Emergency *ooof*: April is the Cruellest Month

*eeeeeek*. It’s Tuesday. I have already done my duty and written an *ooof* over there on me+richard, and as I am idly pottering around, popping over to RAnet for a quick catch-up on all the news during my lunch break, I get hit with a brand new image.

Urban and the shed crew instagram

Richard Armitage as Chop from Urban and the Shed Crew’s Instagram

April is the cruellest month. It’s been a while since I did a proper emergency *ooof*, so why not do one today, while I am feeling excited and inspired. For a change (and in order not to clog up my host’s blog), I’ll push it out on my own blog.

What a brilliant image. Whoever is doing the instagram for Urban and the shed crew – well done to you, this image is very arty, very interesting – very much worth looking at. Where is the *ooof* factor in the image, you ask? Piles of rubble and a manky woollen coat? Well, for me the *ooof* is in the profile of the subject and the hair. And that makes this a worth-while picture to *ooof*. What do we see?

A lonely man is walking through a wasteland. Piles of building rubble, interspersed with bits of rubbish, flow from the top right of the square image down to the bottom left. Under the dark night sky we can make out a couple of high rise buildings in the background. A white van is also emerging behind the rubble. In the foreground a lonely man is walking through the frame. He is dressed in a salt-and-pepper woollen coat, has his hands in his pockets and is walking from the left to the right. He has been captured as he is just entering the right-most third of the image (that is if you were to draw imaginary rule of thirds lines onto the picture). The scene is illuminated from the left, therefore his face is in shadow. We can just about see the shadowy stubble on his face and barely make out his eye. However, the illumination from the left lights up his neck-length hair and almost casts a golden glow over it.

Whether the photographer staged this scene and asked RA to walk through his field of vision for effect, or whether this is the luck of the “decisive moment” – I am pretty sure that this is not a film still. There are a number of hints to support that. Well, the fact that this is an image that has obviously been shot with the intention of putting it on instagram is the obvious hint. It means that the image was shot with a camera phone – not really the hardware of choice when shooting film stills ;-). The accompanying text on instagram (“R___ A___, who plays Chop on set last week”) omits mentioning that this is a specific scene, again allowing the assumption that this was not shot from the POV that the camera will be taking in the film. The main hint, however, is that I can spot a couple of tripods – with black lights attached – in the background. Yeah, call me obsessed – I can spot those tools of my trade anywhere, dark or light. We are obviously looking at the set from a perspective that is not going to be used in the film.

So is Mr A rehearsing an amble through the wasteland for a camera that may be placed somewhere behind him, or is he walking off the set to take a break? With his penchant for staying in character during filming (“I never like to go out of character when filming starts I fear that if I do, I might not be able to pick it up again”, as the Independent quotes A___ in yesterday’s profile ), I suspect Armitage wouldn’t have any silly posing, however artfully, for purposes of Social Media advertising. The photographer, however, spotted a visually interesting scene unfolding in front of his or her eyes – a lonely man wandering among picturesque rubble. However undeliberate this image is – it comes together nicely. The composition (nearly) divides the background into two halves – the dark, comprised of sky and unlit buildings, and the rubble. This contrast and symmetry is pleasing to the eye. By deliberately resisting to place the subject in the centre of the image, the photographer disturbs the symmetry and draws more attention to the subject that is in the right-most third of the image. By doing so he/she inadvertantly (I suppose) emphasises the dynamicism of the image. The imbalance of the composition (two thirds of negative space vs. one third of subject-driven space) creates tension and visual excitement. I am reminded of the grand master of the “decisive moment”, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the image that has been used to death for illustrating what “decisive moment” actually means. In Cartier-Bresson’s image, a man is also pictured, moving from left to right, pictured in the third third. And yeah, it’s also taken in a less than beautiful setting, so maybe that is why I am reminded of it.

