Shot! Remixes. It happens all the time in music, why not in photography?
I’m interested in many things, but two of my biggest passions happen to be music and photography. As a photographer and writer, I combine the two: taking photos of gigs and portraits of musicians, whilst reviewing concerts and interviewing artists.
I’ve been going to gigs since the age of 14 and seen everyone from ABBA and Adele, right through to The xx and ZZ Top and everything inbetween including the likes of Boston, David Bowie, George Michael, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mott the Hoople, One Direction, Tom Petty, Prince, Queen, Rolling Stones, Royal Blood, Steely Dan and Years & Years.
In music, it’s commonplace for artists work to be remixed by someone else, sometimes to give a new spin, sometimes to completely change how it sounds. All the artists listed above have had their work remixed, indeed, it’s rare that a song or an artist doesn’t get the remix treatment.
Often, the remixes focus on some aspect of the music that you may have not heard, and on occasion, the remix is actually better than the original. In most cases, they are not collaborations, but someone else’s take on someone else’s work. I’ve long held the view the same creative process should happen in photography.
I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and cannot recall any even mentioning the idea of remixing another photographer’s work, let alone actually doing it. I’ve always maintained the only boundaries with my images are the edges of the frame, an ethos I hope manifests itself throughout my body of work.
Unlike those ‘purist’ photographers where it’s only about what happens in the camera, I’ve long held the view that the most creative part of photography is what you can do with the image after you’ve taken it. Like I’m sure many others do, I often find myself looking at someone else’s photo and thinking, if only they’d cropped it like this, or edited it this way or that.
In photography, saying anything other than something positive about another pro’s work seems to be one of those unwritten rules. You rarely, if ever, hear or see one photographer critiquing another’s pictures. I don’t know if I’m alone in doing it, but it’s quite common for me to shout at the screen whenever I see a photo that could so clearly be improved, or at least, made to look more interesting.
I guess it was only a matter of time before those thoughts turned to actually doing something and the trigger came when I chanced upon a photographer who I must admit I had not heard of before. His name is George Hoyningen-Huene.
GHH as I’ll call him, was born in St Petersburg, Russia at the turn of the century (the last century) but spent his life working in Paris, London and in America. His photographic career started in 1926, when aged just 26, he became chief photographer for Vogue in Paris. He went on to have the same role for Harper’s Bazaar in New York, before eschewing fashion and moving to Hollywood in 1946. He also taught photography at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. He died in Los Angeles in 1968. He was 68.
Even though GHH must have taken thousands of photos, there aren’t that many available to see online. Of the few that are, a handful caught my attention and I could see immediatel yhow I would treat them if they were my own images. Indeed, the thinking process is exactly the same as I use when I first go through my own shots and visualise what needs to happen to make them look the way I want them to.
In most cases, that process is entirely instinctive and doesn’t require any experimentation. I know what’s in my mind, the only thing that sometimes gets in the way is my own technical ability to use the programmes at my disposal, especially when it comes to Photoshop.
I make changes to almost every image I create. Far more than the average photographer. Although I have no qualms in improving someone’s appearance by removing spots and blemishes and other skin-based imperfections, and occasionally I’ll remove something (like a microphone) from an image if I feel it’s getting in the way, I never modify a person’s proportions in order to make them look better. It was only natural then to apply the same process to remixing some of GHH’s images.
But before I could do anything, I needed to find not just an image that I liked and felt I could improve upon, but one that was available in the quality I needed. And that wasn’t easy. That’s not to say, GHH’s originals weren’t high quality, just that the vast majority of those that have made it online aren’t. To add to the challenge, I also wanted to create a series of remixes that, visually at least, connected with one another.
Whether I’ve succeeded in my GHH remixes is of course a matter of opinion. Some will prefer the originals, others may be more partial to mine. I’ll let you decide, but I’ll do it in the same way I do with my own images. I never share the original, only the final version. I’m not interested in people comparing the difference between the two, I only care about their reaction to the end image. And it’s the same here.
Not seeing the original does of course mean it’s hard to judge exactly what I’ve done, or how much of a difference I’ve made compared with what I started with. But remember, in the vast majority of cases, one only ever gets to see the final image and it’s that which we form our opinion on.
What would GHH have to say about what I’ve done? Well, being a clearly creative individual, I’d like to think that if he’d had access to the same tools as I do, he too would have experimented with looks that he could not have achieved from the camera alone. Of course, as all photographers were until quite recently, he was limited to some basic modifications in the darkroom and cropping his images when they were printed.
