Silver Award – 2018 PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris
Sharon’s stunning album cover portrait has won again, this time receiving a Silver Award at the 2018 PX3 Prix de la Photographie Parisinternational photography awards, chosen by a jury panel from over 7,000 entries from 100 countries around the world.
6th Place – Australian Photography Awards
Sharon’s gorgeous album cover image won 6th place in the highly contested ‘Portrait’ category of the 2017 Australian Photography Awards. Cracking the top ten country-wide is a huge achievement – nice one Sharon!
Retro-yet-futuristic android inspired theme? Check.
Coloured lights and tech-y projections? Check.
Personal love of sci-fi and surreal weird stuff? Check.
Inspirational photoshoot playlist with music from 8-bit Circuit Bent and Kraftwerk? A-firm-a-tive.
There’s nothing better than pulling together a shoot that combines a bunch of things you really dig. We were super stoked to be commissioned by award-winning music composers Matt Rankin and Vanessa Nimmo to create the cover art for their debut album “This Version Is No Longer Supported“, released in September 2017. In addition to digital distribution the album also has a small release on limited edition vinyl – nice!
“Retro, dark and Creepy”
On the album Matt & Vanessa take sounds they’ve sampled from scavenged retro technology items – things like rotary dial telephones, typewriters and old 8-bit computer games – and weave them into a surreal soundscape through sampling, looping, and computer processing.
We wanted the cover art to reflect the ‘retro-futuristic’ vibe of the album. In the album artwork concept meeting, Matt and Vanessa specified they wanted the cover photo to 1) feature their faces, 2) to be “dark and creepy”, and 3) if they could “somehow look like automatons, that would be cool.”
Enter Image Workshop’s resident unashamedly-retro-scifi-loving-geek Sharon, who went into concept creation overdrive with excitement on this project. It was On like Donkey Kong.
Given limited budget and a tight timeline, we opted to focus on a simple-but-striking studio shot that wouldn’t require an elaborate set or location.
With a personal love of retro electronic music, Sharon drew inspiration from old album covers, sci fi tropes and even vintage propaganda design, honing in on two main elements to impart a retro-futuristic flavour: dramatic split-lighting and ‘expressionless subject looking off camera’ pose.
Sharon also wanted to throw some live light projection into the mix (yayyy in-camera effects!) so we procured a digital projector, busted out the Profoto Colour Effects gel pack and spent a day prelighting the concept using Brence as a stand-in.
Matt and Vanessa decided they didn’t want any natural skin tones to appear in the image – “too human!” – so we opted for an all-out hot-cherry-and-electric-blue colour palette to give a throwback 80s-esque feel.
The rest of the art direction flowed easily. A black shirt with the perfect round neckline was selected, and hairstyles locked in. Vanessa: “How should I do my hair?” Sharon: “It should be ‘efficient’, like a character from the movie Gattaca” Vanessa: “Got it!”
Our original plan for the light projections was to play with generic images of computer circuit diagrams and traditional musical notation. But on shoot-day-morning Sharon was struck by an idea mid-shower (it really IS where the best ideas come from) and a quick phone call to Matt ensued: “Matt, can you send me some of your actual music-based computer code?” Matt was happy to comply (good android) and we used his own code in the projector, which contains groovy little phrases like “append pitches” and “loop melodic forms”.
Executing the image
All lighting and colour effects were captured in-camera. Precision was key – the projected code was precisely aligned to wrap around facial features exactly how we wanted it. Any minor movement had a big impact on where the text fell, so Matt and Vanessa had to be robotically-still as we made millimeter adjustments to the projector positioning.
Sharon says “I love how the musical computer code worked in the final image – to me it looks like a window into the inner machinations of Matt and Vanessa’s android-alter-ego minds.”
Everything was geared towards symmetry, and we shot Matt and Vanessa separately to maintain absolutely identical lighting for both of them by using a single setup. This meant we shot both of them looking in the same direction. Vanessa’s face would be flipped in post to look left instead of right, which also meant we had to use the digital projector’s ‘rear screen’ function to project the computer code on Vanessa as a mirror image, so that when her face was flipped in post the text would read correctly and not be mirrored.
Sharon also wanted complete symmetry of Matt and Vanessa’s eyelines, with the same viewing angle and ocular convergence (detail nerd at work). A light stand with a piece of cloth attached to it positioned off camera served as a target for Matt and Vanessa to look at, so when their faces were brought together in post there would be an eerie symmetry to their gaze.
The images were 90% complete in camera, with Photoshop used for minor facial retouching and to join both heads together into one unified image. Sharon also removed visible catchlights from eyes – a tiny alternation that gives a subtle-yet-creepy robot-like feel to the faces. She added a heavy dark vignette but left a brighter blue glow emanating from behind & between the two heads, “like the shining dawn of our new android future.”
But wait there’s more – the back cover
Physical record covers have backs, and we needed an image for the back cover for the vinyl pressing. While the front cover has a ‘future/digital’ vibe, we wanted to complement it with a ‘old school/analogue’ feel on the back. We set up a still life image featuring Vanessa’s gorgeous vintage all-manual typewriter (whose clickity-clack key noises were sampled for one of the album tracks).
To tie the front and back covers together visually and have them relate to each other, we used the same string of computer code that we projected onto Matt & Vanessa’s faces appears – this time hand-typed onto paper. Lit with a blue wash and pink highlights, it’s a great companion image to the front portraits.
Dark? Weird? Surreal? Our work here is done!
Photography & art direction: Sharon Blance / Image Workshop
Lighting & assistant: Brence Coghill / Image Workshop
Models: Vanessa Nimmo & Matt Rankin
Retouching: Sharon Blance / Image Workshop
Graphics & pre-press: Stephanie Bradley
Vinyl edition printed by: Zenith Records