Sam Haskins, "In the Studio" Weekly Discussion #11

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by c_watson|1, Feb 2, 2014.

  1. It's easy to appreciate the stylistic innovation and sophistication in Sam's work. His ideas and influence are obvious in current fashion/editorial photography, though they're seldom acknowledged or understood. What's always impressed me most about Haskins is the strong sense of graphic design obvious in his work. It's prominent in the shot I chose for this week's discussion:

    http://sam-haskins.tumblr.com/image/18346114496

    I'm slowly working out a project with photographer friends and amateur models, rookie MUAs and stylists to shoot a series that pays homage to his style and vision in both re-created '60s and contemporary settings. It's funny how my lame pitch alone(famous '60-'70s photographer blah-blah) never hooks 'em as effectively as a first look at the b&w images from Haskin's "Cowboy Kate" or "Five Girls."

    If Haskins' work is new to you, there's a sizeable archive of his photos available online to explore.
     
  2. Wow, I love this photo. And no, I'd never seen it before. You are right about the graphic design element. All of the equipment precisely arranged in 90 deg angles, the window frame, the relaxed, but almost perpendicular arrangement of photographer and model. I love the "tea" theme that's going on too -- the work surface clamped to the dolly with the tea set, the model with the tea cup in her hand. It's a beautifully conceived and executed image. Delightful!
     
  3. The shot in his South African studio is a good example of his sense of and control of composition, but also interesting in providing a seldom portrayed interaction of photographer and his subject. In spite of all the technical equipment and their graphical elements that dominate the image, I get the feeling of the collaborative and relaxed connection between the two. A somewhat unique moment.
    A look at his portfolio is worthwhile and shows some fine examples of composition, light and other graphic elements that show his artistic ability, together with well composed images of more commercial intent yet somewhat gimmicky. When they work artistically they are very fine, but some I find soulless and cold and don't communicate a lot (and other than the aesthetics of beautiful subjects) beyond some visual humour. His graphical sense is impressive.
     
  4. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    The dramatic black and whites really make this photo. Everything is well set up by design, well thought out. I saw this photo long a go and was much impressed with it. Now that I know more about photography, I see more in it. I wonder why there is no lens on the 8x10 view camera. Perhaps he is wondering where he put it? That bellows extension with a normal 300mm lens would give a 17 inch focus distance and 2:1 macro. I suspect the bellows extension was put on for this photo alone. I'm glad he avoided the cliche of having the model nude. That certainly would have detracted from the overall balanced impact of the scene.

    I like the look of old time studios with large format cameras and studio lights. Back in the 1950s Bob Cummings with Ann B. Davis had a TV show called "Love that Bob" in which he played a photographer. I like watching reruns of that show just to admire the equipment used back then.

    http://jdainis.com/bcummings.jpg
     
  5. I dig it. Very playful stuff without being jokey. If I'm recalling correctly I first saw his work in a Kodak book on studio lighting, 20 or so years ago.
    Nearly every element seems carefully arranged, from the placements in the studio (without regard to function, as James observed), to the draping of the cords and positioning of the legs of the stands. Even the reflector behind the photographer's head seems to angle sympathetically with his body posture.
    It looks and feels very much of an era, and a wry pastiche of and homage to his fellow photographers.
     
  6. I can agree with most of the prior comments, especially those from Arthur and Lex. I like the array of dark equipment against the light rectilinear shapes of the windows. There is obviously a working relationship between the two people in the photo, but at this particular moment they seem to be in their own worlds and oblivious to each other.

    It is possible that Haskins wanted to show the thought and complexities behind his studio work, to remind viewers that his photos may look easy, but the process is anything but. The photographer (and the model) must not only have an aesthetic sense, but be skilled technicians. In the photo, the photographer is portrayed looking a bit downward, with hand on head, almost like Rodin's Thinker - thinking about all the things he needs to control in order to get his shot. Even during a break in the action, he is immersed in the work. As others pointed out, the equipment is not arranged and ready for a photo. It looks to me more like a portrayal of the photographer's thoughts - studying the inventory of his tools, and lines and curves (the stands and cords) against a graph (the window frames), as he considers what equipment is needed next, and the performance specs of the camera, flash, film, and chemistry.

