While photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace I wanted to try using a mannequin to provide scale and to see the necklace worn with the neutral context that a mannequin can provide.
Suzanne Ramljak, the curator for the upcoming exhibition, Uneasy Beauty, also told me that she would like a mannequin photo in the exhibition catalog for the Fuller Craft Museum. That declaration raises a huge expectation that the mannequin shot needs to be very good, but I am not sure the images using the mannequin shots deliver. See for yourself in this post. (The next post will showcase the model photos.)
Since I was committed to at least trying a mannequin photo session, the next question was whether to rent, borrow, or buy a mannequin?
Borrowing proved to be impossible. One artist friend did offer her inventory of many mannequins, but she only had mannequins with black painted bodies. That would not work for a black necklace. I felt that a white mannequin form would be necessary to provide high contrast for photographing a black necklace.
Ultimately, I decided to rent a mannequin and Mannequin Madness in Oakland , CA was recommended to me.
Mannequin Madness (shown above) turned out to be a fabulous resource for renting or buying. They have mannequins of every kind and description.
Mannequin Madness also has an area set aside for photography with a plain white background paper ready to go. They also have photography lights. This is all available for $30 an hour with a two-hour minimum and they will let you use 2 mannequins or dress forms in their warehouse included in the price. That is a real bargain!
Available for an additional fee are tripods and "ghost mannequins". Check out the Mannequin Madness website. Even if you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, they do ship and have other locations.
I rented a mannequin for $90 for a week. Perhaps if I had more time, I would have considered buying a used mannequin that needed a new layer of paint to refresh her appearance, but I had no time for cosmetic mannequin repair during the week-long photographic marathon.
The vast diversity of mannequins also raised a number of issues that I had not considered until looking at all the options at Mannequin Madness. Some of the mannequins had no heads or no arms. Some had stylized hands, hair, and faces that would not work for this necklace photoshoot. There were other factors or potential options that I didn't fully appreciate until later. On the mannequin that I selected, the arms detach for transport, great, but they only attach to the body in a fixed position. Nuts! I could not pose the arm differently or bend the elbow. And the legs were ridiculously skinny, so skinny that I didn't like looking at them head on.
One feature that I prioritized was natural looking hands (despite the oblique face) when I selected a mannequin. I also wanted a seamless neck and head for the image that I visualized in my mind before the photoshoot even began. Here is how it turned out below.
Mannequin Photo #1
I think this is a good image. The photo shows a close-up with lots of detail. The necklace fragments have a high contrast profile against the white background and mannequin. Using the mannequin in this pose also provided a more traditional jewelry necklace shot. The downside is that you can not see how long the necklace actually is -- 26 feet long.
Photographer Philip Cohen and I worked together for hours on the mannequin photos (shown below). Moving a 26 feet long necklace is not easy. The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is far heavier and more delicate than you might expect. The length was easily tangled or twisted and it does have a bottom side so that it can lay properly without damaging itself.
Below are the best of the mannequin images from perhaps 75 shots. They present a variety of compromises. What do you think? Do you have a favorite? Let me know.
The final mannequin image (#6) uses the mannequin without putting the necklace on the body. While I think it is an interesting image and provides scale for the necklace, I don't think it shows the necklace to best advantage.
Which photo would you pick as best choice?
The next post is about using a live model and what I think turned out to be the best photographic shots despite the trade-offs and obstacles.
Previous Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace: