A DIFFERENT BACKSTAGE
We’ve known Michael Ferire for a long time already, one morning a package with single frames cut into an old 10×15 photo album appeared with his name and asking us to do the best we could. Little we knew that was gonna become the beginning of a long relationship. Earlier this year he sent this shot he did with Stromae and the team behind his clothing brand Mosaert. It was a big shot combining 4×5″ film with 120 in 6×7 & 645 format and specially lit with studio lights.
Many years ago we asked Michael in a personal conversation how would he describe his photography, and he said: “I’m a backstage photographer“. Definitely not the answer that we could have anticipated, but it made total sense with his photography. Michael always tries to portray what’s behind of what we see, perhaps his background on psychology has something to do with that, and in this case, flipping the traditional concept of not being present in the image but rather being present to show what’s behind, in this case behind the brand of Mosaert.
In his words:
“The paradox of the project: being visible without being too present
This project was a bit crazy. The idea was to create iconic images that could be the expression of the creative label Mosaert (mainly known for the creative work they made for Stromae but also active in fashion design, video clips and other projects). For me, it was a total non-sens to be so accurate on the expression of the brand and the consistency of each project they make without having a proper vision on how to communicate on the team itself.
I presented, therefore, a global project based on the idea of bold images with a clear identity but I knew that the tricky part would be to make sure that these images will stay on the second level of communication. Mosaert needs to communicate clearly about their products and not specifically about themselves. So this shoot should provide the same aesthetics but stay more subtle and discrete.
Inspiration: timeless and bold
Artistic background: I really wanted to create pictures like a painter do it. So I decided to find inspiration mainly in art and more specifically in Art Nouveau or Art Deco. This aesthetic is already very present in Mosaert’s DNA and also representative of Belgium which is also a characteristic of this project. Artistic background came from different sources like MC Escher and Art Nouveau in general.
The place was very obvious since we wanted a retro-futuristic place with a very Belgian legacy. With Studio Elementaires (scenographers) we decided to amplify the graphic potential of the place using forms and counter forms to create an Atelier Brancusi mood. The idea was to create a very singular atmosphere taking inspiration in different artistic traditions. It had to be retro and futuristic at the same time.
For poses and attitudes, I wanted something bold and neutral at the same time which is a challenge. For me, it was clear that we had to consider bodies and faces as graphical elements in the construction of images. This solution would be able to provide the “neutral boldness” that we were looking for. I found inspiration mainly in Irving Penn’s work.
Light and mood: We wanted something very clean for the lighting. Something that would seem natural and supernatural at the same time. A mood somewhere in-between the organicity of the film and a clinical perfection that could be 3D images. The same paradox that we had in attitudes and poses : that « neutral boldness ». The aim, with Julien Charpentier (DOP in the film industry), was to create very soft and timeless light.
I also wanted to work with 4x5inch which is a format I never used and which seemed very technical and risky when it’s your first try. I decided to work with Elliott Verdier (that I met on Traveling Light last year). I knew that it would be the perfect solution to be able to do it without having the stress of all the technical aspects of large format and be more focused on the vision and the artistic direction.
We worked together as a team. For each pose, each idea, I shot it first in 120 using different framings and poses. At the end of my 2 rolls (Contax 645 + Pentax 67) we chose with Elliott the best option within those I did and we shot it in 4×5. Basically approximately 15 different ideas which mean 30 rolls and 15 Large Format images. ”
– Michael Ferire
This was an exciting challenge for us because it combined two film formats that cannot be scanned on the same scanner, 4×5″ & 120 film. With Michael we have been working a lot on the Noritsu HS-1800 lately cause it enables a much more sophisticated look, and it’s actually a perfect match for the 4×5″ film, which we scan it with our Fujifilm FineScan 2750. Both scanners use a similar technology, and it translates into more flat files that allow for a vast dynamic range and exploring different tonalities. For this shoot, since it was lit with a full light set up plus some natural light, it was a challenge to balance all the different light temperatures along the different skin tones. Thanks to the wide tonal range of the Portra plus the scanner allowed for a great control and fine tunning from our end and Michael’s. The result is a very interesting look that is soft while at the same time having a lot of volume thanks to the exquisite illumination work.
This is perhaps one of the longest-lasting projects we’ve seen going on at the lab; Noemi Jariod began the project as a small assignment that quickly grew into something more for her. We got to know many years ago through editorial photography, and throughout the time, we’ve also seen her work change, evolve and mature. We can say it’s nothing short of great pleasure to see projects develop like this when photography is used to portrait changes that often happen faster than we would like to.
Photography is often tangled with art, even if photography is still a “newborn” in the art world when we compare it to sculpture or painting, most photographers share aesthetic backgrounds with artists or have a connection to art schools. With the years, and as the further we sail into the deep waters of professional life, it’s easy to forget the environment our schools provided to us. 79 meters is a revisit to those school years, the details, the things that perhaps we gave for granted, or we do not notice and that now, with the change of buildings, they might get lost.