I wanted not only to share the first set of remixes, but also give an insight into why I chose those images and why I did what I did to them.
So, here’s the very first of those images I worked on. It’s a beachwear shoot that GHH did in 1928 for Italian fashion house Schiaparelli’s pour le Sport collection.
Elsa Schiaparelli was a contemporary of Coco Chanel and one of the most prominent fashion designers between the wars. She designed for Mae West, collaborated with Salvador Dali (notably the lobster dress and the shoe hat), but was forced to close her business in 1954. Interestingly, in 2014, the House of Schiaparelli was revived.
I think it’s a brilliant image, but GHH’s original was quite a bit larger and was improved greatly just by a simple crop. I love how geometric the image is, I love the lines on her top, on her amazing shoes (and those on the bottom of the stairpost) I love the simplicity of the couples’ pose, their expressions and even how they are holding their cigarettes at exactly the same angle.
Apart from the woman’s hair style, it’s a shot that could have been taken yesterday. I could have gone further with my editing, but instictively you know when to stop and in this case, I felt nothing more was needed.
This next image was originally taken by GHH in 1929 in the south of France during a swimsuit shoot for Jean Patou.
Jean Patou was a French couturier known for his sportswear. The House of Patou was also a pioneer in designer silk ties and one of the first to move into perfumes. Its most famous scent is Joy which is the world’s second best-selling perfume after Chanel No 5.
The black and white original wasn’t a great resolution, but I just loved the pose. Swimsuits have changed quite a lot since the 20’s, although interestingly, this kind of vintage look seems to be coming back into fashion.
Adding the mono colour and GHH’s name makes the image look contemporary, as does cropping it to a square format. It’s something I’ve been keen on for quite a while now. It’s got nothing to do with Instagram, but everything to do with memories of iconic album covers!
My next GHH image is my personal favourite. Apparently, he felt his vision of a remote and elusive feminine ideal was best portrayed by the serenity of classic Greek sculptures, something that clearly influenced this shot. I’ve read it was inspired by a chiton-clad Greek woman from the temple of Zeus at Olympia in the Louvre.
The photo itself was taken in 1931 for Vionnet and the model is Sonia Colmer. It’s a beautiful image, from Sonia herself, to the way the dress flows, to how it has been lit. To me, she looks like a classical goddess and the photo could have been taken yesterday.
I also think it looks much better in blue than in white. In GHH’s original, the material at the top of the image continued for another couple of feet.
This next remix is of Ava Gardner, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. GHH took this portrait of her in 1956, having shifted from being a fashion photographer to becoming a photographer to the stars.
Originally from North Carolina, Ava Gardner got her break in 1941 when she visited her sister Beatrice in New York. Beatrice’s husband, a professional photographer, took her portrait, which he displayed in the window of his photography studio on Fifth Avenue where — in true Hollywood style — it was spotted by an MGM talent scout. Unlike most of her contemporaries, Ava Gardner was her real name, a name she kept despite being married three times, first to Mickey Rooney and lastly to Frank Sinatra.
As a portrait, it’s quite straightforward. By cropping it to a square format and removing the off the shoulder dress she was wearing, the image now becomes even more provocative as it appears she might be topless.
This next one looks like it was taken during the same shoot in 1931 for Vionnet. It’s not quite as interesting an image, but when I found a high res version, I had to remix it.
Known as the “architect among dressmakers” Madeleine Vionnet founded her fashion house in Paris in 1912, but was forced to close it just two years later due to the onset of WW1. In the Twenties she became enormously successful, although she was always in the shadow of her more flamboyant contemporaries Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Drawing inspiration from Greek art, Vionnet created garments that clung to the shape of the body with a fluidity that echoed its movements. She is also credited with inventing the bias cut, , but perhaps one of the most interesting aspects about her was her tireless fight against plagiarism. Vionnet protected her “coup en bias” from imitations with a copyright and in 1921 she won two lawsuits against forgers that made legal history.
So those are my GHH remixes, all celebrating a talented photographer by giving his images a modern twist almost half a century after he had died. I’ve struggled to find any others that I liked or, more importantly, that were of sufficient resolution that I could work with, but I did find one other of his portraits that I thought was so iconic I just had to do something with it.
It’s a portrait of the Ukrainian-born dancer, Serge Lifar.
