Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Goodbye to Allen Toussaint

In 2013, I was privileged to photograph Allen Toussaint sitting in with folk-blues legend Chris Smither at one of Chris' recording sessions.  I had met Allen several times before and had seen him perform, but witnessing him in the recording studio was a different thing altogether.  

He had a chart written out for his part on the first song, but when he arrived he discovered Chris was recording the song in a different key.  Setting his music aside, he began improvising, take after take, changing little phrases here and there until he had composed a new part altogether as he listened to what Chris and drummer Billy Conway were playing along with him.  

Allen Toussaint radiated humility and grace, and when I say "radiated," I mean those qualities made him radiant.  I remember walking through the French Quarter one day in the middle of the week and passing him standing on the corner of Royal and St Louis, holding a video camera, quietly capturing the people walking past him, with this serene smile on his face.  He had no entourage, no handlers, no manager hanging around.  It was just him, taking in the scene, clearly delighting in what was going on around him.  

A lot of people in New Orleans have stories like that, and while I can't speak for anyone else, I know it lit up my day to have a Toussaint sighting.  Not because he was famous, exactly, but because he was so gracious, so humble, so kind.  He represented the best things about this city and, I think, about humanity in general.  I'm sure as hell going to miss seeing him around.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

light painting

Strobes?  We don't need no stinkin' strobes.  We've got a flashlight!

long exposures

These two shots are for Hemline, November 2015 lookbook, both being long (6 second plus) exposures.  The bottom was shot in a dark room in a luxury hotel, which I lit with a flashlight.  Cheers to models who can sit very still.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A few polaroids + one

1930s style glamour portrait on Polaroid 55 (expired)

Fuji instant film

digital test shot for editorial idea

Polaroid 55 (expired)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Jessica Lange for American Horror Story

Last November, I received a call to shoot a portrait of Jessica Lange for American Horror Story.  The brief was that they wanted a George Hurrell-style glamour portrait of the actress for use as a prop for the show.  As is often the case in my job, the timeline was short: I received the call on a Tuesday, met with the production designer on Wednesday, shot a test image with a model that evening, and the next day shot the actual portrait, to be retouched and turned in by Friday morning.

To assist me, AHS sent me a reference image:  a 1937 portrait of Carole Lombard shot by Hurrell, which, as a big fan of 1930s and 40s films (and Carole Lombard in particular), I’d been aware of for years.  That seemed to be a good sign.  When I met with the production designer, he ran through what they needed for the show and then dropped the amusing little bomb that Miss Lange herself had actually been photographed by Hurrell – twice.  Then he handed me a printout one of the shots.  No pressure.

Fortunately, I’ve studied Hurrell’s lighting for years, and while I would never profess to approach his level of mastery, I had a pretty good handle on how he achieved what he did.  In fact, a few months before, I had done a portrait of actress Teri Wyble (who guest starred on The Walking Dead last season) in that 1940s glamour style for a movie industry magazine.  When the production staff looked at my website, they had seen that very shot.

 Actress Teri Wyble by Jason Kruppa (2014)

The evening after the meeting, I shot the test with a model friend, made notes on all my settings, and sent the image in to my contacts at AHS.  They approved and we were ready to go.  The shoot was set for 6pm the following day at the show location.

I set up in a smallish red tent where the art department had constructed a black box for the shoot with a raised platform and a painted backdrop.  Around 7pm, Miss Lange got settled in the chair on the platform.  Hair and makeup applied last minute touches, and she looked at me behind the camera and asked – I knew this was coming – “So have you figured out Hurrell’s lighting?”  I read this as a mixture of playful tweaking and genuine curiosity; the production designer and I assured her that we’d studied diagrams of Hurrell’s setups and that what we had in place was pretty similar.  She then told us about one of her shoots with Hurrell, where she lay on her back with her hair spread out and a large beauty dish over her.  She said he showed her the 8x10 negative afterward and recalled that it looked “horrendous.”  “Don’t worry, darling,” she remembered him telling her, “I’ll retouch it and it will look beautiful!”

Jessica Lange by George Hurrell (1981)

Camera on tripod, I got my angle set and worked at directing the actress’s expression and the angle of her body relative to the camera. Half an hour and 24 frames later, we were done. Seeing the expression on Miss Lange’s face, one of the voices out of the shadows behind me declared, “That’s Elsa Mars,” as I clicked the shutter.  We all reviewed the image on my laptop and everyone agreed: that was the shot.

Miss Lange shook my hand and thanked me, and I wished her a good evening before breaking everything down and packing up my car.  Once I got home, I sent the camera RAW image along with a few notes to my retoucher, Pratik Naik.  Ninety minutes later, Pratik sent me the work he had done, and I proceeded to do some additional dodging and burning to create the overall Hurrell mood. Around 2 in the morning, after taking breaks, drinking a lot of coffee, and making some more adjustments, I sent a jpg of the completed image to the AHS people for approval.  The production designer gave me the green light, the AHS staff member who had initially contacted me sent me a gracious text to thank me, and I uploaded the finished high resolution tif.

Jessica Lange by Jason Kruppa (2014)

Later that afternoon, I got a call from the production designer saying that Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator and the person who had suggested the shoot, decided he wanted a different pose and a different wig for the shot.  We needed to reshoot, and I was to stand by until the show’s schedule and Miss Lange’s schedule could be coordinated to make this happen. Unfortunately, because of scheduling conflicts, I was unable to shoot the image that ultimately appeared in the show.  I am, however, grateful to have had the opportunity to make a portrait of Miss Lange in the style of one of my favorite photographers.

Below is a diagram of the lighting setup: three lights, with the hairlight gridded, the background light with a standard reflector, and barn doors on the key light at an oblique angle to the subject, to keep the focus of illumination primarily around her face.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The new-ish studio

Back in October I moved into a great studio space at the Art Egg Studios in New Orleans.  Wood floors, high ceilings, 1100 square feet and beautiful window light have made this a wonderful workspace.

The window light is so good, in fact, that I'm eschewing artificial lighting whenever possible.  So far, I'm very pleased with the results.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

new beauty

model: Amy Steinkampf
hair and makeup: Jonet Williamson
photo and retouch: Kruppa