Photography blogs are boring and make me want to go on a terrible spree. Welcome to the antidote.
As a massive videogames nerd, I have been greatly anticipating the release of Dennaton Games’ very first title, Hotline: Miami. It was released this Tuesday just passed, the 23rd of October, and I decided to do a shoot themed around it to celebrate.
To provide a bit of background, Hotline:Miami is a dark thriller set in an alternative 80s Miami. The protagonist is a man with a heavy dose of amnesia, who is instructed to do terrible things to members of an organised crime syndicate by a voice leaving messages on his answerphone tape. He dons a rubber mask, jumps in his DeLorean and commits some atrocities in a variety of locations. The developers have stated they were heavily influenced by the movie Drive and you can see that in the style of the game. I know all you tabloid reading kneejerkers will probably think this sounds like an atrocity that should be banned from the Internet because, hey, games are for kiddies, right? No, not all games are, just like not all films and not all books are child friendly.
People often struggle with the idea of whether photography is a hobby or a job to them. We are often reminded that we may be enjoying it as a hobby now, but once it becomes a full-time job, we are at risk of losing our enthusiasm. I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, the explanation of which being an article in itself. For now, let’s just say that personally I find it important to shoot things for the sake of it and not just sit there waiting for another commission to come in: I love photography, so why would I not want to be shooting all the time? I see it as both a job and a hobby: a jobbie, if you will.
Yes. A jobbie.
It’s important to be inspired by non-photographic things. It’s useful to pick up tips from other photographers and there’s no harm in adopting techniques from people you admire, but to ensure you develop your own style I think it’s vital that your work is influenced by non-photographic elements. I was listening to a podcast where Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton from The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville spoke about their influences. They didn’t mention any comedy programmes as influences, citing horror films and horror writing instead. That’s partly why those programmes are so unique in the field of comedy, because they drew from elsewhere and were created around subjects and ideas they love.
That’s what I’ve done here: I first played the game and had a very long chat with the lead artist at a games convention in Germany, where I was working on my long term project documenting a videogame developer and the lives of the people who work there. I fell in love with the game and its style, read about it, liked what I read, and decided to create something inspired by it. I had a dozen ideas that I either tweaked a bit or threw out completely. Eventually, I decided I would create a sort of Old Masters still life style image, except with paraphernalia found in the game. I knew that the developer’s intentions were to portray a certain amount of mystery, stress and insanity around the protagonist who didn’t really know why he was getting these message on his phone and why he was obeying them, so I wanted to add that to the mix, too.
It feels absolutely brilliant to do something just for the sake of it because you think it’ll look cool or be fun to do: it’s refreshing, exciting and adds a real spark to your enthusiasm for photography in between your bread and butter commissions. Sometimes photography IS a job, as much as I hate to admit it, and doing shoots for the sake of it not only allows you the freedom of complete creative control, it also gets you out of a routine you develop with your regular commissioned work, and prevents you from stagnating creatively.
So yes, spending an entire morning covered in fake blood, wearing a pig mask is a productive use of my time. I’m just glad I didn’t have to answer the door to the postman or anything, as he would have probably called the police.
Lighting was fairly simple in the still life images and the portrait – I used a single, large octa camera right to represent the window light of the Old Masters paintings. It was only loosely inspired by that idea, as light in Old Masters still life paintings actually comes from the left, as light from the west was considered divine.
I wanted to keep it close but dim for that soft wraparound with a nice, gradual falloff. I’m in love with this style of lighting and processing at the moment, which will inevitably lead to me doing it far too often.
As for the bloodied mask in the bath, that was excruciatingly simple: a single, small softbox fired directly down at the subject. To be honest, it was mostly down to my bathroom not being the kind of place you can set up studio lights in, on account of it being a bathroom, but I think it’s fine for the job, seeing as bathroom lighting tends to be quite harsh anyway.
I had a smashing time making these pictures for the hell of it, and I encourage you to do the same. Pick something non-photographic that you love and create an image based on it or around it. Try it with music – create something that has a feel of a piece of music or an album that you love. Not only is it fun to do, it gets you making pictures in a different way. Take this rambling idiot’s advice and DO AN ART.