Serge Lifar was a huge star in the world of ballet. From 1929 until the outbreak of WW2, he was of the ballet master of the Paris Opéra Ballet which he not only re-established as a leading ballet company, but enhanced the position of male dancers in a company long dominated by ballerinas.
I don’t know when this picture was taken, but it looks like it was at a theatre performance. Apart from those eyes, what I like about it most is just how modern it looks. He could be a fashion model wearing a hoodie!
So those are my six homages to George Hoyningen-Huene. I’d love to do more, but until I find better source material, these are all I can do for now.
Doing them inspired me to look for other images I could remix, but it’s not easy finding ones that fulfil the criteria I’m looking for. So far, I’ve found three more, although the first is not a photo, but an artwork. Well, it’s a photo of an artwork and it’s one that’s only recently been discovered and attributed to a very famous artist.
That artist is MC Escher, someone whose work has enthralled me ever since my schooldays. Not only do I have every book published about him, I’ve been to the Escher museum in Den Haag, Holland, and an exhibition of his work in Rome. Many years ago, I even spent a few memorable hours in the vaults of the Gemuntemuseum in Den Haag looking at their collection of unexibited works and Escher memorabilia.
This particular Escher image was only verified as his in 2015 and is therefore one many will never have seen before. Unlike most of his more famous works, this is not a mathematical puzzle or a trick of the eye, but a rather simple sketch (or etching) of an Italian hill village.
It’s called Montecelio, and judging by contemporary photos of the place, it looks pretty much the same today as it did when Escher drew it in 1924. His original is of course in black and white, but by giving it a vibrant yellow makeover I think it brings it to life.
Later in his career, Escher would make a name for himself with his fantastical images that defied the imagination. He of course had an extraordinary imagination and many of his images look like they were the result of computer manipulation. One can only wonder what he would have achieved had he had access to today’s technology! It would have certainly enabled him to have been much more prolific as his etching process was both extraordinarily time-consuming and, once committed, couldn’t be altered.
Remixing is of course all about altering an original, changing it in some way, that makes it different. Both these next two images are contemporary, taken by photographers who are still around today. I did try to contact both of them to advise what I was doing and hopefully get their approval) but neither responded.
Because I openly acknowledge both of them (on the image and whenever I’ve shared it on social media) I took the view that, if it were me in their position, I wouldn’t have a problem if another photographer did something similar to any of my images that are accessible online.
This is a wonderful portrait of the singer Ella Eyre by Andres Reynaga. I think it was originally taken for a magazine shoot. I’ve shot Ella numerous times on stage and I’ve even interviewed her twice and I know she has fabulous hair. Andres’ shot captures it in all its glory, but also captures Ella in a dream-like state, with her eyes closed.
It’s a great shot. It looks good in colour, but to me it looks even better in blue. I’ve cropped away around half the original image, so the focus is on her hair and (because the original had a lot of space around it) I was able to shift her from the centre to one side.
Continuing the blue theme, is this one of Taylor Swift.
The original was taken at an awards show by Frazer Harrison (who I think happens to be a celebrity photographer based in Hollywood just like GHH himself). I’ve not been able to find Frazer’s original, but I have seen another similar shot that’s clearly from the same sequence.
As usual with red carpet shots, the background is full of logos, so it’s no surprise someone had already cropped it when I found it. I cropped it even more because I felt it would look even better and because the resolution was so good I could.
To me, it was all about those eyes. In the original, they were somewhat lost, in mine, especially with the blue tones, they really come alive. The original was in colour and the background was bright yellow. I did try this in yellow, but much preferred it in blue. I think it would make for a really eye-catching album cover!
As and when I find more images to remix, I’ll add them to this collection. In the meantime, I’d be interested in your views on remixing, in particular what you think of my efforts here. I’d also love to know if any other photographers are doing something similar with other people’s work. If you are, I’d love to see what you’ve done.
Notes: Remember, unlike my own photography, all these images were not created from high resolution source material, but from photos that can be found on the internet. Obviously, the higher the resolution, the more an image can take modification, especially in terms of cropping. If you’re not familiar with my work, virtually every image I create includes a text caption. For me, text is an integral part of my look.
Disclaimer: All these images were taken by the photographer they have been credited to, or in Escher’s case from his original artwork. They or their estates will almost certainly own the copyright. All I have done is remix them. I am not selling these images nor in any way am I attempting to pass them off as mine. Without the original photographs, there would be nothing.
Gary Marlowe | Images Out Of The Ordinary
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