Friday, June 20, 2008

Practicus In The Studio: Studio Accessories and Furniture.

           In no respect does the modern style of studio differ more From its predecessors than in the matter of accessories, and we might treat the former in the same way as did the writer of a book on Iceland. A chapter was headed "Snakes in Iceland," and the chapter consisted merely of the words, “There are no snakes in Iceland."
           When we speak of accessories it recalls to the old operator the wonderful combination sets in papier mache on a wooden foundation which gave pedestals, balustrades, stairs, bridges and a host of other things as they happened to be arranged, or the equally wonderful pieces of furniture which professed to represent a piano, a writing-table, a bookcase, and a seat, and deceived nobody. Then we had rocks, stone walls and loose boulders which were sometimes useful, not to mention ships masts, boats, and swings. These have now, happily, found a rating-place in the lumber-room or have helped to relieve the shortage of coal in these upside down times. Still one cannot but help feeling that the accessories themselves were not alone to blame for artificial-looking pictures, the unintelligent and mechanical way of using them being equally to blame. I believe it to be possible that we shall again revert to the use of more accessories in the true sense of the word, when someone finds it necessary to be “original” and to produce something to relieve the severe simplicity of the head and three-quarter length portraits which are now the vogue. The modern portraitist is not likely to fall into the errors of his predecessors, as be has learned to concentrate the interest in his nictures by subordinating unnecessary detail and would not think of making a negative in which the surroundings were as brilliantly and as sharply defined as the figure itself. Although they are somewhat out of favour at present I must confess to a liking for full-length figures, and it is difficult to get these well balanced without introducing something to give the needed spot or mass of light and shadow which makes the composition complete. This is, of course, widely different from the old practice of building a samba of plants and vases round a lady’s figure, so often done by the byegone masters of our art.
           A safe principle for the guidance of those who have to equip a to follow the advice of Ruskin and to have “nothing except what yon know to be useful or believe to be Beautiful.” Do not buy settees or chairs which no sane person would ever admit to a dwelling-house, but select every piece or furniture, whether intended for the studio, the reception-room or even the dressing-room, with a view to its suitability for inclusion in a picture sooner or fact. Variety, it his been said, is the spice of life, and variety in your work can be more easily secured if there is an ample choice in the matter of furniture. You will then steer clear of the error made by en American photographer whose confession I read a few years ago. He specialized in children's portraits, and when the twisted wicker chairs and settees were introduced invested in a fine specimen. Needing a new window display, he made a large canvas-covered panel, and fixed upon it a score or so of his latest and best productions. It was set up in the window and he went outside to judge the effect; when he viewed it he said that all he could see was twenty wicker settees with babies on them. A sadder and a wiser man, he went inside and promptly dismantled the show from which he had anticipated so much.
           Much of the charm of "home portraits" is due to the natural posing and the judicious inclusion of furniture and ornaments which are associated with the sitter in the minds of his friends. A scholar taken in his study appears more at homo than he does against a plain dark background, and in the case of people who, as an old friend of mine said, "are more distinguished by their facial peculiarities than by actual beauty," there is a real advantage in having something beside those "facial peculiarities" to rest the eye upon. In studio portraits therefore we should endeavour to reproduce the homo atmosphere as nearly as possible and to avoid giving the impression that the whole thing is a make-up. If it be desired to make a picture of a man at his writing-table, the general idea seems to sit him at a small polished table with one or two pieces of paper and a small ink-bottle and pen borrowed from the reception-room. Such an arrangement is little better than the Oriental method of arranging theatrical scenery, in which one painting does for ill the scenes, with the addition of a label to tell the audience whether it is a palace or a forest.
