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"Harsh-beautiful” portraits series with photographer James M. Barrett and Michal Dzierza

2/23/2012 Matt 2 Comments

About Michal Dzierza´s project: "A photographer's journey"

For the past few weeks I've been asking some London-based photographers about their work, their inspiration - but most importantly, about their journeys.

How did they get where they are today? How did they work on their style? Was it a conscious choice or, like many things in life, a happy (or perhaps a more dramatic) coincidence?

The first photographer featured in my mini-series called "A photographer's journey" is James M. Barrett.

Read more about this film on my blog:

Video and text by Michal Dzierza | website | twitter

After watching the video I was struck by the strength of the portraits, then I contacted with James and he kindly explained how is his work routine.

James M Barrett - Workflow

©  Michal Dzierza
This portrait series developed very organically. I initially contacted models through my social network, and via casting calls on Model Mayhem. Then it snowballed and I've been overwhelmed by the number of people volunteering to sit for me! Now that exhibition invitations are coming in I'm having to be more focused, and I'm also getting some brilliant portrait commissions. I choose male models with interesting, angular features, facial hair, striking eyes, and rugged looks - to suggest that they have sometimes battled in life but always survived.

©  Michal Dzierza
For the photo session I like to spend time talking with the model first, talking them through the process, putting them at ease, and observing their expressions and features. For the actual shoot I try out many different angles and poses,indirectly influenced by by classic fine art portraiture. I look to see how the sitter holds his head spontaneously and then I adapt these positions. When I think I have captured enough material I upload the files and we review them together onscreen. I'm always fascinated by people's reactions to their own images, and I factor this in to my final editing decisions. Only then do I ask the model to sign a release.

©  Michal Dzierza
I shoot on a simple Canon 7D with Sigma 105mm lens, using mid-range depth of field around ISO 500.  I use a strong blast of lighting from the sides, with additional back-lighting and multiple reflectors and poly-boards pitched at different angles to give a confusing impression of the precise light source. Continuous lighting provides a great softness against the strong textures and angles of the models' faces. It also has the advantage of not flashing (obviously!) which allows the models to relax. And it is straightforward - WYSIWYG - which means I spend less time worrying about the technical stuff and can concentrate more on capturing the model's expressions.

©  Michal Dzierza
Afterwards I spend 3-4 hours in post production. I often become totally engrossed in the process and work late into the night!  It takes me a great deal of time to pick out the final image, do an initial edit in Aperture, then process it intensively in Photoshop using various plug-ins, and lastly agonising over the final crop! Each portrait is unique, built up in multiple translucent layers almost like a painting.  At the moment I'm selling prints at 50x75 or 60x90cm, and am blown away by the amazing detail that you can get at that size. I will experiment with larger formats for some forthcoming exhibitions.
I'm very aware that my photos are "harsh-beautiful", and that models put a great deal of trust in me. As part of my briefing I remind them that I am a visual artist, and that these will not be conventionally flattering images. Then when I show them the finished portrait I suggest they give themselves some time to get accustomed to it. I'm relieved to say that most people are delighted by the results right away!
The portraits:

James M Barrett self portrait  
©  James M. Barrett
©  James M. Barrett
©  James M. Barrett
©  James M. Barrett
©  James M. Barrett
More inspiration: James M. Barrett´s website | blog | flickr


Anonymous said...

3-5 hours in Photoshop? Mh, either bad technique or never heard of NIK.

Brian Smith said...

I love the beauty of portraits of faces with character. I'm certain these photographs look stunning when printed large. Well done.