Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Revealing Images: The Bad, Bad Men

In Revealing Images, photographer Don Spiro dishes up sweet photographic treats and the stories behind them. Today, Don aims his lens at 2008's Miss Exotic World The Bad, Bad Men.

In 2004 the Velvet Hammer added yet another photographer to its alumni list, the amazing Austin Young. He shot a photo session at my place on Sunset Boulevard, the Studio With No Name, and the producers asked me to shoot behind the scenes of Austin working. One of his shots from that night became the cover of the photo book, “The Velvet Hammer Burlesque,” which also contains quite a bit of my own work.

Besides shooting Austin working I also shot the performers who were in the back of the room getting ready to go before the camera. There were a few industrial clip lights set up as work lights so I started using them to illuminate my photos.

The house band, the former “Millionaire and His Maharajahs of Melody,” had tired of their turnbans and decided on a vintage criminal look, thereby becoming “The Millionaire and his Bad, Bad Men.” The band included bandleader Millionaire, whose prior band was the influential Combustible Edison. On drums was Joe Berardi of the Eastside Sinfonettia, Non Credo, and Double Naught Spy Car, who has played with nearly every avante garde musician in Los Angeles and writes soundtracks for film and tv. (At a Velvet Hammer show at the Mayan Theatre he collaborated with Tura Satana: he on snare under a single spotlight while she worked the cymbal with a tassel from her pastie.)

The keyboard player was Kristian Hoffman, formerly of the New York 70’s punk band the Mumps, who had been the writer and arranger for Klaus Nomi and was working with Ann Magnuson and Abby Travis. These three were incredibly influential artists in the subculture music scene and to have them together in the same room, in the same band, was inspiring. I had shot them before and it was always fun.

I took the brightest light and clamped it at a distance from them, off far to the right of camera and just below eye level. The distance would ensure that when the three of them posed the light would illuminate them evenly. I adjusted their pose so that they weren’t throwing shadows on each other and added a second, smaller light further below to bring light to the dark side of their faces and give them a moody, somewhat conspiring tone. If you look into Millionaire’s eyes, you can see the reflection of both lights.

Somehow these three needed little direction: they each found their light and knew exactly what pose to do, as if each could read the others’ thoughts and body language without looking. It made for one of my favorite behind-the-scenes photos.

~Don Spiro

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