Finding Taboo Going behInd the photo

Alex and I have been chatting and trying to get together for a shoot for some time. And in May we finally got the timing right and he came for a week.

Living in a world of greys... making light in darkness

Before a shoot I normally spend a few hours brainstorming with a model about things they’re interested in exploring, and also looking at images they find captivating so that we can get ideas for lighting setups and locations and just the general look and feel we might be going for.

Alex drove this idea from start to finish. He and I loved the idea of working with taboo subjects and pushing the boundaries of art/editorial language to say something more substantial. But he really took the idea up and ran with it.

He’d been a cutter, so the chance to ‘speak’ about that in a visual medium was something he grasped fully. I try not to get too many preconceived notions before we actually get to the set. Everyone looks a little different in the lights and I try to allow for exploration within a framework.

Obviously we knew that we wanted to do something grungy since the subject matter was going to be both delicate and disturbing. I actually hadn’t considered not using a backdrop until we shot a previous idea that way. When I played with the edits on those I really knew it would be better that way.

Androgyny: Ethan Frost, Brendan John, Alexander Drake

For the lighting, I went with something simple, a single umbrella with a moderately strong bulb so that we got a harsh but still shaped area of light. It would also light the wall behind Alex to create some separation, but with a natural vignette that should also help to focus the eye on him.

The blood was trial and error. We spent a good hour at the halloween section of Party USA trying to find fake blood. But eventually between the two of us we decided we would try maple syrup and food coloring. The result was more magnificent than we had hoped. It pooled and stayed highly reflective at the same time, and actually better simulated the idea of slowly dripping pain we wanted to evoke.

Alex applying the blood makeup

As for the posing, Alex and I felt very strongly that he should be using fashion and editorial poses while also pushing those in various directions for effect. My favorite part of the shoot is the first few frames, when the model and I get a sense of how it feels in the moment and then adjust.

Alex actually was responsible for the final light placement, because he knew the feeling he wanted to evoke, and he knew that he needed to be more illuminated than I might usually lean toward in order for the blood and the word on his arm to read.

For most of this shoot’s preparation I sat back and let Alex work. He applied all the blood himself, and as he did, he recalled how he used to do the same thing when he cut. It was a humbling and deeply honoring process for me. As much as I helped, this was and is Alex’s project. I merely provided a way to facilitate is to fruition.

When it came to editing, we had done most of what we wanted with the light itself. I helped the blood pop by taking some of Alex’s skin tones down and increasing some of the red luminance. Additionally we greatly increased clarity and the overall contrast until we had that stark feel we desired. Beauty through the lens of pain and sorrow.

Before the blood is applied, a test shot to get the lighting set.

Stretching the integration of editorial with art, maybe a little disturbing too.

Above all else, Alex is a deeply expressive model...

We’re still working on an integration of the images with his poetry and will hopefully have something to publish this fall. It is a series that I fully intend to do more with and to explore more Taboos with other models.

Created By
David Arney
All Photos © 2015 David Arney, All Rights Reserved

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