Assistants, Assistance and Generosity to Complete the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace
Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

When an artwork is finished, a new creative process begins -- how best to photographically capture the essence of the work beyond rote documentation.  For the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I definitely wanted to convey a much larger context far beyond the form and materials alone.  During fabrication, I contemplated quite a few problems and uncertainties to accomplish my photography expectations. 

So when the fabrication and assembly were finished, I mentally committed to photographing the necklace in four scenarios:

    1) a swirling gyre on plain white paper without props 

    2) a mannequin to provide scale

    3) a live model shot

    4) a model in a photographic experiment fantasy with water.

A week-long marathon was about to begin.

Advanced planning started with making sure that my photographer Philip Cohen had the studio and time reserved.

large roll of photo paper

A large roll of white paper was the first requirement. White backgrounds are generally the standard these days.

Roll of paper & mannequin

Shall I buy or rent a mannequin? I decided to rent a mannequin....but had to schedule a pickup time when Mannequin Madness would be open.  (More on mannequin resources in a future post.)

A professional photographer with a quality camera, tripod, and proper lighting is a minimum for the quality images I need and expect.  

Due to the size of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace (26 feet long), the camera had to be as high as possible to shoot down and include the entire large swirl.  Hence, photographer, Philip Cohen, is up on a ladder. 


The lighting and exposure are always critical issues for excellent photographs, but when photographing black objects, these are especially difficult issues. The light meter in the photo below helps determine the proper exposure with the photographer's strobe lights.  


The light meter can take a reading right next to the artwork (shown below) to check the light exposure, rather than trusting the light meter in the camera.   Still, on the first day of the photoshoot, Phil Cohen bracketed every shot like crazy to ensure a proper exposure.    Phil Cohen checking light exposure

The set of color swatches and palette of grays (shown in the photo below) can help determine proper exposure and help adjust the color or light in Photoshop. This is just one more incremental tool toward perfection in professional quality photography that can make the difference between average and amazing. 

There is nothing more difficult than photographing black on black while trying to capture the varied textures in the materials.  I knew it would be a challenge from trying to photograph the Black Plastic Bracelet.  In this close-up (image below) taken with my phone, the black-on-black texture completely disappears due to poor exposure and improper lighting.  Black mud . . . .
black on black texture is difficult to capture

While most of the professional photography is done using a tripod, a few hand-held shots can work well for close-ups.
Hand held shots for close up images

During the first day of the photoshoot, we only photographed the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace on white paper.  Standard documentation, but I am worried that these will not be the best images because a viewer will have difficulty comprehending the scale of the finished necklace.

This is why I planned a second day photographing the necklace with a mannequin, and a third day with a model.  Photographing with a mannequin loses the human touch which can be a plus or minus, but occasionally, juried exhibitions, curators, or books do not allow model shots.  
Mannequin ready for photoshoot with the black plastic gyre necklace

Photographing artwork with a model can be extremely complex with too many variables to list here.

Harriete Estel Berman with model at photoshoot for black plastic gyre necklace

I'll be highlighting more of the issues and techniques of photographing with mannequins and models in the next few posts.

In the meantime, what do you expect works best for photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace?  Plain white paper? Mannequin? Or a live model? In the next three posts, I will show the processes and finished shots of each.  I'd like to hear your comments or questions, either before or after the posts.