Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Alyssa Lorraine
Model: Joanna Bajena
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Alyssa Yee, Haiyin Lin
Accessories: Harlequin Romantique

So I can't remember the exact beginning now, but sometime last year I saved a few pieces of work by Georges de La Tour onto my computer. They sat innocuously on my harddrive, idling for a long time. Until one day, I came upon the images again, and suddenly was all like, candlelight is so cool! Who did this? I want to try this! And so I went looking for more of his paintings.

The Dream of St Joseph
Christ in the Carpenters Shop - detail
The Penitent Magdalen

Sadly, planning the shoot wasn't as easy as when inspiration struck. We spent a couple weeks researching and sourcing for chambersticks I liked and ended up buying a handful -- from thrift stores, etsy, and one even came from Turkey. But lighting was a little tricky. After numerous tests and false starts I was worried that it was simply not going to work -- I didn't have anything that felt right to shoot with. The concept took a backseat after a while.

And then I scheduled a shoot with Joanna.

I didn't plan on shooting this concept at all initially (I had something else in mind entirely), but once we were done with the hair, makeup and styling, I knew I wanted to try. I took out the candles and candlesticks and started testing to see which ones worked best. The team probably thought I was just trying out the idea, which I often do on set for Motherland, but will then discard and go back to my original concept. When I carried on with this and eventually said, "Ok, we're done." I think everyone was pretty surprised haha. Yay for spontaneity on set?

A few days later, Toby and I went to check out the Vermeer exhibition at the Frick, and guess what, they totally had a de La Tour painting in permanent collection! When I saw it I was like, what, how did I not notice this the first time? I stared at it for a long while in disbelief. Because dude, this is fate. And I totally experienced a boatload of feelings here. Life was awesome.

When I finished up the picture some days later, I couldn't shake this special sense of affinity I'd come to feel for the picture because of the experience. Just ahh, life can be so interesting sometimes. 

And that's the story for this piece. :D Working on the last 2 now~~ 

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Uncensored image can be viewed on my Tumblr.

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Gregg Brockington
Model: Germaine Persinger
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Bitna Kim, Tiffany Liu
Necklace & Body Chain: Harlequin Romantique

At the beginning of last year I did a self portrait in water. Motherland Chronicles had just started and the only model I had was myself, sometimes I just edited old photos for weeks I didn't shoot self portraits. I've been meaning to reuse the kiddy pool and shoot a model in it ever since then, but at the same time, I'd been circumspect about doing it because the water gets very cold, first hand experience and all that.

Eventually though, I was just like, omg screw this I want to shoot in water again! And so I made as much preparations as I could, and did all the things I didn't do the first time -- lined the floor with carpet, tarp and blankets, turned up the heater, and hoped for the best. And with more assistants, we were also able to constantly add hot water to the pool and that definitely helped with the water temperature. So thank you my lovely team for the great effort in keep Germaine warm.

Besides water, the other key element here are the flowers. There's not much to say about it other than I just arrange them however I think will look good for the shot depending on the model's pose. But I do however want to share a random interesting thought that occurred to me the other day. :D

So pretty much every time I decide to use flowers in a shoot, I buy them from the deli/florist down the street on the day itself. And since the choices are based on the season and what they stock at the shop on that very day, it means the store's inventory kind of influences and decides how and what I'm shooting each time. Take a moment to absorb the significance of that.

It basically goes like, here is a complete stranger deciding on what flowers to sell at his stands on any given day, because he thinks they will sell, I go there, make an arbitrary selection, bring them home, shoot something that's kind of important to me, post it on the internets. That person literally set the direction for a part of my life for a day, and affects what you see in the end artwork. Isn't that kind of awesome and mind-boggling? Just a little bit?

So anyway, random thought is random! But it makes me really thankful for these guys selling flowers, cuz if not for them many of the pieces for Motherland Chronicles wouldn't have happened at all. Thank you deli market strangers, you're awesome.

And that's that! A really super random anecdote from doing the series and shooting at home. Hope everyone's having a great week so far~ 8D

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Tatyana Kharkova
Model: Germaine Persinger
Assistants: Tiffany Liu, Melissa Castor, Evenlyn Liu
Dress: Leonid Gurevich.
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique

Shot with Profoto's new Umbrella Deep XL White~ Check out the post feature here. :D

Motherland Chronicles #43 - Dreaming

Motherland Chronicles #43 - Dreaming

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Alex Stoddard, Diana Chao, Sophia Chang
Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique
Housing and strobe rental: AB Sea Photo, LA

More underwater. Read behind-the-scenes and things I learned from from this shoot here.

