(Oakland, 2008. Image copyright Hamish Reid).
My studio's full of interesting stuff
, a legacy of living in a part of the world (Jingletown
, mostly) that is itself full of interesting machinery, buildings, domestic and commercial gear, and discarded junk.
A few months ago the entire hammer mechanism from an old upright piano appeared in the corridor of the large old building I live in, sitting propped up against the wall outside my neighbour's studio. I was immediately taken by the beauty of the thing: this complex mechanism with all sorts of subdued rich colours and textures (metal, wood, and felt, mostly), visually mysterious but also quite familiar once you crack the code. So I wandered into my neighbour's studio (they're a couple of arty acquaintances of mine) and asked if the piano thing outside was theirs, and if so, could I take it if they were throwing it out? Sure, they said — they'd much rather someone like me take it and do something interesting with it than throw it out. Apparently the original piano had been taken apart bit by bit on stage for a performance art piece, and this was basically the only major part left unscathed or unconverted into some other artwork.
So I took it back next door to my studio. I wasn't sure when I'd actually be able to do something with it, but I just knew exactly what I wanted with it: a series of shots contrasting human skin and structure with mechanical regularity, complexity, and texture. And so it lay there for a few months in the corner while I got on with other things.
Well, my studio's also occasionally full of interesting people
, usually here to do a photoshoot for themselves or me (or both). In this case a friend of mine has a small live extemporary performance group that needed some shots for websites, flyers, brochures, etc. — the usual. We spent a couple of hours in the studio with a bunch of props and costume changes, etc., and we basically got several dozen suitable shots they'll be able to use for whatever. But then it was my turn — I made them do what I
wanted to do for the last fifteen minutes or so of the shoot (not that the previous 90 minutes or so hadn't been what I wanted to do either, but it wasn't for me). Setting this shot up was a lot harder than it looks — hiding the rest of the live bodies was a hit-or-miss thing with each take, and holding the pose was often quite uncomfortable for both the people involved. I spent ten minutes on a series of similar shots, and the results were worth the wait and the struggle (to me, at least).
One of my fave pictures from this year, and almost exactly what I'd "seen" when I first saw the hammers propped up against the wall. No manipulation or editing involved at all beyond a bit of work on the tone curves in Photoshop. It's so unusual to have something pre-seen like this and have it work the way you hoped in real life….