Thursday, April 10, 2008

Are simple pictures best?

According to The Crafts Report, if you ask the "well respected" "high quality" craft fair juries, they don't want to see anything in your product photos other than a single object against a graduated grey background.

But if you are newspaper photographer Stefan Hard, your wife is a weaver so you understand textiles, and your current subject is another textile artist, it seems you want to get as much of her work and materials into the shot as possible.

The results are shown at left.

Stefan came by to take photos for my recent press in Seven Days and Strictly Business.

I didn't know what the papers would want in terms of settings, subject (other than yours truly), etc., other than the reporter, Patrick Timothy Mullikin, suggesting a shot of me "cutting up a shirt." I happen to have my current inventory of aprons on racks in the living room after a recent photo shoot so I tidied that area and arranged the aprons just so.

But what about an action shot in my workroom? It was a great opportunity for me to feng shui my creative space. I am so glad I did! I moved my sewing machine to the other side of the table and it opened up an ironing station I didn't realize I had room for. I reorganized several bins of material and shoved stuff I know I'm not going to be using into the attic. Two-thirds of the room still needs a once-over, but the most active areas work so much better now.

When Stefan arrived I showed him my workspace and the racks of aprons and my idea for a pose with scissors and about-to-be-transformed shirt in hand. He went for the aprons as a backdrop and wanted to add the baby quilts he saw on my work table on a third rack plus a bin of raw materials (shirts) to block the window and a few unfinished HotHolders in the foreground.

While he was shooting the pictures he kept making comments like, "This had better be in color," "All the prints on the fabric are taking up a lot of memory," and "Wow. There is just so much fabric in this shot it's hard to see the person."

"That's why I wear solids," I told him.

Stefan was easy and comfortable to work with. It was an only slightly glamorous undertaking for me though, as I was also the props person, hair, make-up and stylist and I had to run off after 40 minutes to drive the carpool from school.

When I got home an hour later I was still so excited I called Richard to tell him about the shoot.

"Simple pictures are best," was his only reaction.

This is a little bit of nuclear family culture. We have this wonderful children's book we used to read to the kids a lot. It's by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Tomie dePaola.

In the story a late 19th century photographer tries to shoot a silly couple on their first anniversary. They keep wanting to add personal objects to the shoot to show how rich and varied their lives together are.

"Simple pictures are best," is the repeated warning of the long suffering photographer, consistently ignored by the couple every time. You know how some children's books have a repeated refrain that is the rhythm and heart of the story. This one's fun to read aloud because you get to give a dramatic pause and then say it with a slightly snooty, exasperated voice .

I hadn't yet told the kids about Stefan coming over so that night at the dinner table I described the whole scene.

My theatrical 10 year old daughter paused at me from across the table, gave me a slightly exasperated look and said,

"Simple pictures are best."

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