Motherland Chronicles #40-41 - From the Ashes

Motherland Chronicles #40, #41 - From the Ashes

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Kelsey Petersen
Makeup: Satya Linak
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Pyrotechnician: Sky Rockit
Production Assistant: Sophia Chang
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Xun Chi 
Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique

Last year I was on set shooting the campaign for a fragrance ad where we set a car on fire. Ever since then, I'd been itching to play with fire again, because who doesn't wanna play with some for their photography?

When I was back in Irvine in November I decided to do something about it, so together with the team we drove to Salton Sea. Mostly because I wanted an unlimited open space to work where no one will disturb us regardless of what we did, but also because I wanted fire on water (or is it water on fire?). I'm so close to actually trying this underwater, I think I may just try figure that out for next time. This was a really fun experience. :D

In other news, I'm months behind schedule for blog posts so I'll just be updating photos for now. I'll work backwards in adding behind the scenes after the project is done, if time permits. Only 4 more pieces left and it's a wrap! Can't wait for the book~

Happy new year everyone! ♥

Motherland Chronicles #42 - Tabitha

Motherland Chronicles #42 - Tabitha

Photography/makeup: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Model: Tabitha Ashura
Photo Assistants: Alyssa Yee, Shirley Yu
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique

Tabby is a model and friend of one of my favorite artists Lu Cong. He was in NY a while ago and introduced us when he came on set one of my shoots. 

I meant to do a casting test with Tabby but she stayed so far from me I ended up making it a Motherland shot in the end haha and did the makeup and everything to. So if it looks less stellar than usual you know whose fault that is. :( 

Also took a couple clean portraits while testing the new Profoto umbrellas, the light is so gorgeous! :3

Love this one so much cuz it looks exactly like her expressions in Lu Cong's paintings :D 

I'd been meaning to do a behind-the-scenes for the fire shoot but haven't had time, so this is up first, till I get around to finishing that one~ :D

Motherland Chronicles #39 - Underwater

Motherland Chronicles #39 - Underwater

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Alex Stoddard, Diana Chao, Sophia Chang
Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique
Housing and strobe rental: AB Sea Photo, LA

My second underwater attempt! I had to deal with equipment all on my own this time and holy cow it was so freaking stressful. ._.

I use a 1Ds Mark III which may be old now, but cost me an arm and a leg when I bought it in 2008, so I was epically nervous each time I had to open up the housing then go back down into the water again. Thank god it didn't flood.  >_<

Camera in the housing!

I had to practice opening/closing the housing and changing the ports/domes for like 2 hours at home to make sure I'd remember everything haha.

Someone also randomly asked me on Instagram how much this weighed so I did a quick google and added the weights together, it totals up to roughly 5.3kg/12lbs! A lot lighter once underwater of course, but still pretty hefty!

 
Anyway I really liked this picture. ^^ I haven't been doing as much person-in-motion photos compared to my early work, so I thought it's a nice change and addition to the series. 

Also definitely a little influenced by Toby's work since we bounce ideas and sketches back and forth a lot in the project. Check out his triptych that pairs up with mine for this week - 

Motherland Chronicles #39 - Triptych II: Waterwalker by Tobias Kwan

On the technical side -- I think I'll have to update my underwater tips post now -- I've definitely learned a couple new things doing everything on my own this time. 

Here are some things I've done differently from the first shoot:

Lens

The first time I shot underwater I used a Tokina 10-17mm on a Nikon D300. But even with the sensor's crop factor, it's equivalent to about 15-25mm on a full frame, still a really wide focal length considering my usual lens is 70-200mm. This time, as I rented my own housing, I got to use my own camera so I tried shooting with the 16-35mm and 50mm. Both worked out great, but the 16-35 probably worked the best for full body. I can definitely see 50mm being perfect for something like beauty though. 

Assistants

I felt that one assistant wasn't enough the last time, so this time round I got four! :D It may sound a little excessive (it totally did to me) but it turned out just right. I had 2 assistants help with everything that needed adjustment underwater: fabrics, dress, strobe cords, etc. And the other 2 for the strobes (one in water and one above). 

Staying in Position/Sinking

Remember how I mentioned it was difficult to sink on my own? Having weights last time was cool but it still required quite a bit of swimming as I tried to chase my angles. Apparently I found out this time, that it's actually pretty nice to have an assistant press me down into the water so I didn't have to think about pedaling while trying to work against floating at the same time. It allowed me to get ready better in the first couple seconds instead of having to make sure I was just focused on sinking properly, and when I found a spot I liked, it was a lot easier to stay in the same place for a short while with the help. 

So overall cool experience once again and it was a lot of fun! Thank you my awesome team for the hard work! And a super mega kudos to my model Jessica who was still on crutches and wearing ankle brace after breaking her foot, you're such a trooper woman! ♥