I wanted to show you guys the process of how my LES:halloween* project came together.
*LES=Lower East Side of Manhattan
I wanted to do something for Halloween that didn’t involve me going through the hassle of putting together a costume. Last year a friend of mine who does this sort of thing for a living put me in an amazing beetlejuice costume, that was fun. But he put in the work and it was GOOD. If I just did it myself, I don’t think I’d do a GREAT job.
My biggest joy on Halloween is riding the NY subway and skipping train cars at every stop so I get to see everyone’s costumes, that’s always amazing.
So rather than dress up, I wanted to photograph people in their costumes.
In my discussions with my assistant Matt, we took several projects as inspiration: Joey L has done a series for years of Halloween in Brooklyn. He presents it as a cultural study and takes the view that while Halloween may be obvious to us, it can be presented in the same way as otherworldly cultural events in far off places. Viewed externally, Halloween is a fascinating cultural phenomenon. He does his in BW and in his style.
We also looked at a series on concert goes by James Mollison (google it, it’s fantastic).
As you may know, I hate shooting on white so we couldn’t do the same setup as James. I love grey backdrops so we ran to B&H and got a thunder grey 4″ seamless for $27.
Shooting in the streets of means I can’t put anything on the ground without a permit, but that doesn’t stop me from having an assistant hand-holding a light. The problem with that is that there’s NO way to get the exact same light for every person and even harder to light the backdrop 100% evenly so as to enable an easy collage. Also, a backdrop with no texture is harder to composite together because it is less forgiving.
By the time we had messed around with various lighting ideas it was 9pm. I had tried mounting a light directly on top of the camera, that didn’t really work, I had tried every modifier, eventually settling on the 150cm deep dish rotalux* and off we went.
We crudely taped it to a wall on 2nd street with 3 inch white gaff tape (i wish now I had used black), placed the roll on the floor and within an hour it had been stolen from right under my nose.
I ended up shooting for about 2 hours before everyone seemed a little too drunk and we went home.
With 80 portraits in the can, the decision to composite the images like this only came the day after. I laid out all the images on the screen and chose the ones I felt fit together visually, without thinking about it too much. That’s how we got broad categories like: Red, White, Monochrome, skin, yellow and blue and ‘best of the rest’.
It was almost 2 full days of retouching to get everything together and our retouch was done specifically with instagram in mind.
Matt hand held the light and I pulled interesting people off the street at random. Everyone posed for less than a minute.
My olympics project experience really seems to have paid off here.
The lovely Courtney showing the very crude ‘here’s my instagram, take a picture of it because you won’t be able to spell it later’ sign. I would take people’s picture and then point them to this because I wasn’t about to give 80 drunk strangers my business card with my phone number on it.
The backdrop was taped immediately to the left of this picture and somehow the @ sign has remained!
How the images looked without cropping and retouching. The little cuts in the edge of the paper (look closely) are an effort to relieve some of the tension that happens once the paper is exposed to the outside air, contracts because of the cold and generally warps. It didn’t help that it was taped onto a very uneven brick wall, no chance in hell getting that thing to be flawless.
the first draft of the composites, kind of a hodgepodge and I didn’t feel it. It just didn’t seem to show people off very well.
here you can see the guides I used in photoshop to give us an idea, while editing, of how they’d end up on instagram. The split on Britney is deliberate. When people load the image of the mars attacks dude on insta, they should feel enticed to load the next image in the panel.
Here I’ve removed every 2nd image to show how the composites work. We paid particular attention to making some of the images a little wonky and doing the alignments randomly, not so perfect.
The end result, this is how I wanted it to look on instagram, an engaging set of panels.
The final set is here