The grooves of the haphazardly arranged rubble also provide some sight lines that happen to lead a) to the subject’s head and b) the subject’s bum hands. But it is the lighting that has me enthralled. While the illumination from the left lights up the hair of the subject, highlighting the slightly wavy, but not entirely unkempt style, it leaves the face of the subject in shadow. But not quite. Some lightspill reaches the face from the other side, giving us the merest hint of a view. We can make out the right eye, seemingly looking down, and the stubble on cheek and chin. Best of all, the lightspill also creates the hint of a rim along the A___ profile, making his forehead, nose and chin stand out from the rubble in the background. It is also a very opportune coincidence that a larger, lighter piece of rubble happens to be *just* in the background where A___’s head appears in the frame, making it easier to discern the profile from the background.

As is customary on instagram, images are cropped and displayed in square format. In the case of the popular photo app that may have been a decision governed by necessity – the display of the app on a smartphone not only shows the image itself but also the buttons for editing and filtering tools. Therefore the image format had to be cut down. However, the square format is much loved in art photography. If you see a photographer cropping her images into square format, you can automatically assume that she has intentions/pretensions of being perceived as creating “art”… And for a number of good reasons. The square, of course, is the most perfect of all geometric shapes: equally long sides allow for perfect symmetry. For framing and composition, a square format is the perfect experimentation ground. It allows for very simple composition that works particularly well when there is very little to see in the frame. You can very easily frame the image in such a way that emphasis is placed on a particular subject or object. The composing of the image is easier because the “half lines” are easier to perceive than in a rectangular frame. There is a natural sense of balance in a square frame, which is so obvious to the eye that you can hardly fail with it. And both the symmetrical as well as the asymmetrical approach work very well within a square frame (while the rectangular 35mm format is much more pleasing when used in conjunction with the rule of thirds). Shapes stand out in stark contrast in square formats: With a square frame, round objects appear even more contrast-y while “forced” into the confines of the “square box”.

As I like to repeat mantra-like in most of my *ooof*s, a good image is one that “speaks to you”, a picture that inspires, challenges, makes you think. This one does, inspired coincidence or not. Even if it wasn’t Armitage within the frame, my mind would start asking questions: Where is the man? Why is he walking among the rubble? Where is he going? Where is he coming from? Who is he? What is he? What is he thinking? Is his posture characterised of exhaustion, or of resignation, or of boredom? What do *you* hear?

“Ok, we need to do that again, Richard.” He sighed. Another take. Another try at getting it right. He was supposed to walk across an inner city waste land of rubble and rubbish. How difficult could that be, especially under cover of the night, where he was in half-shadow, just walking. The rehearsal had been perfect. He had walked across the rubble hill, carefully setting his feet on the bricks, balancing on the broken bits of concrete, propelling himself forward in a gracious dance until he was out of frame. With the sound of the clapperboard, he seemed to have lost his mojo. The first take had apparently taken too long. “A bit faster R___”, the director had demanded, “you’re not on Seventh Avenue here.” On the second take he had made it two thirds through the frame when a passing truck had fucked up the sound. “Cut! We have to shoot that again, R____.”

10.30 pm. It was cold. An April night.Β  April is the cruellest month. For filming outdoor scenes. He had resumed his position and waited for the third attempt. A simple walk across the rubble. How hard can it be? He had acted with tennis balls, survived white water barrelling and smashed his face with fake weapons. But half way across the rubble he had tripped over a half-obscured piece of wire and nearly landed on all fours. Fuck! “Sorry, boss”, he had tried to make light of it, but he was tired and exhausted after a long day of rehearsing and filming, preceded by a weekend of promo work. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” or what? This was getting ridiculous. Back to square one.

