More or less a year ago, my (Fuji X100Ts) project “Anthropocene” was exhibited in Barcelona, at the University art center ‘Campus de la Ciutadella Pompeu Fabra’, an underground/ex-industrial venue in the heart of the La Ciutadella district. My work was exhibited together with other arts within the 5th edition of Al-Tiba9, an art event created and curated by Mo’ Mohamed Benhadj & Mazia Djab. The event was a great success, and the exhibition was soon extended and moved to Arteria, a very active art gallery in Barcelona.
At the time I had the pleasure to meet with the curators and to present them my new works and ideas, which were (and are) more and more related to fashion. Mo’ Mohamed (who’s also a performer artist) was really interested in how to mix fashion and art, because he himself was in the process of creating a mix of performance art event and fashion show, the Al-Tiba9 Contemporary Fashion Weekend, which eventually happened last May, and which I was invited to photograph.
Since I had to fly to Barcelona for the job, I needed a setup that could fit in half of a ‘flight check-in’ trolley, leaving the other half for my clothes and amenities. At the same time, I needed some serious gear to do the job, which included backstage photographs (35mm equivalent), venue photographs (35mm-50mm equivalent), fashion-editorial photos (50mm-135mm equivalent) and headshots/beauty photos (135mm equivalent) in all sorts of light conditions. Nothing is better than Fujifilm gear in this field, with its fantastic XF23mmF2, XF35mmF2, XF56mmF1.2, and XF90mmF2. Together with these, I brought my three Fujifilm cameras, the X-T20, the X-T1 graphite and the X-T10. I really love how I can wear three bodies with three primes with the overall weight of a full-frame DSLR with the classic 24-70mmF2.8. Same weight, way better results.
I arrived at the venue the day before the event, in order to see the place, check the lights, and meet the stylists, the crew, and the models. The stylists were four young creators of art and fashion: New York Fashion Institute of Technology graduates Twins NG2, Prague-based Belarusian designer Al Yakubouskaya, Jordanian designer Farahourani (who studied at the London Fashion Institute and was a finalist on the TV show Fashion Star Arabia), and Russian designer Roman Ermakov with his eye-popping “Living Sculptures”.
That day I captured a bit of backstage preparation, with the arrival of the collections, the fitting of the clothes on the models, the fixing of the venue, etc, but everyone was pretty relaxed. But the next day things got really, really busy for everybody, myself included. From 4pm til the beginning of the event, at 8pm, I constantly moved from shooting the make-up artists (from 88) working on their make-up on the models, the stylists working on their clothes on the models, the venue getting ready for the event, and, while I was there, I managed to squeeze in a couple of editorial-style photographic session with the new collections and the make-up.
For the beauty headshots I placed the models in front of one of the concrete walls of the underground venue, using a ring-flash (kindly provided by the make-up artist) to light up their faces. I opted for the Fujinon XF90mmF2 and its great macro to get super close-up beauty shots with tons of details and beautiful bokeh wide open at f/2.
For the editorial-style photos, I opted for two different looks for two different collections. The first collection, from Twins NG2, was very rich in textures so I opted for shooting it inside the venue, having the subject close to a window to get some soft, indirect, lateral, and natural light that would enhance the textures and the contrasts in the colors. The second collection, from Farahourani, was mainly all plain black but for the shiny, monochromatic, 3D printed elements, so I preferred heading outside and using a white-ish wall to play contrast with the black dresses. I then used some of the 3D printed elements, having them projecting shadows on the models’ faces, to enhance the play of forms and lines that are the stylist’s signature.
Then at 8pm the event started, and I found myself wearing the shoes of the runway photographer, working hard and focusing harder on getting every single piece of the collections well-captured. For that I preferred the XF56mmF1.2 over the more obvious XF90mmF2, due to the short distance I had from the runaway spot with the best light. I set the camera on f/2 and 1/500 sec, so as to get sharp photos of moving subjects while blurring the background a bit. I didn’t go up to f/1.2 to give me some depth of field. I set the focus mode on continuous, so I would keep the focus button halfway pressed, with the subject always inside the focusing squared point, and I would shoot when the subject was under the proper light. I set the shutter on continuous-high, so I would shoot a burst of three rapid photos, so that I could have a chance to choose the best model’s expression from the three shots.
Then, to make things more interesting/complicated, two of the stylists decided to work with completely different and utterly painful to shoot (sorry, I meant interesting) light sources: Al Yakubouskaya used a projector to light her models with patterns coming from their very same clothes microscopic close-ups, while Roman Ermakov darkened the whole venue with black-lights to enhance the vivid colors and the dreamy shapes of his creatures.
Luckily all of my four Fujinon primes are fast lenses which, together with the excellent Fuji sensors, gave me enough room to work with the (lack of) light. The autofocus worked perfectly even under these circumstances, which was a big relief: in terms of very-low-light autofocus, mirrorless are now way better than DSLRs, and that’s a great thing.
I included here a very short selection of the produced photos, trying to show all the lenses I used and the light conditions I had to work with, to give you a good idea of what was the day and what came out. The beauty shots and the editorial ones were post-produced with Lightroom and Photoshop, with the usual mix of frequency separation, dodge and burn, and color correction. The backstage photos, instead, were only edited in Lightroom.
I am very pleased with the results and, what’s more important, so was the client. All the three Fujifilm cameras worked perfectly trough out the whole, frantic, day, while the four primes delivered great results within a small and lightweight package. The continuous focusing mode proved to be a natural fit for a runway shooting, with the fast lenses and the performing sensors allowing for a fast shutter speed and sharp and clean results.
Curator and Organizer: Mo’ Mohamed Bendaj
Make-Up and Hairstyle: Make Up School by David Molina