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 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 met the art director at the dirt road entrance to the location and followed him in my car back to the main set, near which was a smallish red tent where they had constructed a black box for the shoot with a raised platform and a backdrop they had painted.  I set up my lights, camera and laptop (we were shooting tethered to review the images as we went), then shot a quick test with the art director, a lovely middle aged man who looks nothing like Jessica Lange.  Then we waited.

Around 7pm, Miss Lange had finished her lunch break and was ready to shoot.  Hair, makeup and wardrobe accompanied her into the tent, we all introduced ourselves, and then we got to work.
After she got settled in the chair on the platform, and hair and makeup applied last minute touches, 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 negative 8x10 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.  The production designer gave suggestions, and the others in the dark little tent commented as we went along.  Every few shots, Miss Lange would step down off the platform to look at what we were getting.  “I can do that better,” she would say, or “I know what to do now.”  Even though she’d been working all day, the atmosphere was relaxed, and she was dedicated to getting this right.

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 Pratik Naik, the pro retoucher I hired for the job.  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.  I grabbed a few hours sleep and checked my email at 8am.  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, I uploaded the finished high resolution tif…and went back to bed.

Final shot of Jessica Lange, November 2014, by Jason Kruppa

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, deadlines being what they are, the AHS people had to do the reshoot themselves, presumably on set and presumably with Ryan Murphy directing to get exactly the expression he wanted.  (I’m extrapolating this from seeing the final shot on episode 10 of AHS; Hollywood doesn’t have to tell me its business, after all).

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 Jessica Lange, to keep the focus of illumination primarily around her face.

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.

I currently share the space with two other photographers, but our styles and schedules fortunately don't overlap, so it's a great arrangement.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

new beauty

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


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The New Orleans Music Portrait Project

In January I began work on a project to document through studio portraits the musicians of New Orleans across every genre and style. As a lifelong music lover, I'm spoiled to live in a city that produces such a wide spectrum of music, and I believe all of it deserves attention.  Although jazz, blues and R&B get the most press, there's also a rich culture of street music, rock and roll, bounce, hip hop, rap, folk, and brass band players, as well as experimental and electronic music.  I want to shine a spotlight on the people who make this music, one portrait at a time.

This is a completely independent project which I'm currently funding myself with my income from the commercial photography work I do. For various considerations, I'm shooting this entire project on large format (4x5) film with a Calumet view camera, and medium format film with a Hasselblad.  I am developing and hand printing each photo in the darkroom, with digital and Polaroid/Fuji instant shots for reference. I intend this not to be merely a gallery of snapshots, but a collection of handcrafted, expressive portraits that convey something of the personality of each artist.

Below is a selection of images from the project, a mix of negative scans, contact prints, digital reference and Fuji instant film tests (the digital shots are here as placeholders until I have time to develop the film). I've already begun planning for gallery shows and will eventually produce a book of the photos with accompanying text about each artist. Over the course of 2014 I will photograph over 100 artists, from well established veterans to emerging new talent, with more added as musicians themselves make suggestions. When completed, this will be an unparalleled document of a city's musical culture, and one which I believe will be of value for many years to come.

Delfeayo Marsalis, jazz producer and trombonist

Kristin Diable, singer/songwriter

Luke Winslow-King, singer/songwriter

Edward Anderson, jazz trumpeter

Alexandra Scott, singer/songwriter.  

Jamie Bernstein, producer and musician

Robin Barnes, singer

DJ Soul Sister

Maggie Koerner, singer/songwriter

Meschiya Lake, singer

Sunpie Barnes, accordionist

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Brennan Manuel

A couple of portraits of New Orleans-born clothing designer Brennan Manuel.  Shot on Fuji 3000b instant film with 4x5 view camera.  The left is a positive print, the right is the paper negative, reversed and contrast adjusted.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A simple portrait...

...from almost exactly one year ago.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Matted art prints for sale

5x7 art prints from a recent show where I exhibited these pieces.  These are $25 matted.  Larger sizes are available, please inquire.