Film Noir with Girl Power

This group project has definitely been one of my favourite things in university. Considering my general, decidedly negative attitude towards any kind of group work, this is unusual.

The briefing for this assignment consisted of a script from the novel The Big Sleep, and our job was to use the story as inspiration - not necessarily a defining element for the work. We had about two weeks for pre-production - that is, coming up with a creative concept, gathering props and drawing some preparative lighting plans as we would be using studio lights provided by the uni.
I couldn't have wished for a better collaborating group of people to work with. We came up with an original and exciting concept that really seemed to appeal to each of us, and no one had to make very big compromises in terms of creative ideas, which kept our spirits high throughout the process.
One thing that we couldn't possibly prepare for was the location since major part of this project was a trip to Gregynog Hall, in the middle of Wales with the entire course and a couple of lecturers. None of us knew what to expect but we'd been told that the Victorian building where we'd be spending the following three days would be more or less the perfect place for this kind of photoshoot with its massive bedrooms decorated with historical furniture from different periods through 19th and 20th centuries. Gregynog Hall truly fulfilled the promises, and finding the perfect room for our story we became even more engaged with our project.

A sink that we didn't use.
Mirrors that ended up playing a major role.

Props on a bed.
Then about the execution itself.
Our script was situated in 1930's/40's, and our tutors had greatly encouraged us to gain inspiration from film noir, so we looked back some decades and examined the super-dramatic and contrasty lighting familiar especially from mid 1900's black and white thriller films.

The detective and femme fatale are recurrent characters in this genre, and consequently that's what our story demanded as well. However the approach would be slightly different this time - we'd be using two women instead of a man and a woman. I think this idea rouse from the practical fact that we only had six girls in our group and therefore no obvious choice of roles. Of course we could have asked someone from some other group to help us, but instead we came up with a rather delicious and unexpected solution.

Personally, deciding to play with the rigid gender roles and expectations of mid 20th century and film noir was an exhilarating and thought-provoking turn, for one of my main interests in photography is expressly the representation and relationship of sexes in visual media.

Obviously at this point we were to explain and justify this decision as it clearly wasn't in line with the characteristics of the period our story otherwise was set. And because being an art student means that one always needs a reason for whatever he or she is doing. First of all, I presented some images of popular actresses from 1930's and 40's who had become famous for not only their roles on the silver screen, but also for crossdressing.


Katherine Hepburn
Marlene Dietrich
In the time of these two Hollywood stars, pants were strictly men's clothes, thus a woman wearing such a piece of clothing was considered scandalous, and was vastly disapproved. Not to delve deeper in the attitudes of that time period, I'll just conclude that with this teeny bit of information we built a more solid historical background in terms of replacing the obvious choice of a male detective with a woman dressed as a man.

Going yet further in defining the concept that we would be working on, we created another reality for the body of work - a reality of an amateur theatre play where all of our perhaps unconventional choices would find their perfectly justified places.
What would a drama group without no male members do other than presenting one woman in a man's role?
This decision became the element that kept all of our creative visual ideas together and helped us be organised and efficient on the set. For some scenes we added little 'bloopers' that would break the illusion of an otherwise carefully constructed time period, and bring the viewer back to present. Also our layout on the assessment day followed this idea of a theatre play and how it might be advertised or exhibited for the audience. We brought some props from the set and made them parts of our exhibition, which indeed ended up resembling a kind of a display that could well have been made for promoting a play.

I think we had many interesting layers on top of each other in this project: the thriller, the play, the gender problematic, even a homoerotic subtext. For me the most intriguing and fruitful aspect of all this is how by creating something extravagantly superficial and voyeuristic you can still actually be talking about big and complex things like in this case, gender roles and traditions.
Initially this is where I aim at in every project I work on: saying things that bother me or interest me through aesthetically delicious images.

 Here some samples from the series. All of the final images can be seen here.

As a conclusion I could say that I still prefer operating alone and in my own terms, but working with these studious, creative and supportive people was one of the best experiences I've had in the field of photography. As a group we had a lot of positive energy and such a good team spirit that we even earned a nickname: Spice Girls of photography.

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