Film photography helps to add two dimensions in this case, the analog image creation process similar to painting and the archival purpose. These images are created not to highlight the present but to create a solid memory for the future. Their value today is just a small fraction of what their actual value will be in the years to come. Telling the story of the la Massana school, both to the future generations that will never get to know its original building and for the artists that were born in between these walls, that will always be able to go back and revisit their memories through these frames.
In her words:
“Two episodes: the first, photographing the last year of operation of the Escola Massana – before embarking on the move and leaving the historic building. The second, register the initial steps into the new headquarters. This has been the motivation to explore the transformation of an art school and its inhabitants. 79 meters refers to the distance that exists between the old building and the new one.
This visual essay proposes a reflection on the interior and exterior change that occurs after any “move”. Leaving a space of romantic aura to move to another unexplored and aseptic, it implies leaving behind the traces of the old building and adapting to the change. The images, sometimes full-length faces or school environments, underline the patina of time through different ways: sometimes with shadows, sometimes with mists, reflections, textures … They pursue the incidence of light that, like everything else, moves and transforms.
These two episodes in transit dialogue with the poetry of Paul Valéry. “The skin is the deepest organ,” says the French poet, and it is this paradox that mobilizes and contains the double reflection on the photographic act: one that documents the surface and another that points to the complexity of making visible (representing) the Hidden face of the image. The photos that make up this series are mirrors of an inside and an outside: they appear, move and escape. 79 meters deal with deep surfaces.“
– Noemi Jariod
Noemi’s work has always been scanned in the Frontier SP-3000, at the beginning because of the skin tones and vivid colors it provided on portraits, but in this case, especially because of the high contrast it naturally provides. In this particular work especially, since she is dealing with different volumes and textures; strong shadows help emphasize these treats. The bold color palette that the Fuji scanner can output helps direct the focus of the image to its color and shape, helping the abstraction feeling and create a more pictorial image.
It was truly an honor to be found by Sarah 2 years ago. At first we were a bit surprised by her use of color and since we were so focused on “color polishing” for most of photographers we were a bit worried that she might not get the results she wanted from her film… oh boy we were mistaking! After a while we realized what was really going on and it was such a pleasure to be working on images in which color really makes the subject.
We are surrounded by color constantly and it’s often used to enhance the subject that we want, but in Sarah’s case, things flip upside down, the subject becomes more of a leading threat to inmerse us in a dreamlike color palette that make us question if what we are seeing is real or not, and even more important, does it matter if it’s real or not?
Using analog flaws to her advantage, to draw her narrative, we really wanted to showcase Sarah’s work at the beginning of the year to start with another point of view, something different than what we are used to see. Something that remind us that there are plenty of ways to use film photography, to see the world and specially in film photography, there is no one “correct” way to experience it.
It’s always good to start by dreaming 🙂
In her words:
“I’ve always been inspired by color, imagination, nature, the unfamiliar, but certain places I’ve visited have had a deep influence on my work.
My whole approach toward photography changed a few years ago while climbing the Stromboli volcano. I was in a particular place in life, and was blown away by the menacing strength of this giant shrouded in darkness, and by how little we could see of “him.” It felt like we were tiny dancers in the dark, in the hands of this great monster, screaming with pinkish smoke who was somehow pulling us toward “him.” From that moment on, my inspiration became the thin line between the real and the unreal, variations of the subconscious, the imaginary, the mysterious, and fluctuations of time and nature .
I also lived in Australia for a while and was awestruck by its wilderness. I have always loved the sense of unpredictability in nature and the contradictory feelings it evokes in me. I feel excited and mesmerized, but also exhausted and pushed out of my comfort zone. It may seem, in my photos, that I regard nature somewhat poetically, but I am also drawn to the violent, nostalgic, powerful and unpolished aspects of this planet, and of humans.
We are constantly bombarded by concepts of success, improvement, and achievement. But longing and doubt are also inherent parts of us, and I don’t want to pretend they don’t exist. They do. So I think what I want to show in my work is the ephemeral, the uncertain, and how vulnerable we are.
I use analog film as a way to convey all of this because there is something very intimate about shooting film. I feel more quiet, more receptive to the emotions and sensations that surround me. I am more thoughtful about what I shoot and how I take the photos. And there is also something fascinating about not being able to see the results right away. There is the delight of picking up the developed photos at the lab – there are always unexpected treasures and mysterious “accidents.”
I use my imagination – my ability to dream – to freely explore and question how the self experiences the world. And this is what I hope to give viewers: the opportunity to interpret based on their own feelings, emotions and experiences. In this way, the photos don’t belong to me, but to the viewers themselves.”
– Sarah Blard
Sarah usually requests her artwork to be scanned on TIFF since the aim of it is to be printed and displayed on galleries, specially in larger prints. TIFF files have a better render of grain specially for enlargements, and grain plays an important role on Sarah’s work without at doubt. Since the grain information is not compressed, when enlarged we are able to see it in all it’s subtle shapes. The scanner is always the Noritsu HS-1800, it allow for a wider control over the color palette and specially the dynamic range in the black areas, we can adjust contrast and density by highlights and shadows separately which in the scenes where are a bit abstract, it can help the artist decide how do they want the file to be finished afterwards.