Unicorn Dream: Anastasia Egonyan’s Intimate Portrait Process

All images by Anastasia Egonyan. Used with permission. All words by Anastasia Egonyan for the Phoblographer.

I have always valued analog photography over digital as there is simply no way of getting the same result out of latest technologies as much as I get it from the good old film. Well, at least to satisfy my needs and maintain my photography style that you might have noticed has evolved to a clear and romantic side which is proudly called the “Fine Art Photography”. Yet I try to maintain my own point of view here as well and not merge with the numerous artists that hold the classical label.

So this is one of the latest art shootings that I have done and the idea for it was to show an alternative beauty in a really delicate and soft manner. I aimed to play with contrasts and preconceptions as you know you usually get to see grunge girls in grunge images, but what I personally see here is a modern way of a renaissance beauty. Now we have girls with mermaid hair and colourful tattoos all over the body, but there is still a big part of being feminine and gentle appearance in that look and I was able to emphasise it quite successfully.

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My gear for the shooting was the Contax 645 + Zeiss 80mm f/2, a medium format gem and I love this camera to death. I think it’s the best gear combination ever and I have gone really addicted to it due to its ease in use, the particular beauty of the lens and how it makes the pictures look so soft and sharp at the same time. My film of choice here was Fuji Pro 400h and I have picked it due to its beautiful magenta tones as the skin of the model is cool with pink undertones and it would not be smart to pick a Kodak in this case which gives a more yellowish finish. And adding to that we have blue/teal hair, blue/teal tattoos and a teal dress in composition, everything on white canvas which makes it on the cool side of the palette and in this case magenta base works better than a yellow base. As a result you see how we have a variety of colours on the skin – from pleasant yellow to a pretty blush on lips and cheeks.

August-4

As I have returned to nude photography as well, I think I have to mention some tips about working with girls in this direction. We are talking about normal people that don’t make their living out of modelling and that is where it gets a bit hard in this topic as you initially have to gain at least a bit of trust from the person as being naked makes the other part feel a bit uncomfortable and awkward, especially in front of a stranger. I just try to be nice and polite in first place while I text with a model before the shooting, but yet still really firm about the conditions of the event.

I get everybody to sign a TFP contract that allows me to publish the resulting photography at all medias and I also let the model know that there is no going back once we “hit the stage” as we all put time and effort in the shooting so if somebody is not comfortable with being naked in front of the camera then they should make it clear in their mind while they are still at home. And I know that while shooting nude many photographers let the model pick the pictures that they would allow to put online or elsewhere afterwards. I do not practice this at all, I think that making the picture is my personal and artistic process and nobody should interfere with it. I simply ask it straight while shooting “are you comfortable with this pose, are you okay if we show as much, is it not too much for you, etc.”

August-5

Better to be open and clear before you release the shutter. This also makes the model more confident and shows that you have nothing to hide and you won’t make any “discreditable” shots.

As we meet for the shooting we begin to get to know each other a bit better by dropping a few introduction phrases and starting a short conversation. In this particular session I have done the makeup myself as well and the reason was to mainly have the makeup match the look as I wanted, not having to explain this to another person (the model herself or the makeup artist) and also is that I just get pretty close to the model, I touch her face as I am applying makeup, we are having a little chat and the first ice brakes, that is how we get more relaxed when we start shooting.

August-8

Regarding the process, I personally find film easier to work with than with any digital camera. There is a thing that you don’t get to see the pictures instantly, you have to know what you are doing quite well and you have to measure the light correctly so you get a perfect exposure, but that is all you need to know when you shoot analog. And you don’t have a lot of frames as well, but that is a big plus to me as I have only 16 frames on a 120 film roll and that is quite enough for me usually to end with a complete session. I shoot one frame per setup and I usually don’t do duplicates. I just think well and take my time to guide the model, to check the details and to make a nice composition. One session like this usually takes about an hour where I go for classic portrait cropping, details and full body images.

You can see that this shooting is done with a natural light from the window (that is about 2 to 4pm when the light is the most intense at that spot) combined with my small studio permanent lighting and also a small portrait reflector to hit out the shadows sometimes. The strongest light here is from the window carefully closed with thick white curtains to create a “softbox” effect which I love to use as a backlight. Then I use a permanent lighting to emphasise the main subject as if otherwise the backlight would be too harsh comparing to the model and we would end up with a dark foreground or with an overexposed background while in here you see that we have details on the curtains which is a sign of a good exposure. And I have also used the reflector to hit out the shadows to get the soft look as a result.

August-9

So it may seem like there is a lot of effort with film photography, but I enjoy it pretty much. I just love to spend my time shooting instead of editing RAW files in Photoshop afterwards. I have to admit I still do digital sometimes if there is no other way, but I try to avoid it as much as possible. There is simply no way you can get the same dynamic range out of a 35mm sensor as you do out of a professional analog film. And you can never fully mimic the colour palette of that what film gives you. But before you start getting mad at me for judging the digital sector, I have to say in advance that every media is good for its own reason and there is nothing better or worse in general. I work in a manner where I need those colours and effects film gives me, but when you go for a different style you might find you need a different finish to your pictures.

So that is up to you to decide, but I always suggest to try out film if not permanently, then at least for a bit of curiosity. And then who knows, you might fall in love with it as much as I did.

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Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to editors@thephoblographer.com.