How a Bruno Aveillan book led to a day of giggles & some great photos

Eiko: a portrait by Alfie Goodrich

It’s been a while since I had quite so much fun just hanging out with a friend and having fun with the camera. But at the very back-end of last year I was in Fukuoka at the end of a four day shoot for KLM, hanging with my mate Chef and his wife, Eiko in their flat. It was a cold, wet day outside. I was tired and had just driven back at the crack of dawn from Beppu.

[click on any/all of the photos on this page for a large version]

I’d shot the last few pictures for my assignment at the Yanagibashi Market, dropped the car at the rental place and was enjoying an early morning cup of Earl Grey tea and looking forward to a day of vegetating on the sofa when Chef got a book off his shelf and asked me a question that would change the course of our day.

The book was ‘MNEMO#LUX‘ by cinematographer & photographer, Bruno Aveillan. I’d heard of Aveillan of course but had never thumbed through one of his books. 

Chef asked me how I thought he made the shots in the book. They are all shot on film and in this day and age of digital and the endless manipulations that are possible with software, if one hadn’t known all the work in Aveillan’s book had been shot analogue, one could easily have been forgiven for citing Photoshop and post-production as the ‘how to’.

But these shots are made in-camera. The diffuse light, refractions, reflections, light-bleed… they are ethereal, translucent, multi-layered. I was transfixed. This was work I could very readily identify with. It felt like stuff I was doing at college back in the late 1980s.

My theory, in answer to Chef’s question, was that Aveillan might be putting stuff in front of his lens: plastic, fabric, mirrors, prisms, sheets of glass or perspex.. to bend, soften and refract the light.

This observation – right or wrong – changed the course of our day.

I picked up a piece of plastic – a wrapping for some kind – off of Chef’s coffee table and put it in front of the 50mm lens on my Nikon. I shot a frame and showed it to him. Chef has a wonderfully animated face… and it lit up.

I recounted to him about stuff I used to do with lady’s stockings whilst at art college. Yes, ok, wait for me to finish before you start using your imagination…..

I had a phase when I was obsessed with soft focus and highlight-biased metering. I was shooting predominantly 6×7 and 4x5inch plate cameras at the time and made – using the metal frame for developing single sheets of large-format film – a holder for a piece of lady’s stocking: 20-Denier stocking to be precise. That was often the best. I’d stretch the stocking around the frame and secure it with knots at the corners. It gave me something that could be easily held in front of the lens of whatever camera I was shooting at the time. Occasionally I would stretch the stocking over the enlarger lens, to put on the soft effect at the enlarging/post-production phase rather than in-camera.

Here are a couple I shot like that whilst travelling in the USA, in 1991: one with a Bronica 645 camera [Elgin, Illinois] and the other with an MPP Mk.8 large-format field camera [Niagara]

The 'American Falls' Niagara, 1990

American Falls, Niagara: shot with MPP Mk.8 camera and 20 Denier stocking

Railway Crossing, Elgin, Illinois

Elgin, Illinois, shot with Bronica 645 ETRSi and 20 Denier stocking

Back to the flat in Fukuoka: Chef and I started picking up stuff from around the room and wrapping it over the lens. I shot a couple of Chef’s wife, Eiko. One of them is at the foot of the page; a square version of the one at the top of this post:

‘We need to go out.. right now’, I said.

So we did. No questions asked.

It was freezing and raining.

We headed for a covered shotengai [shopping street] in Nakasu. Chef picked up some more plastic at a 100Yen store. We were in a childlike state at this point.. giggling, wandering along and shooting, looking in refuse bins for more plastic. The whole creative adventure of finding stuff to shoot through was totally intoxicating and a great laugh.

We hit up a local used camera store and got a few odd looks from the owner: Chef and I both had odd bits of rubbish plastic attached to the fronts of our cameras.

To fuel our ‘art’ better, next we hit the convenience store for a can of beer each… keeping the bags we got the beer in just in case they too became useful.

By the time Eiko met us for some lunch, Chef and I were like two effervescent school-kids.

Such a lot of fun. Best fun I have had in ages. God knows what everyone we passed thought about us. We did get some pretty weird looks, for the state of the fronts of our cameras [Chef pictured below looking suitably mischievous with his 100Yen store construction] and the amount of insane giggling we were engaged in.

Chef and his fantastic plastic

So, thanks Bruno Aveillan…. for tripping-off a most rapturous afternoon of art photography.

You can check out Aveillan’s book here.

More about him here.

As for how I made this portrait of Eiko:

Two shots, each made with the 50mm lens at about f/4 and with some discarded clear plastic I found in Chef’s living-room wrapped around the front.

Shot with a fluorescent white-balance and the camera set to the Fuji Velvia picture-control I have.

Opened both in Photoshop, merged them [as I meant to make a multiple-exposure at the time but was laughing too much to remember to set up the camera properly].

Cropped to a square from the original aspect-ratio.

Eiko: a portrait by Alfie Goodrich

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