Nostalgia. A word that often crosses our minds just by looking at a set of pictures, an old movie, or catching up with a friend. Though it might help recall specific moments in one’s life, it also calls upon the reassessment of old times. Things we can know look with a distinct perspective and discover new ways of interacting and engaging with them. The early decades of the 20th century have that scent to them. A nostalgic aroma which photographers would use to delight themselves documenting the lives of citizens and their activities. Darren Centofanti shares with us his revisit to the vintage and retro look of those days, as captured in his photoshoot, even with the help of a $2 dollar vintage flash.
Share the creative approach you had when doing this shoot; where did you get the inspiration from and what was the objective?
My objective was to make a series of credible and real looking vintage style images which had a lifestyle/pinup feel to them with the styling, sets and props.
It was all a bit of fun and a challenge to see if it was possible to create these retro style images that didn’t look cliché or a typical representation of themes that usually gets produced of that era in this modern day. A lot of my themes and ideas came from travel and music, mainly music which had a slightly sombre and melancholic ambience of retro sounds. If I were to reference certain musical artists it would seem obscure compared to the imagery, but at the time a lot of my ideas came from listening to the music and lyrics of triphop band Alpha, Thievery Corporation and the crooner Morrissey! I also drew a lot of inspiration from looking at old Spanish and Mexican illustrated movie posters, Italian actress Sophia Loren too.
The starting point to many of these ideas came from places in the world which would help me theme the sets..like Acapulco, desert plains of Mexico, Kasbah club in Egypt, Navy sailors club in the US etc.
Where did the shoot happen; how was the process of casting the model and getting the right makeup artist for this type of style?
All the images were shot indoors in my rooftop studio apartment, in Bangalore India. It’s a nice open room which I use to accommodate my friends and assistants to stay in whenever they come to town. I chose an Indian model named Sarah Harish for this series. Sarah does a lot of work here in India, predominately for ad brands who require a cute girl next door look. We had worked together on a few advertising assignments in the past year and I was keen to try something out of the box with her. Initially it was Sarah as a “model” for the first 2 images we shot in this series, then she evolved into an actress of sorts, adapting to the various ideas and styling, giving expressions and body language that was possibly a little out of her regular comfort zone but worked perfectly for the themes. Makeup, hair and assisting me with styling was a good friend and regular collaborator Billy Bow. He is also Indian and is a great talent, we work very well together and he picks up on all my ideas and makes them work in a direction that always reaches the final image I have in my head.
So there were 3 people in the team responsible for making these images…It was very refreshing to keep it simple and relaxed without too many opinions floating around the room.
You shot everything on the Leica S and a small 1970’s flash. What was the technical approach for this? Meaning, were these assets already available to you and was it your creative challenge to use what you had as an experiment?
Yes I kept the ingredients simple and constant for these images, by choice. For all images I shot thru the Leica S with 100mm lens and only 1 flash, which was a small old 1970’s flash on camera, cost me $2.50 from a 2nd hand shop. I love the look this basic flash gives, it’s a paparazzi style of flash and this helped make my subject look like she was captured in the spur of the moment. It also gave her a look of importance, like the way celebrities are usually captured with basic flash on camera lighting. As a photographer who has always made images (not captured) the importance is what’s happening in front of the camera. Once the look and feel ingredients were right with the lens and flash, I decided to keep that as a constant so I could create a series of images which changed visually thru styling, set and props – rather than any photographic technique of lighting, lenses, depth of field etc. It was quite refreshing to have a constant theme with the camera and lights and to focus all my energy into getting the styling right in front of camera for each theme.
This style of retro photography usually appeals to pastel and vintage color palettes, with the more-than-stereotypical all-American blonde posing next to corpulent male bodies. In your shoot, several things catch the eye, starting with the model which falls out of the stereotype category, with dark black hair and eyes. Is there an irony here? Was it intentional?
That’s interesting that you have picked up on this, it wasn’t intentional from my side. Having based myself out of India for the past 15 years, I don’t draw lines between what is dark and what is light anymore. Like I mentioned earlier, I was keen on doing something for this series which was not cliché, and I guess subliminally I chose a model that helped me with this.
However since this series is a “modern take” on vintage era images, I think it is appropriate that a model with dark features was used, because if you look at all the trends nowadays, the darker exotic girls are getting the maximum attention globally.
There is something in their eyes which manage to express better than a blonde or redhead. I think that comes thru in my images.
All images were shot in colour but the intention was to always convert to B&W so there were no colour pop distractions from my storyline. The idea of maybe making a colour desaturated or hand coloured look to the black & white images was not something I was interested in…I felt that was a typical style which usually gets represented for vintage themes.
This is a very classy-looking image. The composition of the picture shows a certain degree of dynamism in relation to the hand taking the cigar, as well as the model’s reaction and hand gesture. Very subtle, but not indifferent from what it might have been 40 or 50 years ago, did you study or did research for these poses, specially when instructing the model?
That’s the Kasbah club in Egypt idea. This is my interpretation of how the men of that era and place would have acted in these clubs, and also the reaction of my model being slightly surprised but accepting of his attitude. There is no real study for this sort of idea or understanding, I think it is just an aesthetic judgement to what I believed would make an interesting and credible looking image from that era. I was very intense during the making of these images…which was spread out over a period of 2-3 months. We would get together and shoot 2 images a day, whenever we were all in town and I had all the props collected and ready. I spent weeks finding all the props and garments required – that was the most challenging and rewarding part of this series.
This picture looks like a postcard! The perfect shadow outlines the model’s silhouette, giving the impression as if it was almost painted. It has a funny contrast with her pose and the dragonflies in the background. Can you talk a bit more about how the image was achieved?
This is a circus girl from Sardinia. I had travelled to Sardinia Italy earlier in 2015 and my Italian heritage got the better of me and I fell in love with the place…and also the name, which I think is slightly odd. It’s the only image in the series that has the model full length standing up, so I had a bigger canvas to work with for making this story interesting. The model is a bit gypsy but she is the one who maintains her beauty and steals the audiences hearts away. Her acrobatic skills nowadays aren’t so interesting, hula hoops are no major achievement – but wind the clock back and someone who could juggle 3 wooden hula hoops would have been a star in simpler times. Getting the model to jump was to enhance the hula hoop action and add energy into the legs and make for a prettier body language.
The dragonflies are suggesting she is an attraction, circling her showing interest, like dragonflies normally do over flowers or water bodies.
As for the horse shoe, it represents a good luck charm which would have been something of importance back in the days of superstitions and simpler times. Also,I ate my first horse steak in Sardinia in 2015…so it’s a personal aknowledgement to that too!
For the record I did hang some dragonflies in set when shooting, and shot various angles of the dragonflies against the different stripes of the background. I then added the right amount of dragonflies in post to achieve the balance I wanted. The hula hoops were suspended in set by fishing wire, the model would leap up off the ground inbetween them when shooting.
Lastly, what are the next steps for this project? Are you planning on doing more on this series?
I don’t think so…not at this stage anyway. I did this series during a quiet time of year with few assignments coming in. Maybe again when that time comes my brain will relax enough to allow more of these ideas to come in….or something totally different. I do love shooting for myself though,it gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement to dream,plan and execute an idea to produce a set of images that I can truly call my own.