Over afternoon tea, photographer Audrey Penven and I confessed we were obsessed with staircases. Claustrophobic and caged, these transitional spaces are disconnected from the spaces they connect. Designed for the shape of human movement, they contain many small levels, each leading to the next moment. Vital in the journey, but most often disregarded.
I always felt like doorways and staircases held the most secrets. The immediacy of emotion carried from one place to another. It’s never the destination: No one stays too long.
As a child, I remember a tiny doorway guarding a large black void under stairs descending to the basement. My father referred to it as the “crawlspace.” There was nothing in there, no one ever went in there. I was terrified of it, almost to a point of reverence.
Audrey and I began searching for the perfect location. But that was just it, we wanted to shoot in darkness–so that meant we had to find an empty staircase, inside, elegant, with no foot traffic–that was ornate with ironwork, but no patterns on the walls or steps. No small task.
We wanted to play with shadow. I mentioned to Audrey that I loved the idea of incorporating lace textures, perhaps shoot through lace. She had the incredible idea to project actual lace onto the entire shot. She wasn’t sure exactly how this would be done– so I’m honored to say that Audrey and Mike Estee actually invented a projection device for this very photo shoot. You can read about its last minute creation in detail on Mike’s blog, and Audrey discusses the challenges of the process on her site. I love the fact that a new invention exists because of this project!
We got a lead on a staircase that sounded ideal–in a well known downtown San Francisco office building. We’d have to sneak in late at night though, black out the ugly florescent lights in the stairwell, and make sure no one sees us… This entire series of portraits with intricate projection experiments was created stealth, with next to no prep time, and in only a couple of hours.
That’s why I am even more thrilled with these portraits and want to share the backstory. These are some of the most captivating shots I can recall, and there was no crew, professional sets, or elaborate lighting fixtures. All were created by Audrey alone, adjusting one tiny light source again and again, in the wee hours, hiding in a third floor office stairwell, hoping no one would walk through!
Maybe that’s why they evoke such suspense…
Due to the fragility of the lace “slides” and the heat of the bulb, the lace could not be constantly projected on the walls behind me, so neither of us knew where the lace fell until we looked at the shots. It’s not Photoshop, this is what happened live. Trial and error. That’s why it made it all the more special to see these beautiful results. We literally had no idea.
As you have seen, one of the shots has even become the landing page for the new website. It’s the perfect portal. Behind the bars– am I keeping you out? Am I the one trapped within? Do you dare enter my world? There is such mysterious tension and allure with this photo. It beckons, yet…
Many thanks to Eli Rosseter and Aaron Muszalski for being our assistants and guardian angels.