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Light test with Rachell Smith

31 January 2013

I’d never thought of the camera as my friend. At best it has been a dispassionate recorder of harsh truths; at worst a brutal critic. Whereas artists have appraised and interpreted me through the creative filter of their imaginings, cameras had simply transposed me from flawed life to flattened form. But perhaps this was because no camera had ever been pointed at me as an individual from the expert hands of a professional photographer…

Towards the end of 2012 I had signed-up to participate in a large-scale project for photographer Rachell Smith. With the date for that piece still to be set, Rachell emailed to say she was looking for “interesting people” with whom she could test new lighting equipment in her studio. Would I consider some portrait and nude work on a time-for-photos basis that weekend? Certainly I would.

Come two o’clock on the Saturday afternoon, I arrived at the Hackney studio to find Rachell and her assistant, Gordon, already outside waiting to greet me. They knew to expect someone extremely tall and I was glad not to disappoint.

The studio itself was a windowless room. Not one object stood within its walls without serving a practical purpose. Cables criss-crossed the floor to rise like tendrils around tripods and lighting stands. There were tables, a couple of chairs, a couple of stools, a couple of boxes, an assortment of backdrops, scrims and reflectors, plus an all-knowing computer. Most crucial of all on a raw January day, there was a heater.

In contrast to the hard functional nature of the studio, Rachell herself was open, engaging and cheery throughout. There were periods of professional contemplation and quiet analysis – trial and error with lighting was the session’s raison d’être – but mostly there was laughter and ease while we worked.

We began with some portrait shots, me still wearing the coat and scarf I’d walked in with. Next came a series of shirtless poses in profile: “chin up, higher, eyes lowered, lean forward, a bit more.” After a tea-break and a change of backdrop we moved onto nude poses in two series. In the first I was seated on a low foot-stool, curving my spine, with one or both knees drawn up. In the second I was almost horizontal across two stools with back arched and twisted. These were landscapes of the body.

Some of the resulting images are reproduced below. It is me as I had never seen myself. It is me as visualised by the photographer as artist. Certainly for me it was a new type of encounter with the camera, hopefully the start of a new understanding. Truly a fascinating and enjoyable experience.

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