'The hand is the visible part of the brain.'
A couple of weeks ago I was on someone's Model Mayhem page while working on piece for the blog. My eyes kept moving downward, towards his friend list at one particular image. Even small, the avatar drew me to click to see the image larger, and the photographer behind it. The photo in question is the image above. The model, Gary Fletcher, I was familiar with, having featured his work previously on FH. The artist, MikeX2, was new to me, but as I explored his portfolio, I was determined to learn more.
Mike describes his work as intimate and up-close-and-personal and the image of Gary was a beautiful representation of his style of shooting. I was especially fascinated with the placement of Gary's hands and how their positioning created added depth and emotion to the image. As I spent more time with Mike's work I continued to focus on hand placement. In many images of the male form, hand are often ignored and sometimes awkwardly placed. Our hands play such a crucial sensory role in our lives, especially our sensual lives. It is usually our hand, our fingers that feel things first, and it is our hands which first, and often, act as the bridge between our body and our cerebral climaxes.
Through his intimate style of shooting, Mike hopes viewers will connect with the model and visuals. Living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia however, can make finding models a bit of a challenge. The fashion industry is not nearly as big as it is in London, Paris or New York, where finding models is an easier task. Thankfully however, Mike prefers to shoot in new and different environments where he says he finds more ideas and inspiration through experimentation. Mike's studio therefore has become portable as he shoots most of his models while travelling. Most of these images were taken in hotel rooms in Beijing and Shanghai, London, Paris, Melbourne, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai and Tokyo. Being a wandering artist can have both it's advantages and it's challenges and Mike shares with FH, some of his stories from the road, his process and interaction with models and the first time he shot a model completely naked.
Shooting On The Road:
'Certainly shooting in hotel rooms, I am limited to what settings I get with the room. I always hope for a blank wall but some of these hotels over-decorate so it’s hard to find a good wall to shoot against. And also lighting: ‘mood' lighting means minimal lighting which hampers my work! But I don’t find the room limits the emotions. That’s really up to me and the model. Because I'm usually travelling when I shoot, I am limited by how much equipment I can bring with me. But then I challenge myself to work with these limitations. So far I've not had any issues with the hotels I've worked in, I mean, if they had any complaints it should be about me walking around my hotel room naked. Certainly there shouldn't be any complaints with the models being naked. They have much nicer bodies.'
Capturing Moments of Intimacy:
'I usually start with a rough idea of the tone I want for the shoot but I also allow the idea to be shaped by the model when I meet and talk to them. I find that if I stick to my idea as conceived on my own, I don’t really get the best of the model in front of me. I would feel that in such a case I’m wasting the model’s talent. So I talk quite a lot when I shoot - I ask questions, I listen, I tell stories and see how they react… it’s all part of the process and the process therefore shapes the tone of the shoot quite a lot. Yes, the stillness or quietness is intended: because the real art is in the features of the model and I wanted to exclude as many distractions as possible.'
'I have ended a few shoots early before, out of frustration at not getting much out of a model. I do appreciate that because of the nature of the shoot (nudity and all) and how intimate the settings are, some models may take time to warm up. I do sit them down and talk to them before the shoot starts, and guide them through the process but I also expect that they will get more relaxed and allow me to draw them out as the shoot progresses. But most of the time, looking back now, I have ended early for the same reasons: the model doesn’t share my vision for the shoot. And this usually comes from models who are ‘experienced' and therefore come with preconceived ideas or models just don’t really care for the vision. I have also extended shoots because the model was so good I couldn't get enough of them so the process then becomes a creative-collaborative thing. it’s magical when that happens.'
Finding Just The Right Model...
'Before Model Mayhem, I advertised with on-line classifieds. I always ask for a head shot and an upper body shot photos first and try my best to decide, on email, whether the candidate is good enough. So I screen them that way - it’s harder than it sounds. With MM, there’s less of a guesswork and I get much more control. Because I can see their portfolio, they can describe the genre of photos they are interested to do, and the models can even specify whether they do nudes or not in their description of themselves. So it saves some time. But even with MM, you can’t tell what personalities the models have and that’s a really important part of my shoot.'
'Most, I think, are posed with much intent. But many do happen in the moment - but it does vary with the model. As mentioned before, I do talk to the models a lot throughout the shoot so if a pose isn't working, we just talk through it until I'm happy with the outcome. I guess I always try to find the sweet spot of performance: going past the point where I have to explain and instruct in detail, to the point when the model and I just click (no pun intended) and understand each other without having to say more than the minimal. And when that happens, the poses become natural, ‘complete’ and fluid - and I burn through memory cards very quickly! That would be a good shoot.'
The First Time:
'At my first nude shoot I was nervous. It was made worse by the model having a semi hard on as he pulled down his underwear, which I wasn't really prepared for, at the time, being my first and all. I didn't know the model, and there he was having an erection that I didn't ask for, in front of me and I was supposed to focus on... what? I think that’s my worst nightmare: that is to find a situation that I don’t know how to handle, because I had not mentally gone through the preparation to handle it photographically. It’s distracting and I end up with a ‘distracted’ result. Sometimes it’s a happy ending, sometimes not. In the end, the first shoot went well. I think I could have done more with the model, maybe. But because it was my first I didn't want to push it too far, too quickly. '
'Before the shoot: I plan out, in as much detail as I can bear, the shoot itself. I hate this part of the process but it’s quite necessary to make sure I don’t miss things as I get into the moment of the shoot. I look for images with the look and feel that I want to do, I even plan out some poses by sketching them out on my iPad, and get the props ready (such as a pair of underwear). Meeting the model: a chat. I do a brief intro. I get to know them and allow them to know me a little. I usually spend a good 15 minutes on this (on paid time!) so the models relax before we start
'During the shoot: I like to get to know the model through the camera. I find that my eyes tend to be more forgiving without the camera - just part of our normal politeness I suppose - but with the camera I see all the flaws. So then I have to work out ways of working around those flaws, such as slight flab on the tummy, or skinny arms, or bad hair. And then I have to get into the ‘flow’ zone: keep describing my vision and also keep getting the model to relax and be confident, and keep shooting.'
'After the shoot: download all the photos, back them up. Collapse in a heap of exhaustion, usually. Sometimes a model is so good I get excited to start processing the photos… but that’s a WHOLE different process in itself. Processing: selection is usually a pain. Depending on how deep into the flow I get, I can easily shoot up to 2,000 photos in one go. Some days I have 2-3 shoots in a day. So photo selection can take a long time, sometimes over days. But once I’ve done the selection, then I process the photos. This is then like a painting and I won’t go into this because it’s the most excruciating part of the process and because it’s, to me, still very ‘moody’. I have not yet settled on a ‘look’ as some photographers have, so I play with lots of different styles. Then I discard more than half. So with each model I usually only end up with a handful of photos that I’m truly happy with. Some models I ended up with ONE photo. It’s still worth it! Non-photographers would probably ask why do I waste so much time and energy, so many photos… Meh. It’s my art. What can I say. I love it!'
MikeX2 on ModelMayhem