Friday, July 31, 2009

Assignment #7: Dress Me Up

Among my circle of friends, I'm notorious for using props in any photo taken of me. Case in point? See below. Sometimes it might simply be my drink. Other times I might make a prop out of a nearby stranger. If there's anything around (really, anything) I will put it on my head, hold it in front of my face, position it inappropriately, do nearly anything for a laugh or an interesting picture. I know I'm not alone in this and if you really consider it, we prop-users are likely pretty insecure in front of the camera. We use them because quite frankly, we're not 100% comfortable just being our regular-old (and might I add fabulous?) selves.

Cue the transition to discussing Heather Cantrell's new exhibition, A Study in Portraiture: Act 1, the subject of I Make Picture's most recent art feature. Click here to jump to our coverage of Heather's show. It is certainly interesting to note the transformation of Ms. Cantrell's subjects in front of her lens as they cling to the various props and costumes provided by the photographer as a means of appearing more dynamic in some way than they would appear without them. This sort-of social experiment inspired I Make Picture's latest assignment, one of our most fun and daring projects yet:

Assignment #7:
Using at least one prop, create a portrait of a person you hardly know.

Sound scary? Don't think of it that way! Look, Lydia Hyslop and I (of LadyGunn fame) tried it first to make sure you folks at home could handle it. Using a digital camera and various props including, but not limited to a fake mustache (LA cliche, I know), a wig, a flower, and a silver bowl and whisk. We used the breakfast spot where Lydia and I work as a location, and set up a make-shift studio in front of which we asked customers to pose with their choice of prop. Who knew so many people were dying to don a twirly brown mustache? Anyway, the project was a great excuse to step outside your comfort zone, to capture a feeling of a person whose personality you haven't yet discovered, and a fascinating exploration of other peoples' public insecurities or considerable lackthereof. So grab your camera and try it out. Send your results to Can't wait to see the pictures you make!

Here are the highlights of Lydia and my photo shoot. Thanks again for all my willing models, it was great to meet you!




Shannon Leigh & Steve


Artists: Ashley & Lydia
Assignment: Dress Me up
Materials: digital camera (and some Photoshop), funnel, apron, mustache, wig, whisk, bowl, carnation, helmet/goggles

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pictures of You: Heather Cantrell at Kinkead Contemporary

As the art director of a popular reality television show, Heather Cantrell knows the camera's power to transform personalities. In front of the lens, otherwise normal people morph into cable-ready, cardboard-cutout stereotypes, not only through clever editing, but through their own desire to be a more dynamic "character." Perhaps this idea was an influential force (subconscious or otherwise) to Cantrell in the latest venture of her other life as a Los Angeles-based contemporary photographer, A Study in Portraiture: Act 1 at Culver City's Kinkead Contemporary.

No stranger to the art of portraiture, Cantrell's most recent collection narrows its focus by centering around the idea of identity, thwarting reality by offering her subjects the illusion of fantasy. In a nod to her design background, the photographer achieves this by disguising her subjects with props, costumes, and backdrops as she both humorously and ironically captures them not as the character they are trying to portray, but as real people with desires to be someone more funny, more sexy, more interesting to look at.

Looking to photographers like Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe, Cantrell similarly plays with the traditionalism of portrait photography as she documents members of her own subculture: L.A.'s art community. Some of the subjects of her photos include the show's curator Caryn Coleman (formerly of sixspace gallery), art collector Barry Belkin, and gallerist Beau Basse (of neighboring LeBasse Projects) among many other artfolk.

About a year ago she began shooting these friends and peers in her own studio, manipulating them with various paraphernalia. This developed into mobile portrait studios where attendees were invited to pose amid Cantrell's sets and keep their original 4"x5" print for a reasonable fee. The interactive nature of this project didn't stop there. A Study in Portraiture includes Heather's makeshift studio, complete with various painted backdrops, furniture, and props that range from the regular to the ridiculous (ie: books to shrunken heads). During the course of its run, Cantrell and the gallery have held periodic shoots, only adding to the collection of dynamic portraits which the exhibition at Kinkead already boasts.

The small back gallery space holds a handful of 15"x12.5" silver rag archival ink jet prints and the wall opposite Kinkead's front desk displays some of the 4"x5" Polaroids taken during the course of the exhibition. Cantell's models pose with animal masks and Peter Pan costumes in front of painterly, faux-naturalistic backdrops and crudely theatrical set decorations. Contrastingly, some actually lose items of clothing once in front of Cantrell's lens. While some of the silliness makes for entertaining shots, the best of Cantrell's work is that which is most subtle; no hijinks, no contest to see how many off-the-wall objects a sitter can use. Heather's edited shots are the most brilliant, ignoring the concept of masquerade in favor true human emotion. She makes it a point to include elements that remind viewers of the falseness of the created scenario, such as the ground line strewn with excess props, the hands of her assistant, lighting equiptment, etc. Cantrell's figures seem all the more human in their pursuit of other identities, and this idea is what makes the collection so charming.

A Study in Portraiture: Act I will be on display through August 15th, with additional portrait sessions July 29th from 6pm to 9pm and August 1st from 4pm to 8pm. Participation is $30 for artists and $50 for the rest of the public, and includes an original, signed Polaroid. Contact the gallery for details.

* all images courtesy of Whitney Carter at Kinkead Contemporary