           When selecting chairs or settees they should be chosen not for the beauty of their design when empty but for their appearance with a person seated in them. It will frequently be found that the arms are too high or that the curves are such that a graceful pose, especially of the forearm and hand, cannot be obtained. Many chairs are far too low in the seat and have either to be made up with loose cushions or by fitting rather high castors to the legs. It is, however, necessary to have some low chairs for short people, but with ordinary-sized sitters a better pose of the shoulders is obtained by using a chair rather higher than usual. Settees are best of normal height, as in them a more lounging pose is usually wanted, so that all that is necessary is to avoid the special photographic patterns, except those of the garden-seat pattern, which are useful for sketch or outdoor effects. That much-maligned article the pedestal has had its day: it was hard-worked and has earned a rest. It has a useful successor in the flower or vase stand, which is very handy with standing figures, which would look a little lonely without it. It should never be used for the sitter to lean against, but with ladies portraits may be used to support a bouquet or a vase of flowers which the sitter is arranging. It may also be used to hold the busby or helmet of an officer in full dress, to avoid the necessity in the hand or omitting it from the picture, to both of which there are serious objections.
           Children’s portraits permit of the use of many simple accessories, especially for outdoor effects. I made a very useful tree-stump of a lard bucket carefully covered with virgin cork, so as to give the effect, of living bark, the lower ends being well spread so as to appear like roots. This with a cylindrical hollow "log," covered in the same way, afforded many excellent poses and did not look artificial. If the cork had been stuck in anyhow the things would have been useless. When working with these or other outdoor accessories a pail of coarse sawdust, the dirtier the better, is a great help. If a painted floor cloth be laid on the floor and the sawdust it, it looks like sandy earth and will show foot-marks, while it can be piled round the bases of such accessories as I have mentioned.
           A baby-holder is an accessory which should be in every studio that is not exclusively devoted to adults. It may either be of the American or clip variety, in which the child's garments are caught in clips' attached to an upright post, or it may be like a triangular seat with a low bark and a hole through which the child may be held by a person behind. I have found a broad tape, which could be passed round the child's waist and fastened at the back of the holder, a very useful addition. Such holders are, of course, only intended for babies who can just sit up, and could not be trusted in an ordinary chair; besides, it permits the feet to be shown nicely.
           Although I am more inclined to class them with apparatus, certain studio appliances are often called accessories. The head-rest is one and one which I should be sorry to dispense with. Some care is necessary in choosing and handling this instrument. In the first place it should not be heavy, and in the second place it should be simple. What is needed is a support which can be quietly placed behind the sitter (or usually slander), and adjusted so as to give the necessary steadiness. I may say that I rarely place the rest to the head, finding the shoulder or lower part of the neck to be a better position and less embarrassing to the sitter. The number of plates which are wasted on standing poses through "moves" by photographers who consider the head-rest out of date must be enormous. All the moving parts should be kept, like a rifle, bright and oiled where necessary, so that there is no jerkiness in action. Another necessary which I consider indispensable is the head screen. This needs no description, but the covering demands a few words. Most head-screens are covered with a sort of lawn, and this is generally useful; I have also tried light blue nun's veiling, nainsook, and tracing-cloth, as well as butter muslin: these all have different light-arresting powers, and the user must choose for himself if he does not find the stock covering to his liking. A black gauze is sometimes used when it is desired to cut off light without diffusing it. Such a screen is very useful for toning down white draperies without losing the modeling. The reflector also needs no description. As far as its qualities go it should be light in weight, not too large, and capable of being adjusted to various angles. As a rule the surface is too light when purchased, but this defect soon disappears. When the surface gets very grey the material should be, washed, but if it cannot be readily detached from the frame it may have a dressing if Blanco, a sort of pipe clay used by soldiers and for tennis shoes.
           To revert to our original subject of accessories which appear in the picture, I would point out that modern printing and enlarging methods offer such opportunities for control that many of the old negatives which gave meretricious results in albumen or gelatine-chloride would give quite artistic prints upon rough paper with the sharp offensive lights toned down. Uniform sharpness throughout the negative is no longer considered as desirable, so that any falseness of texture in the accessories is not shown in the finished picture. Finally, do not overcrowd your composition; do not use more accessories than are needed. If not needed, do not use them.


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