In the course of my team's collaboration over the years, we have come to culminate our learning over particular images. They usually come accidentally, and the realizing them was more in hindsight. The images represented a certain phase in our knowledge, experience and team work. It also chronicles how much we have learned up until that point.
Ode to Mr. Lee (Rogue) comic-strip style image was our first foray into "by-the-book" cosplay – as defined as shooting somebody in a costume that approximates the character. It was around this time we were preparing for the 2nd exhibit, Pop Nostalgia. That exhibit paid homage to popular culture icons, and comics being one facet of the entire show. This was the hardest and the longest shoot process we had gone through back then.
We actually didn't have a story to follow, but more or less a series of movements we saw visually appealing. It was one lesson we learned on the spot: the value of a storyboard. Since we didn't have a script to follow, we ended up going with our gut feel and shot the sequences based on some loose comics our art director brought on-location. The dialogue boxes and word art were added afterwards, and we had to think of a "story" based on the images we chose for the panel.
Some things we learned in hindsight:
- Photographs and in turn images, maybe just in a singular frame of time and space, but still have a story to tell. Expound on the world that's not seen in the frame. Little bit of details, whether its seen in the camera or not helps in the overall construction of the image.
- Invest time and effort in learning basic fashion design.
The Tea After Party image taught us the value of production design, and preparation prior to shooting. "Alice" as it was more popularly nicknamed (because of its obvious subject), was the result of an entire month of pre-production, an afternoon of setup and 30 minutes of actual shooting. The post-production took about 2-3 days give or take. Subsequent images that came after concentrated on getting everything on the set. My philosophy here was all about saving time and effort in post-production. We relied on practical effects to achieve what we wanted, and for two years, our cosplay images were made in the same manner. We reveled with the idea of having a working template to get our work out there faster.
Phoenix has always been a character in our list, not only for the popularity, but simply because she was a character worth doing. I found our first attempt at Phoenix rather botched with afterthoughts of doubt —at least that's how I felt. Something wasn't right during our shoot. I wasn't fully able to pin-point it properly, and just shrugged it aside. When it finally came into post-production, a lot of things were left lacking. The end result was something half-baked and completely below our standards.
Eventually, it wouldn't only happen on Phoenix, but on a good number of ideas we had. There are some cosplay shoots that never made the light of day.
- I was trying to apply practical effects over a character which needed something more "fantastic."
- I failed in translating my imagination into real-world execution.
What I learned with Alice had to be unlearned when we shot Phoenix the second time. I was too concerned with capturing the image as a whole at one go, whereas Phoenix required a treatment to take the image apart and visualize the end result in a purely imaginative realm. It contradicted my initial notion of making it easier for the post-production team by having everything in-frame. This new "material" setup emancipated them from the boundaries of what my camera captured. We could compose images as we saw fit. The challenge in photography now is shooting individual elements, yet making the overall lighting coherent so when things are finally put into place, it resembles one image.
Changing one's perspective from a chosen "limited" craft into Imagineering opens up numerous possibilities. I no longer think of myself as just a photographer, but an Imagineer using photography to turn my ideas into reality. In this sense, all artists are imagineers. As such, collaborations will ideally become seamless. My imagination is no longer bound by the camera, but the appended by the capabilities of fellow imagineers specializing in their own expression. Everything from make-up, styling, illustration, art direction, CG and production design all thrown in one simmering creative casserole.