While I have started this workshop with the intention to create a fashion portfolio, my work took a direction towards portrait in black and white as this is my preference and I love to capture the right light, the right expression on a face to create a strong portrait. My intention would be to become a professional photographer focusing on portraits and editorial story.
I am Rachel originally from Alsace and living in London, I was fascinated by photographs from an early age and used to love browsing through my grand mother’s family albums. My work is highly influenced by photographers from the 1950’s and 60s. I choose to take part in this workshop to have an opportunity to work with Sacha, as I love the way she know how create a story and an atmosphere in her photographs.
Portfolio from the Fashion Photography workshop with Sacha, May 2013.
Written review by
ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer
The first impression from this portfolio of Rachel Vogeleisen is that of lessons learned extremely well. There is a solid mastery especially of light and a certain "classical" style that the photographer seems to aim for. It is a sympathetic aspect that elements of this style shine through but are not overstressed. The photographer's command of lighting – especially on the faces – is a quality of the portfolio that immediately catches the eye of the viewer.
A second look shows certain contradictions, which make the thing even more interesting. While some images point in the direction of fashion photography, others tend towards portraiture, with several stages in between. This could make the set of photographs seem confusing, even undecided, if not for the knowledge of the personal clarification that the photographer could make during the workshop. So the portfolio serves as the mirror of a most valuable process of personal insight. A maybe unexpected but most interesting and sustainable outcome of this workshop.
Still, we should not entirely fail to look at the fashion aspects insofar as they include visual storytelling. At best, at least to my opinion, it needs only a single photograph to tell an entire story. Photograph number 7 (which clearly falls out from the rest of the portfolio and looks as if inserted last minute) is the best example for this. It breaks with the rules for optimum and "correct" lighting, focus, etc. Thus liberated it conveys emotion, it lets us wonder about the two people in the photograph and – finally we are still in the fashion business – it makes us long for the jacket the woman is wearing, because it is an integral part of the emotional context and the desire for experiencing this emotion is transferred to the piece of fashion in it.
So leaving things unspoken, veiled, eclipsed – that is: not clearly showing everything – is one key for creating emotion with photographs and for telling stories the viewers have to complete themselves. Breaking with conventions and lessons learned well is important for creating interesting, even haunting stories. And – this is something only available to those, like Rachel Vogeleisen, who have a good and secure command of the tools of photography.
If we cast a third, closer look at the portraiture in the portfolio, it becomes clear that there lies a critital crossroads for the photographer, where she has to make a choice for herself. This choice has to deal with the service aspects of portraiture in professional photography. Of course there is the demand to make your models "look good" if you want them to pay for your portraits. Only famous photographers can escape this because people come to them for their "style" and not - mainly - for looking good. Until you have reached this stage you will have to comply. Really? A well tested solution throughout the history of photography in the 20th century is that of the proverbial "second camera", a second camera for your personal photographic projects, well used alongside the commissions you photograph.
The main point behind the "second camera" is to take pictures as free from the conventions of the business as possible. Follow your personal obsessions and desires, bring the best of your skills and knowledge to this, but follow your intuition in every way. If we look at photograph number 11 in this light we see – besides the fine work with light and shadow – a strong expression that gives us an idea of the personality of the person portraied. The "classical" pose in this case supports the intensity of the portrait.
At this point we should say a word on scene setting and composition. The setting of the photograph should help create the mood we are looking for, it should support the expression of the person portrayed. If we prefer a neutral setting but have to shoot outdoors it would be best to make use of a wall or similar background. Nature in this case is problematic in most cases. If urban scenes form the setting then they should play a part in the photograph. Photograph number 14 is a good example for the subtle use of a composition with an urban scene. The rows of chairs and the perspective they create strengthen the presence of the model. Even the dynamic of the scene in the far background – out-of-focus and only partly inside the frame of the image – is not distracting but adds a dynamic accent to the photograph. I would recommend a more active use of scene and composition in favour of the strength of the portraits. Or – to make a clear decision for studio photography or at least reduced backgrounds in portraiture. Then one of the strenghts of Rachel Vogeleisen's photography, her subtle way of lighting faces almost bordering on the sculptural, can become visible best and create the attention she clearly deserves.
Photograph number 13 points in this direction. Although the scene is only hinted on, we see the bench in the park and the borders of a path form an axis counter to which the glance of the model goes to a point out side of the frame. She observes a scene we cannot see, but only imagine. Her way of looking tells us more about her in this case than a direct gaze might do. Arms and legs of the model accentuate this main axis of the image and make us take note of little details like the bracelets on her arm.
A final recommendation on the work with models, be they professional models or not: Be always more demanding, go to extremes, even if not the extremes, but the subtleties of the classical are what you actually aim for. Let them go through different emotions or states of exhaustion and watch what happens with their faces. Be more daring, you have the photographic power to handle this and make the best results from it! Follow your obsessions!