    The model is also on a break, yet she still seems to be thinking about, and perfecting, her craft as she sips the tea. Her pose is not not entirely relaxed, and is a bit practiced, as if she knows that even though the pose feels a little awkward and unsteady, it will represent 'relaxed' in a photograph.

    Most of the elements in the photo are hard-edged, rigid, metallic, electric or electronic, and it gives a feel of precision, accuracy, control, predictability, and reliability. Possibly Haskins wanted to illustrate that these traits are behind all his studio work, even if the end product looks playful or spontaneous. Even the photographer has a rigid, mechanical, robotic look, helped along by the substitution of a stool for a leg, and his proximity to the mechanical butler (the view camera and stand) that is serving the tea. Is he saying that he is partially a calculating android in the studio? His robotic nature may be the reason he needs no tea or nourishment during breaks, like his human compatriot.

    I prefer to enjoy this photograph for its design and execution, as Sarah, James, and others have expressed. One could, however, see it as a (tongue-in-cheek) portrait of an executioner and the condemned. The woman is sipping tea, like a prisoner might have a last cigarette or a last meal. The setting is clinical and light, like some execution rooms. She is surrounded by representations of execution devices - a hangman's rope overhead, electric cords (wired to her chair?), a gun (the camera (in this case a cannon)) that can be loaded and shot, an axe (the silvery lamp), and she is seated on a garotte with the screw near her neck. Admittedly, it may be a far-fetched interpretation using worn-out metaphors. One could also look at the model's carefree pose and tea-sipping as a warning against injecting aggression or violence into the scene.

    There have been discussions in the past about other photographs that have a cropped elbow or foot. Here we have the photographer's elbow clipped, and the model's backside cut off. How do you feel about this? Would it be an improvement to include all of the figures? Does it feel claustrophobic? Or does this crop serve a good purpose here?
     
  7. Never seen this image before and I must admit that I "don't get it". Seems like a studio snapshot taken with too long a lens - hence the cut-off elbow of the man and the missing back of the model. But to be a mere snapshot, the arrangement is "too perfect", except for whatever it is that's growing out of the top of his head. The atmosphere doesn't seem relaxed - he seems worried and a bit exhausted, whereas she seems to challenge or dare him. Almost like he explained something and she didn't get it and now he is close to doing a face palm. The lack of a lens on the camera indicates that he isn't actually about to take pictures of her - which goes along with the other equipment not being ready for a shoot. Taking a break? But then why isn't he sitting down? Two cups of tea - but he isn't drinking. An image full of contradiction - I am actually more interested in the story behind it then the image itself.
     
  8. I think we don't see what's cut off at the edges of the frame, which are objects as well as human body parts (and that may just be the point!), because we don't need to see them. For me, sometimes getting a photo is just a matter of suspension of everyday logic and immersion into visual metaphor and stagecraft.
    IMO, it's a great shot. It's cool and detached, yet in a penetrating way. It's an aloofness housed in geometry and formality of design and, rather than shutting me out, it makes me want to know . . . or at least wonder.
     
  9. Clearly the stark tonality lends a great deal of impact. And I agree that the geometry the photographer emphasized is quite powerful. To me, though, the real success of the image lies in the photographer and model positioned at opposite sides as if to raise a question of identity. Who is in control here?
     
  10. I hate to say it, but for me this is a perfect example of the triumph of style over substance. It brings out my juvenile sense of humor - metaphorically speaking, I want to take a felt tip pen and draw a speech bubble next to the photographer figure with something like "C**p! I booked the assistants and the clothes for TOMORROW!"
     
