection is colourless, but this time I put down heavy blue and balanced to that. The result seems to generate that sense I felt about Amy. 


11
Mar 16

The DOP and the director 

  
This wonderful shot is behind the scenes from our music video for L-FRESH The LION last week, shot by DOP Lucas Tomoana.

I thought I’d explore the relationship between a director (i.e. me) and their DOP – director of photography, aka cinematographer. 
The 3 critical relationships for a director are with their producer, editor and DOP. As film is perceived as a visual medium before all else, the DOP is the one who helps you realise it. 
He or she is your right hand, the one you rely on for feedback, usually before anyone else. Whether it’s a music video like last week, a commercial or drama, the DOP is your first point of call.
It’s vital to establish trust between the two of you. Without trust, or if that trust is lost, the whole thing can turn into a disaster.
When time gets crunched on set and you’re desperately trying to figure out if you have enough shots to make the scene work, your DOP is the one you turn to. When you have a half formed idea, your DOP will evolve it into a fully realised concept and approach. And when you find the right person, it often becomes a working relationship for life. 
Photographers might ask – why don’t you shoot it yourself? The simple answer is that you need to focus on so many separate elements as a director, the mechanics of shooting would interfere. Also, it’s a whole different skills set. That might sound weird considering both filmmaking and photography use cameras and lighting; but while both are very much the same, they are also vastly different with their approach.
Photography is the photographer’s medium, but we all know there’s also stylists and retouchers and talent and make up artists etc involved. Filmmaking is the filmmaker’s medium, and that starts with the DOP.


29
Feb 16

Crafting performance and the nature of music videos.

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Yesterday we started shooting the music video for L-FRESH The LION’s 1 in 100,000, which I’m directing.

The track is seriously awesome. If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend you do! (It released everywhere last Friday.)

Anyway, yesterday was day one. Of four. Which is quite a long shoot for an Australian music video. The reason we’re doing it over 4 days is the scale of our narrative, which necessitates some relatively far flung locations that will need time to capture.

The narrative section will be shot later in the week. Yesterday was all about L and his performance.

Performing for clips is always a strange process. When you go to a gig and watch someone perform live, while they’re usually playing a rehearsed set, that set evolves as they react to the crowd and the conditions around them. That’s where the energy and power of gigs comes from.

Not so with clips. We have to create that energy from scratch.

The very nature of filmmaking also works against us – multiple takes, different shot set ups, the craft of where your marks are and how you can move, keeping time with the various speed changes needed to film it successfully etc – these can all take their toll and sap the energy of the artist. Thus you lose that vital connection.

It’s even harder when it was as paired back as was yesterday – just L by himself with a small crew. No extras, no set, no anything else really. Somehow I had to find a way to make his performance connect.

This is one of the most vital parts of being a director. My job is to make sure that his performance is as vital as any gig, fits both the overarching concept and the narrative, and perhaps most importantly, feels truthful.

I do this by setting a very specific tone on set, which is light-hearted and fun, but also focussed and very very determined. We do not leave until we have the performance needed in the can. So we play the track loudly. We cheer him on; give him an audience to react to, even if all he sees is a camera lens and some lights burning his retinas. I make sure to hold him to the boundaries set for the clip – narrative notes, guides to his character and the physical space within which he could move – so that his performance fits everything else. And then I just let him go. Do his thing.

An artist like L makes it easy. He is the consummate performer – ready for anything and able to adapt to everything. It is always a pleasure to work with L and I’m proud to call him a friend.


18
Feb 16

Build right.

Louis Issac

Louis, aka Kid Fiction, is a mate from high school. A truly excellent musician and producer; Louis spent years recording other people’s work, waiting to get the stems from other people’s work, yet more recording then rerecording of other people’s work, and then inevitably waited a hell of a long time to get paid for said other people’s work.

While of course gigging and working on his own music as well.

That all got a little tiring.

So for the past year, he’s only been focusing on his own work. Writing, producing, playing, rewriting, reproducing, mixing, mastering etc etc it all builds up and builds up. You lose perspective.

Before we shot this portrait, he showed me something like 11 EP’s he’d put together. Would he release any of them?

Well, no. Perhaps one… Maybe.

This is a good thing. Louis’s trying to make some special.

In the technology world, the culture often seems to be ‘build the product quickly, ship it, then iron out the kinks later’.

But as creatives and artists, we rarely beta-test. We tend to build once.

And if we’re any good, we want to build right.