“And action!” He made his way across the rubble, not too fast, not too slow, keeping an eye out for sneaky pieces of wire when the breeze picked up and started flapping his open coat in the wind and blowing his damned 90s bob into his face. “Cut!!!! Hair please – I need to be able to see Chop!” The stylist sprayed a ton-load of hair spray onto his head in an attempt at fixing the strands of hair on his skull. His hair felt like a helmet at this stage. He coughed. Damn, he was thirsty. If there were water we should stop and drink. Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think. Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand. If there were only water amongst the rock… Impatiently swatting away the hands of the stylist, he made his way back to the starting position. “Action!” He walked, singularly concentrated on the task of setting one foot in front of the other. Yes, he could do it. His head bowed down, his eyes carefully scanned the ground. Another step taken. He ploughed on, his hands in his pocket. So thirsty, Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop. Chop Chop Chop. But there is no water. He walked on. He could do it. He walked. Yes.

By the time the director cried “Cut!” he was already out of earshot.


74 thoughts on “Emergency *ooof*: April is the Cruellest Month

  1. First I have to disagree: April is a lovely month and this pic made my (birth)day. πŸ™‚ And then, I aboslutely agree: it’s a beautiful and very inspiring photo (man). Love the ficlet!


  2. why does this always happen on my busiest days?

    anyway, I need to reread this — but a lot of it for me lies, just as you say, in the profile and the hair. The way the hair waves back from his forehead and over his ear — and the attitude of his head and the stark effect of the profile. OMG.


    • Whoa, the mojo hit big time today. I just could not resist it. Fabulous shot, coincidental or not. Slightly pretentious in its ibvious artfulness, but I am a sucker for that *ggg*


  3. I loved the photo as soon as I saw it. The lights, the profile, the contrast with the ruins, the lonely man walking in a thoughtful, perhaps sad way… perfect.
    Thanks for this emergency *ooof*, you read in my mind! πŸ™‚


    • This was screaming to be emergency *ooof*ed from the second I laid eyes on it. And I knew that most of you would like this image. It’s a pleasure to be of service πŸ˜‰


  4. loved the photo. It reminded me of black and white World War II movies with rubble and ruins in the background.But has no one noticed? Where is the beloved pony tail? I think the tail in this instance would detract from the classic feel of photo, but I do wonder, why is it missing in action? Did it get “chopped”? Your ficlet was great. Made be sympathize with poor RA trying to negotiate rubble in the dark without falling. I could not manage to do that even in daylight.,


    • I think the ponytail was only there for RA’s RL. In all other shots from the sets his hair is worn like this. Thank God. I don’t like the tail at all, but I can live with this.
      Yes also to the desolate, bombed rubble of WWII. That would have been the association in a b/w version of the shot.


  5. Oh, I didn’t know that, I thought he had the pony tail for the role, not the opposite. So he is using the tail to get the hair out of his face, a la RL during his Guy days. Makes sense, I tend to overthink the simplest interpretation of RA details, long hair requires tying it back out of the way, too simple an explanation for me.


    • πŸ™‚ That’s my take of his snarky, self-ironic remarks re 90s footballer at the Jameson Awards… A ponytail also seems slightly too poncy for the Chop character. But maybe that’s just my interpretation πŸ˜‰


  6. And I agree with Marie, he looks very bulky in this shot. I thought it was the coat or the wind blowing it open or some other phenomenon. We know he is not bulky in RL because we have seen him recently in promos.


      • You would definitely know, since you were fortunate enough to encounter him in his fragile state. BTW, is is true the camera puts on ten pounds?


        • Hm, I do not really believe that. My personal practice is to make my sitters look good – and there are ways and means to avoid making them look fat. You use flattering lighting that will disguise the lines, you shoot them from slightly above to make double-chins vanish, and you place them at an angle to make them look thinner. Oh, and you avoid wide angle lenses and zooming in as that makes people look like bobble-headed clowns.


  7. Yay! Glorious shot! What a beautiful man. There are a few shabby wastelands in my area. I sometimes walk past them but so far have never come across such a stunning guy there. The creeps strolling over those places rather make me move a bit quicker. Maybe I should give them a second glance next time?


