Go / Edit / Delete / Go again

Deathline by Simon Fowler / No. 71 Photography. © 2012. All rights reserved.


Edited March 2012 to add the photos to the article

I was fortunate enough to go into a professional photographer's studio day before yesterday to shoot a series of shots for the press campaign to launch the band's second album. You should hopefully expect to see some shots beginning to surface next week.

The way Simon, the photographer worked was exciting and inspiring.

We spent time after we arrived at 3pm at his beautiful studio in Leigh-on-Sea, with a cup of tea discussing what we wanted, then getting into costume and makeup while Simon set up the backdrop and lights, and so didn't start shooting on the relatively short session for at least an hour.

Simon later told us that he expected the first few shots to not be usable and so it proved. We stood and posed under the lights and he shot off tens of exposures. We felt pretty stiff and unconvincing and he gradually got us to loosen up by having us strike an increasingly weird set of poses, a lot of physical contact, almost fighting, between each other, to break our stiffness down. He'd reach in and do things with our hair, direct us firmly. Towards the end of the first hundred or so shots, he seemed more satisfied and told us to break while he downloaded them onto his Mac.

He called us into the little galley area that served as his office and the thumbnail images gradually appeared on the screen. Disappointingly, none seemed very good, the very early ones, but gradually towards the end of the roll, a few appeared where we looked cool, relaxed and where our bodies were making interesting shapes in the space against each other.

He picked one and opened it up, adjusting colour, tone and saturation and lo and behold a great, almost iconic looking photo of Deathline seated on a record box emerged before our eyes. He picked out another of Jennie and I tussling with each other and did some work on that as well, explaining all along the decisions he was making.

Deathline by Simon Fowler / No. 71 Photography. © 2012. All rights reserved.

He then went through and picked out two or three more, then asked us if it was OK to delete the rest. Bang, all gone, and we were left with three or four shots, pretty good, from the first session, the first hundred or so exposures.

"We can do better" he said and pulled us back next door under the lights. He made a few adjustments to the styling and the process was repeated, this time with more close shots. Again hundreds of exposures were taken in double quick time, and this time we felt more natural and warmed up so it went even quicker.

Again we went through and picked some shots. There were even more good ones this time, so it took a bit longer, but again we wiped most of what we took and had three or four good ones left. He put these up against the ones we'd kept from the first session. They were clearly better than the first batch so we were able this time to get rid of all but the very first shot from the three or four that had survived.

We had a look at them and Simon said he thought he could do better ones of a two shot that was almost working, so we touched up our makeup, redid our hair, went back through and reframed them and shot off another burst.

He then brought some props in and directed us through some action that we would never have thought of (and which felt quite bizarre). He seemed really pleased with these and we saw why when we went to view them on the Mac. Suddenly something amazing had started to happen and some images that were far beyond anything we expected were starting to emerge.

Simon is a lovely person and great to work with. He started out photographing people but is now becoming more and more a fine art photographer who takes beautiful landscapes. But his manner with models is great. He gets you to do some strange things but he inspires great trust so you don't feel like it's strange, and you just go with the flow. By this time, probably about 5.30 or 6pm, 3 hours in, we were doing some really great shots.

Again, we whittled down at the Mac, deleting 90% of the shots amd going back and knocking out previous survivors. We had, I think by this time, about 6 or 7 we were really happy with. We thought we might call it a day at that point, but Simon had other ideas.

He and Jennie had been looking at some rock photos by the NME photographer Dean Chalkley (who was exhibiting in Simon's gallery across the road from his studio) and Simon had an idea for a more formally composed shot. He said "Let's do a more grown up shot" and took us back into the studio.

This took a while to set up but Simon seemed really excited once he started shooting. We did a burst of these, a quick clothes change for Jennie and a few more. This was like a CD sleeve image, this shot. Beautifully composed, almost abstract in its use of our dark shapes out of white. We kept one. They were all good, all 40 or so of them that Simon shot off, but the best one came towards the end and leapt out.

Deathline by Simon Fowler / No. 71 Photography. © 2012. All rights reserved.

It was dark and freezing outside now. Simon was still buzzing with ideas and asked us if he could set up one final shot. We were tired and hungry but the moment was infectious so we quickly agreed. The setup was peculiar but we trusted him now. He took one, two shots in quick succession and peered into the LCD at the back of the camera.

"No", he said. And that was the end of the shoot. "Sometimes you need to know when to stop," he said, grinning, "when you've had one idea too many."

As we packed up he said he would work on them that night and send us some finalised shots the next morning. We went to the pub and bought him a drink and then walked back to the station to catch the train back to London, excited by the afternoon and evening's work.

By the time we'd got home, the final edited shots, including two bonus ones (ten in all) were waiting in my inbox. Later that night I sent them to our press agent and he was extremely excited by them, as excited as us.

(When they're officially releaseable, I'll update this article with some of them)

(You can check all the photos in this photoset).

That night, Jennie and I both had trouble sleeping despite the tiredness.

I loved the way Simon worked. The speed of thought, the way with models. I loved the decisiveness, the willingness to just throw stuff away and redo and improve until you've nailed only the essential shots, chipped away all the stuff that's quite good, or interesting but not quite right.

The process of editing the images during the shoot was interesting too and helped with the decision making process. We'd started off convinced that we wanted black and white shots, but as he downloaded each successive batch of images and tweaked them on the fly, a cool, redless, desaturated colour palette emerged as the best look for all the shots. Earlier images that had been edited to be b&w were later changed into this look. The editing process not only enabled Simon and us to make better decisions and speed things up as the shoot progressed, it evolved the art direction of the shoot as well.

Above all, though it was the decisiveness and the rejection of anything that didn't measure up that was a real eye opener.

It makes me realise how depressing it is when a well meaning trans person adds me on flickr and I go on their page to see an endless stream of almost identical self portraits staring blandly back at me.

I know that our self portaiture fulfils a different basic need, that of reinforcement of self image or something of that nature, and I know that not everyone is a professional photographer of the quality of Simon, but even so I find the sameness dispiriting. A failure of imagination.

I've been feeling the same way about my collection of images on flickr. Not ashamed of the number of images of myself (shame is an emotion I'm immune to), but actually bored by them. It's boring to have so many similar images.

I went through once before and deleted lots of photos from flickr, for the same reason, but I now feel I wasn't anywhere near thorough enough, and so I'm going to do so again, but this time, I'm taking Simon's lead and being really ruthless.

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