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 Va Va Voom Room.
I did the camera work and stills for Augusta’s documentary, “The Velvet Hammer Burlesque.” In addition to spending years with the seminal Los Angeles troupe, I got to know the New York contingent, regular performers at Miss Astrid’s “Va Va Voom Room.” We traveled to New York to shoot interviews and performances at Fez, the Va Va Voom Room’s venue, with Velvet Hammer alumnae Kate Valentine (aka Miss Astrid), Dirty Martini, The World Famous *BOB*, and Julie Atlas Muz. I shot stills of each but due to scheduling *BOB* had to leave before early so I shot group shots with the other three.
We traveled light, a crew of Augusta and myself, so that meant only as much equipment as we could both carry: A video camera with microphones and tripod, a still camera with film, and lighting gear. I am a lighting technician in the film industry so I’m familiar with what equipment is most efficient, and I rented a set of Dedo lights as soon as we hit the city. They are compact but extremely powerful and use little electricity, which made them perfect for the job: shooting video in a dark club with sketchy circuit breakers.
The three wore the signature matching pink Velvet Hammer corsets, designed for the troupe by Sue Nice. They posed in front of Fez’s red velvet stage curtain and I blasted one Dedo at full power right from the front by the camera, flooding the light as wide as I could. Shooting 400 ASA color film with my Nikon, I had the lens wide open. I then put Dedos on either side of the stage as far apart as I could, and spotted them down to rake the curtains and edge light the performers, adding texture so the scene wouldn’t be flat. Kate, Dirty and Julie fooled around, playing to the camera and falling into natural yet beautiful compositions that only professional dancers seem to master (All three have years of classical training between them).
When I got back to LA I developed the film. Despite being protected in travel the X-ray machine had done some damage. This was right after 2001 so I don’t know if someone had taken the film out to x-ray it or what happened, but there were faint, green, grainy zig-zag patterns all over the roll. (Ever since, I get the film processed before I travel.) I really liked the images I got, and hated to think they were destroyed.
I don’t like to retouch, but this was an emergency. I had an early version of Photoshop and started messing with some scans of my favorite images. Directly from the negative the photos look terrible in the spots with the zig-zag, but the rest of the image look pristine. I was able to adjust, smooth, blur, and cut and paste in every which way to reduce the green and the grain, eventually making the images useable, at least at a lower resolution. I was very happy with the final result. Augusta used it to promote her documentary, “The Velvet Hammer Burlesque” (http://www.itsachick.com/TVHB.html) and Sue Nice even used it to promote her corsetry (www.nicecorsets.com).