At the start of 2013 I was picked as one of 50 photographers to contribute to “The Traverse Fifty” project. I was partnered up with a writer to take their portrait, that writer was Denise Keane of South London. On our first meeting in Spitalfields, Denise was running late because she got a bit lost, this was comforting as I can’t navigate my way round a circle without walking down the wrong corner, so the good people of Traverse probably got this pairing right! We talked at length about backgrounds and creativity in general as well as some initial concepts for the picture. Denise, who works part time at a youth theatre in Peckham, writes with recurring themes looking for “places of departure” in location and in language. Our conversations threw up some themes we could both relate to, but the idea of ‘split processes’ really grabbed me, your head being in one place but also in another, and the juxtaposition of incongruous elements, especially prescient for the ‘navigationally challenged’. I imagined shooting a long exposure type portrait to represent this idea, something I have wanted to try in portraiture for a while.
Choosing to shoot in the area around the Peckham Theatre, we had a few options and some of the themes Denise was talking about made sense when you delved a bit deeper. Looming large overlooking the area is “Lakanal House”, a huge dilapidated, deserted building with a traumatic history. A few years ago, the building which had already identified as being at risk, had a fire break out which spread to the whole building in which 6 people died. It cuts an imposing figure, time stopped whilst life continues around it, highlighting our juxtaposition theme. Not wanting it to take over everything, we opted for the main image to be in a kind of tunnel underneath a main bit of a building (yes I read that back, no that doesn’t make any bloomin’ sense bit hard to describe, look at the picture), it had levels and textures that fit with the incongruous elements, which gave us scope to have Denise walking in different directions whilst I snapped with long exposures for some movement, head in one place, but also in another.
We had a sunny day and I triple stacked my UV, Polarising and ND 2 filters to create a filter sandwich to counter some of the harshness, keeping my trusty simple setup of off camera flash and umbrella on hand for any fills. As with most people (that I’ve ever met or shot), Denise said she didn’t like being in front of the camera, but her performance background and the fact that she was gonna be a bit blurry on most of it seemed to carry her through. Running left, walking right, sitting down, crouching, leaning with her notebook, I shot it all, including an anchor pose to ground the centre of the picture in. The long exposures threw up many interesting shots including one strange siamese twin double headed one. Happy with these, we moved onto some B Roll pics and headshots, just missing the rain as soon as the equipment was packed up.
LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT BRAIN
Back in front of the computer, with the images all graded, it was time to muck around with them and create the composite of different exposures. I tried several techniques for this and ended up with a lot of layers! I usually use Photomatix to merge HDR images but this kept throwing up a few inconsistencies, in the end I did a few layers with Photomatix and the rest layered up, masked and overlaid in Photoshop until satisfied. It took a few different versions to find something that wasn’t cluttered, that told a story with these moving blurry ghosts, as an unintended consequence it reflected the left brained, right brained theory. The left side of your brain controls more analytical side of your brain, logic, numbers etc. whilst the right side controls the more creative, thoughtful, imaginative, emotive side of your brain. The left side says less its walking and stuff and a bit overblown, but the right side is more frenetic with creative activity saying more about Denise.
Unfortunately I was unable to go up to Edinburgh, but the final image was exhibited alongside the other 49 in the Traverse Theatre on 22nd October 2013.
All photos / © Daniel D. Moses