Lucy Spartalis (She Takes Pictures He Makes Films)
The works of my favorite directors and cinematographers are the source of much of my inspiration, and sometimes my influences steer me before I even realize. Whilst shooting a bride and groom in a dark and dilapidated building last year, I had a few minutes of usable light left. I don’t tend to use speed lights, so I threw my iPhone to my assistant, guided the couple to stand as though they were walking through a distant door and had the assistant shine the phone light on them from the other side.
Earlier on in this particular day, I had mentioned to the bride that she looked like a Disney character, with her enormous, beautiful eyes and graceful posture. I’m as big a fan of animated Disney features at 33 as I was at 3 years old, and Sleeping Beauty is one of my all-time favorites. Hours later, once I was back in my studio uploading the files from the day, I recognized the piece of classical music that had been playing on a loop in my mind all evening: It was the sinister-sounding string section from the Sleeping Beauty’s score, when Princess Aurora (the bride’s doppelgänger) is led through a series of dark, crumbling halls by a dim green light. I had just created a near-exact replica of the scene without consciously doing so.
Techniques in Motion
Our biggest inspiration has always been movies. It’s one of the main reasons that I, Dylan, picked up a camera seven years ago. Today, Joanna and I approach the wedding day as a movie that is playing out in real-time in front of us, with a beginning, middle and end. We’re the location scout, cinematographer, lighting crew and director all in one. We take mental notes when we watch films: how the cinematographer is using light, how a frame is composed, how a certain mood is captured, how a new scene is established, the focal lengths—these are all used as inspiration for the wedding day.
Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful example of the use of light, shadow, reflections and framing to convey a particular mood or feeling. Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control has hardly any dialogue; it just keeps the viewer engaged through the creative use of color palettes, beautifully composed scenes and creative camera perspectives. Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern features an impressive use of light, symmetry and long focal length shots. For extra cinematic inspiration, check out The Grandmaster and 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott), Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa), Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski) and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson).
Since I was a little girl, I’ve been inspired by my mother and her ability as an artist to create the most beautiful portraits. I believe it was the pride that came with seeing her drawings that inspired me to become a visual artist myself. I find that rich colors and minimal lighting produce the most dramatic imagery, which I always gravitate to in my portraiture. I admire Renaissance painters like Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi, as well as Degas, Francesca Woodman and Käthe Kollwitz. I am in love with the contemporary work of David Gomez-Maestre—his use of colors is so stunning.
To me, photography and the traditional world of visual arts are interchangeable, but my photography and visual art haven’t always played off of one another. I truly started understanding the importance of lighting, color and environment when I became a full-time product photographer. I further understood how reflective light, shadows and mid-tones all impacted the way I looked at the subject matter. On the nights when I would take these lessons out of the studio and unintentionally bring them home to a portrait or painting, colors and lighting started to make more sense. Knowing which surfaces can reflect or absorb light is a big part in painting as well as photography, and understanding subject matter can help you choose which elements complement your subject best. Photography has allowed me a mindset that I had long lost with drawing and painting. I allowed myself to make mistakes as a photographer—to be a beginner and to be curious. Now when I create, be it through oils or my camera, I am aware of the opportunity that “failure” provides.
It’s incredibly addictive looking for inspiration within our craft, but rather than looking at what’s right in front of us, I find there’s a lot more interest at the sides. Jeffrey Smart and Zdislaw Beksinski, my two favorite painters, inform how I treat tone and composition in enormous ways. Smart has a way of turning the most banal scenes into the most calculated beauty; Beksinski has a totally captivating way of making you feel like you’re looking into the most potent, silent, bewildering version of Hell. How can I draw something from a representation of Hell into how I represent love and connection? I like to find this kind of opposite when I shoot.
The concept of “storytelling” has been mostly reduced to obvious linear narratives, so how can we find new ways of bringing dynamism into storytelling and fulfilling the greater goal of image creation (making someone feel)? Listening to music has taught me a lot about narratives. Hammock as well as The Books are a couple of bands that come to mind. The way musicians like them use more abstract devices such as silence and the breaking of time signatures to tell stories and create space is something I’ve found to be particularly inspiring.
So, I tell myself this: Play it backwards, skip the chorus and make the ending longer than the body of the song. One of the greatest unsung gifts you can give someone viewing your work is when they find themselves asking, “What was that?” Don’t just break your own expectations. Break theirs.