It's actually not my intention to do a lot of new model work in the near term (not until Fall, anyway?), but I am proud of this one. And as I start posting brand new work and visual sentiments soon, it's a useful window on my previous style of work.
Also: It's nearly anguish to post these on the web, so I need you to help ease the pain. (Especially with these vertical images,) please try to imagine the scale. This is a 24" (60 cm) print.
Lan Ahn, photographed June 2008 in al-Rakah, with the 10D and 100mm Macro lens, 1/500th at f/5.6 and ISO 100. This "candy-colored" version was developed in November and completed for January 20, 2009.
Above is the "candy colored" version, which some of you have heard me nickname the "fireworks for Obama" image. However, that's a misleading nickname. The working title when I started on it in November was "Ding Dong, The Queen Is Dead." If you see what I mean.
Below is the (nearly) monochrome version. Am equally proud of both (or I wouldn't share them both), but the color version is the "primary" one exactly because it's more exuberant. (Whereas I think the "colorless" version will be more intense, especially at full size.) Read more about the tech and decision-making in the process slideshow linked above, or more background of the shot itself beneath the fold.
"Not quite monochrome" version, January 20, 2009. 24" print.
Lan Ahn is a lovely young lady, the beautiful bride of a teacher who left our faculty in June 08. She had been here less than a year from Viet Nam and was excited for both of them to return there last summer. Patrick and I had never been close, but warmed up considerably in his last year here. Now I find myself missing both of them.
They both fell into the orbit of another photographer in our compound, who shot each of them for different projects of his own. So when the time came for my own shoot with her, I wanted to learn from their work together while contrasting it with new ideas. For example, he also shot her in our compound swimming pool, so I had his experience to learn from.
My dirty secret is that sometimes I'll put off a shoot indefinitely while waiting for inspiration to bubble up, but there's nothing like the last minute to force it. She was leaving within days and I had to get in gear. She bought a lovely charcoal dress for a more reflective shoot, and broke out this swimsuit that she'd forgotten about when working with the other photographer. I had about eight different themes and ideas on a small piece of paper to make sure I didn't forget any of them in the heat of the shoot (and it was a hot day, to be sure).
The funniest part of working together? At one later point, we had her wet hair streaming down her face for a "sea monster" theme I wanted. But no matter how I coached her, she simply couldn't make any believably angry or unhappy face. Patrick told me, "You're not going to have any luck with that. Lan Ahn doesn't know how to make an unhappy face." Lucky man.
Am a huge believer in finding ways to shoot either up or down, rather than straight ahead. Shots just automatically look less "everyday" when we do that.
So for this one, was aiming down on the swimming pool from the second floor balcony with my 100mm Macro lens (which is extraordinary as a general purpose tele as well, the main reason I'd bought it months earlier). The distance also alleviated any foreshortening distortion, and at f/5.6 allowed me to lock the manual focus so I didn't have to worry about it.
Had previously scoped the sunlight and timing to make sure this corner of the pool would be lit, where she used the poolside ladder to lock her feet and hold the position. (An hour later, this corner was in the shade, which would have been lousy for exposing the water. In fact, the whole sequence of ideas for the pool was planned for keeping ahead of the retreating sunlight, or to use the dimmer water for background contrast in the last theme.)
Patrick was down by the pool relaying my instructions as we explored her pose and situation. Patrick was good at reading my mind and intentions and often articulated them to her more clearly than I would have myself. "Think like a superhero," he told her.
We shot a couple of hundred shots with this premise. Two or three strong contenders, but this one had the best combination of expression, kinetic body tension, and the hands sweeping the hair out. Or, more fundamentally, it was the shot that inspired me.
(Processing) The Result:
You can view the original and transformation within the Process Overview.
The big challenge was the strong direct overhead sunlight. If you look at the original, you'll see how it literally filled her entire mouth with light, besides just flattening her form altogether. Coaxing shape out of the exposure was difficult and time-consuming. (Bringing life to the water? Not so bad.)
Ultimately, it took about twenty layers of blending to pull depth out of the tone. The color wasn't too hard, about four layers for my super-saturation method and then dropping some Green back out to make the water blue instead of cyan. (For those of you who don't know me, I don't use Adjustment layers or commands, other than Invert and occasionally the Colorize function of Hue/Saturation.) Ended up inverting the Hue for the "intense" version - I make those decisions based purely on increasing the perception of depth. If a little ochre in the water would do it, fine by me.
The hardest part was absolutely the teeth. The first version in November blithely left them alone, and the other photographer had to point them out to me. When launched to the public in January, had added three layers in an attempt to better shape them. Still wasn't quite happy and then finally added another layer and tweaked the whole substack to polish it off last night.
Total investment of development time? Probably about 24 hours.
An hour an inch? I never shoot for that much, but never regret it either. Either of these versions should look stunning on a wall, a rare case where I simply can't choose one over the other. They each seem to me to have their independent strengths and personalities.
The working title was "Ding Dong, The Queen is Dead." Obviously, the central sentiment was to celebrate the end of the Busheney regime with a statement of elation. (Started working in November to make sure it would be ready in time.)
The "royal collar" in the image was central to my perception of it, and I quite liked the dualism of her perhaps being the dead queen herself, or being the new queen filled with excitement and power. (Those kinds of opposing dualisms are embedded in many of my titles, probably more than most would ever notice or think about.) But I didn't like "Queen" to the extent that it seemed to rule out the Bush connotation altogether. And she couldn't be the dead king, nor could the title name one, so the whole "King/Queen is Dead" theme had to back off. (It was a difficult concession though.)
Ultimately (and in one of those light bulb moments that we can never appreciate enough), ended up with a simpler schism, borne of the different connotations of "highness." Perhaps not ideal, but the ultimate point does mean to be elation itself, so it felt clever enough.
And if someone buys the print without thinking about it, and spots the collar and connotation much later, well, that would be exactly the kind of "delayed whammy" that most of my work intends to offer.