In Revealing Images, photographer Don Spiro dishes up sweet photographic treats and the stories behind them. Today, Don aims his lens at Victoria Veneance.
As a photographer I’m proud that I can use a camera and lighting and not rely on digital effects to fix it in post, so the more I shoot with my digital cameras the more I like to practice with film. I have a collection of vintage cameras and thought it would be fun to shoot some large format this past summer.
I broke out a few of my 4 x 5 press cameras, the kind that have the bellows in the front and you look at the image upside in the back with a hood over your head. I had been shooting burlesque performers and love to have them model, so I started tacking on a few shots with the press cameras at each photo session. I had always liked the imagery of A.E. Johnston (nudes of Ziegfield Follies stars) and a book of his work had just been published, so I decided a similar look with black and white film would be a perfect use of the larger format. I even bought some photo chemicals to do Platinum and Palladium processing, century old film processing techniques.
One of my favorite burlesque dancers, Victoria Vengeance, asked me to do a photo shoot inspired by old Playboy photography, which suited her perfectly. After the shoot I set up two cameras, one as a prop, and one to shoot the portraits. She accentuated the retro style with two tone shoes and black stockings.
I loaded some film holders with some Ilford HP5, a 400 ISO black and white film stock, and some Polaroid 55 with a Polaroid. This type of Polaroid provided not only 4 x 5 prints, but matching 4 x 5 negatives, which look beautiful when printed or scanned.
I had been shooting with strobe lights, only the press camera can’t hook up to my strobes. Sometimes I use hot lights (continuous lighting), which require slower shutter speeds, but that means asking my subjects to stay motionless while the shutter is open. I decided to continue using the strobes by firing them remotely when the shutter was open. I set my lights high and with soft reflectors, emulating an old time studio with sky lights on an overcast day. I set the camera on a tripod and attached a cable release so that it would stay steady, then put the shutter on T, which allowed me to keep the shutter open until I closed it with the release. I loaded the film in the camera, opened the shutter, fired the strobes, and closed the shutter.
I scanned a few of the images as samples, but I still plan to print the negatives with the old time techniques. I’ll still shoot with negative film but, sadly, Polaroid went out of business, so this image may be one of the last you ever see. I have very little stock left, so if you want to be part of history and are interested in this kind of rare vintage style large format nude black and white photography, let me know before it’s all gone!
~ Don Spiro