My inheritance included the building that my studio occupies. It’s a one-story suburban dwelling that was built to my father’s design – two big main rooms and some small service rooms off it. The closest thing I can compare it to is two large mobile homes set side to side – but made of brick. Not a surprising design for him as so much of his life was spent in house trailers or transportable structures. Perfect for me as a studio.
I initially started out with the idea of historical pictures on plate camera and then went on to glamour and dance pictures taken on roll-film. In both cases I collected rooms full of props to fill the sets and give the right atmosphere. The atmosphere of a glamourous boudoir or harem is crowded but a Victorian parlour is a nightmare. The nightmare continues as you try to store the props off-set.
I’ve cleaned up my act. Actually I’ve cleaned up the prop storage too – now I try to feature my human models on a bare set with the minimum of props – this means that they must sometimes work harder to project the story that we are trying to tell. It also means that if I am put to cutting them out on Photoshop and inserting them into another scene, it will be easier to do. I’m happy to say that the years of overcrowded sets and fake foliage have paid off – I can see better now where light goes on the model and can make the mood with that rather than furniture and drapes.
But what of the tabletop? Here I have full rein to make as much complex reality as I can with models, props, sets, structures, and extra small lights – and I can have far better sets in 1:18 or 1:12 than ever I could afford to assemble in 1:1 size. The best part is that within reason the individual items that make up sets are re-usable in different pictures and the elements of design can be stored in IKEA boxes on a shelf.
Real people can still appear in the sets – that’s the Photoshop magic. If anyone objects to the element of unreality in it, I can point them to any number of historical precedents – indeed all of the 1930’s-1960’s Hollywood portraits we think so highly of are false portrayals on fragmented sets. It is our need to see glamour in them that sets aside any false notes or small details – and Photoshop can remove these to perfection now.