The staged portrait

The School of Photography of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia had invited me to do an illumination workshop applied to the staged portrait, ie, a portrait in the context of a set. The workshop was about understanding the importance of a staged space, a set, as a support to the character wanted in a portrait.

Marcelo Isarrualde

We had to make a portrait not only around a decorated space but also with an adequate lighting, and a characterization of the personage. I thought it would be interesting to take a picture on the idea of the linear perspective. Photography obeys its laws and it seemed amusing to distortion the perspective a bit. This was not a new idea, Vincenzo Scamozzi had already developed it in the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, a work by Andrea Palladio to build up – on stage and behind the proscenium – the spectacular view of the five ways of Thebes.

Teatro-Olimpico-Vicenza © Marco Ferrari

In the twentieth century Maurits Cornelis Escher also played with the perspective and optical illusion, as did Futurists like Tullio Crali, with dizzying perspectives that glorified speed and movement. More recently, the building Turning Torso by Santiago Calatrava in Malmö, Sweden, turns 90 degrees from the bottom to the top, forming an almost unreal aspect.

Escher Stairs © Escher

Tullio-Crali Incuneandosi nell’abitato © Tullio Crali

Turning-Torso © Marcelo Isarrualde

The idea was to create a space of infinity and a costume for the character that was easily confused with the decor, to act as a camouflage and that way pass more or less unnoticed by the eye. Hence, create a visual game of the idea of the portraits as description of the figure or character of a person.

The perspective

Let’s start with the idea of the linear perspective as a simulation of the visible that – mathematically ordered – can include the volumetric effect of objects on a flat surface, or two dimensions.

Two-point-perspective-by-bigdogsleeping © Big Dog Sleeping

I always liked that the chess checkerboard was a recurrent resource to understand the perspective. We all know that the frame is square formed cells, white and black, alternated. So I thought the set should have a recognizable pattern … What better than a trihedral painted as a chess board!

Marcelo Isarrualde

And now … How would a small cube in the chess board painted trihedral be seen if it was painted as a chessboard as well? The optical effect would be disturbing, so I put the following example which is funnier, and we can rest our eyes a litte bit.

Marcelo Isarrualde

Just the distortion of the perspective missing …

Marcelo Isarrualde

The set was then built, not of three planes formed of three squares, but … two trapezoids and a diamond!

Triedros-04

Triedros-05

And the suit? An oil painting of Paul Cezanne reminded me of the Harlequin costume and with that the problem was solved.

Cezanne-Harlequin Arlequin by Paul Cezanne

The illumination

It was important that there were no shadows to confuse even more the support of the subject in the set. For this we used three large soft boxes by Hensel, the biggest one placed above the set and the other two on each side of the camera, all with equal intensity.

Marcelo Isarrualde

Marcelo Isarrualde

Then there was only the “acting” of the character left … And to shoot the picture!

Jordi-Vidal-1 © Jordi Vidal

The photosensitive material

We used a Hasselblad camera with an extreme wide angle to further exaggerate the perspective and also a beautiful Nikon F2A with a 24 mm lens, both with EPP100 Kodak film. The photographs with the Hasselblad were developed with a “cross process” like it was a negative film , with C-41 chemicals. This way the contrast of the colors became greater, generating a negative image on a transparent base. Today this technique has become synonymous with the Lomography movement, inspired by another analog jewel such as the Cosina CX-1. The EPP that was used with the Nikon was developed with the standard E-6 process for color reversal films.

Marcelo Isarrualde

Marcelo Isarrualde

Today this process can be simulated by manipulating the contrast, brightness, saturation and curves in Photoshop, but without the unpredictability of the images of the traditional cross-process.

Esquema de iluminación Lighting diagram

The staged portrait.pdf

Any reproduction, in parts or in whole, is forbidden without the written consent of the author.

All rights reserved. © Marcelo Isarrualde

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