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Body Art. Photo © Michael Wharley

Body Art - Michael Wharley, 2012

1 November 2014

This picture was taken on an editorial commission in 2012. One of my regular collaborators, body art and makeup specialist Chris Dennis, was being profiled in an edition of the body art-focused US publication Illusion, and he asked me to shoot the job. That meant trying to squeeze four shoots into one day, achieving very different full-body makeup looks with four separate models in a simple on-location studio, working closely with a hair stylist, Peter Dragijevic, and Chris’ team of six assistants.

Chris doesn’t dream small, even in time-and-resource-limited circumstances, so much of the shoot was on the hoof, despite a lot of careful pre-planning. The ‘melting plastic’ look makeup for one model wouldn’t quite melt, so we contrived an alternative, the chap covered head to toe in glitter needed six, rather than two, people working at once to place each of 400 diamante jewels individually onto his eyebrows, so the next look was short of time.

The next look was this image. Conceived as a sort of parody of beauty portraiture, Chris wanted to reference Warhol and Lichtenstein, while showing his dexterity with a rather tricky type of fast-drying ‘cracked-skin’ makeup, and by applying these gross, glossy lips, which he’d cast himself in a soap dish.

Getting the lips to stick on was tricky, getting the makeup to dry evenly, trickier still. And then of course, there was a wig, and horrific talons to apply as well, so the model was literally and metaphorically hot under the collar after both the delay, and being blasted with four hairdryers at once for 20 minutes.

For me then, being a fairly simple lighting set up aping bold Lichtenstein lines, the main challenge was cooling the model down.

I also had to find some interesting ways to have her pose in a beauty-like style. I was happy with the composition of this one which uses the common beauty/skincare-photography trope of hands cupping a face. The sly look around from the caked eyes adds a sinister air, I think.

Somewhat ironically, given the subject matter, some pixel retouching was required to even out undried bits of skin, as well as some selective use of saturation and highlight/shadow emphasis.

The shot made a great double-page spread for the magazine, and has been creeping out clients in my studio ever since.

Michael Wharley read English at Oxford University and trained as an actor at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, then retrained as a photographer after appearing in over 30 productions on the West End, in regional rep and on national tour over a six year acting career. Now based out of a busy studio in Waterloo, he specialises in portrait, advertising and editorial photography for the entertainment sector, whether it’s a poster for cinema release, images for a play bill or playscript, production shots of performance, or promotional portraits for individual performers or artists. Clients include the Royal National Theatre, Picturehouse Cinemas, Kaliedoscope Film Distribution and The Watermill Theatre, plus high-profile acting agencies including Angel & Francis, Cole Kitchenn, BWH, United Artists and Global Artists.

See more work by Michael Wharley

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