  11. I wish that I had an 8x10 to lean on while sipping tea with young ladies! ;-)
    Interesting concept!
     
  12. Haskins was apparently taken with this set-up:
    http://sam-haskins.tumblr.com/image/24877199706
    The answer as to what lens he used may be here:
    http://sam-haskins.tumblr.com/image/66730427697
     
  13. "I hate to say it, but for me this is a perfect example of the triumph of style over substance."
    We needed for a break from TIME/LIFE gravitas. Haskins was a light-hearted technician.
     
  14. I like David's comment of "style over substance" in terms of the content of the photo. Maybe one could say it also works as style of physical substance? It is a sort of well composed homage to massive studio equipment, within the environment of a studio and its human participants, visually intriguing for its presentation of form and lines and the gear of which would likely have impressed clients at that time were it not for the questioning pose of the photographer.
     
  15. We needed ... a break from TIME/LIFE gravitas. Haskins was a light-hearted technician.
    Absolutely, CW - no criticism of your choice intended or implied. I for one have enjoyed revisiting Haskins' work, prompted by this thread, and doing some background reading, a process which I started when I bought a copy of the reprinted "Cowboy Kate" a few years ago .
    For example, I had thought that he was purely a 1960s phenomenon but find that he had a full career until his recent death. I had also thought that he was mainly a commercial photographer, with the girl pix as a side project, but find that, although he did commercial work throughout his career, he racked up sales with, for example, "Cowboy Kate And Other Stories" of one million copies - if we consider that so many photo books cover their costs barely if at all, and that sales of 5,000 copies are considered a great success, this is an undeniable achievement and of course indicates that his work generated considerable resonance.
    But ... while giving credit where credit is due, and acknowledging Haskins' considerable technical skill, I find that all in all I have not moved from the initial feeling I had on first seeing his work in the 60s, namely that he has an infantile and objectified view of women which ultimately makes his work very shallow. I in no way mean to suggest that Haskins was a misogynist or was abusive of women in any way, but I do have to say that I find a study of his work in the end unrewarding.
     
  16. Two for twee?
     
  17. "...I have not moved from the initial feeling I had on first seeing his work in the 60s, namely that he has an infantile and objectified view of women which ultimately makes his work very shallow. I in no way mean to suggest that Haskins was a misogynist or was abusive of women in any way, but I do have to say that I find a study[​IMG] of his work in the end unrewarding."
    Sorry, David, but that's a bit overcooked. Because Haskin's managed to stay on the margins of fashion photography, he was able to retain a degree of creative control unavailable to others caught up in the "industry." I simply see far more of what you dislike about Haskin's women in then-contemporary fashion photography than in his '60s work.
     
  18. Because Haskin's managed to stay on the margins of fashion photography, he was able to retain a degree of creative control unavailable to others caught up in the "industry." I simply see far more of what you dislike about Haskin's women in then-contemporary fashion photography than in his '60s work.
    Perhaps you will agree that Bailey was at the epicenter of 60s fashion photography. Consider this image (the famous one of Paulene Stone and the squirrel, in case the link doesn't work);
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/435793701413264446/
    Bailey was a notably priapic photographer, but for me the essential difference is that Bailey's women were in on the joke and enjoying it as much as DB himself. It's "just" my personal opinion of course, but I can't stop thinking that SH was photographing his own wet dreams.
     
  19. Bailey snagged Deneuve and Haskins didn't. Good on him. Both men shot in the era when they ran the show--not stylists and designer reps obsessed with product placement. I still see echoes of Bailey's work with Jean Shrimpton, especially the famous New York shoot, in today's work. Fond of that working-class crew--Bailey, Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy--who rocked 60's fashion photography. Would love to see Bailey's big show at the National Portrait Gallery.
     
  20. I really like this shot. I have never seen it before. Thanks for posting this.
     
  21. I had the privilege of working with Sam Haskins on the technical aspects of his gritty, grainy technique when he was producing "Kowboy Kate." I was a Kodak technical advisor at the time. Sam gave me a signed copy of the book, which I treasure to this day. He was a fun guy and a pleasure to work with.
     

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