    • That was my (first) impression as well. Looked at the pic repeatedly (because it somehow drove me nuts as I couldn’t spot it clearly) and for me it still seems likely that he is wearing glasses. Couldn’t really get rid of this image! So what is that??
      Yet, this is such a gorgeous shot of our beautiful man. Luv it.
      ….and you know what, Ms Guytly? Your story is probably pretty close to the REAL reality!!! πŸ˜€


      • Definitely no glasses. It’s a trick of the light. There is a tiny bit of light reaching to his left eye, and then there is a slightly brighter piece of rubble in the background that appears just above the bridge of his nose. Together these two lighter spots may appear like glasses, but they are an illusion.
        Haha, no, I doubt my story comes anywhere near the truth. Mr A is a professional man. He’d get a simple shot like that done in ten seconds. And he’d never swat any hairstylist out of his face. Far too polite for that.


  8. What a coincidence – I just read today’s newspaper and there were an article about T.S. Eliot and his poem The Waste Land. Did I miss something? : D I also like this picture, it’s very interesting to look at. Lots of details, the light and atmosphere. I also find the find coincidental shots like these quite fascinating.


    • Tadaaaaaaaaaaa! Well done, Quutamo. You got my references. My ficlet was supposed to hint to Ezra Pound’s masterpiece – which I totally love. And considering the fact that RA has read Pound before (Prelude), I thought it was likely that he knows “The Waste Late”… And how fitting it is, some of it…
      And from my own experience I can tell you that luck is an important factor in *some* photography.


      • I have to say that before reading that article I had never heard of T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound. I have never been into poetry and we didn’t study it much in upper secondary school so these two were totally new names to me. But I think I’ll go to the library and read some of their works. I love this fandom – there’s always new things to learn! (:
        I used to photograph horses so I agree luck is sometimes very important.


        • Where the hell did I get Ezra Pound from, I wonder. TS Eliot, of course. (Although “The Waste Land” is dedicated to Pound, actually!) I totally love TWL – I love its reference to German(y), I love that little line that refers to “the Irish child”, and I love the post-apocalyptic modernity of the piece. Written in the 20s – but hey, not much has changed. Poetry is one of the great joys. Unfortunately, for most of us, school has destroyed all the pleasure of verse.


  9. I love this image also. And your Ficlet.

    I see a story too, but one a bit more somber. I see a man pained with loss. Maybe not just his own loss, but the with the knowledge that others may still lay victim under the rubble, never to be discovered anytime soon, after a long forgotten and abandoned building collapse. Like he stands amongst the rubble, imagining the pain of family members and loved ones who remain behind with their memories of those buried beneath or were found and laid to rest elsewhere. Or maybe he hopes that indeed there may have been survivors, and wonders where they are and what theirs lives are like now. Maybe they are only just surviving still – just like him – consuming hope ravenously each day like, a last meal.


    • Poetic, yes, that’s a good way of describing it. It has that kind of feel to it – the contemplative pose, in front of a very contrasty background.
      Thanks, S ❀


  10. I love the picture and the ficlet,Guylty πŸ™‚
    PS: I can not stop thinking how much more beautiful this “profile shot” would be several month ago…


  11. I’m forever grateful that someone came up with the phrase “being hit in the feels” because that’s the only way I can describe how seeing this photo affected me. It’s beautiful. He is beautiful. To me it looks like Richard is wandering off between shots like he did for Thorin, deep in thought and trying to maintain the character.
    Another great *ooof* Guylty, thanks!


  12. Wow!! Once again your Emergency *ooof* has got to me! When I first clapped eye on this picture it was like being punched in the solar plexus! The sound that came out of me was very close to a real “ooof”! πŸ™‚ After numerous “studies” I still find it hard to drag my eyes away from it. The sight of that solitary figure making his way through that chaotic landscape spoke to me somehow. The profile, the hair and the body language were all rather overwhelming. Naturally you managed to point out things that I missed and I had to grab a magnifying glass to make sure I didn’t miss anything and made me wish, once again that I had your eye for detail.

    After reading your “Person practice” comment, I wish all photographers had the same technique! Maybe I could finally have a picture of me that I was happy with!! πŸ˜‰


    • Thanks for your comment, Teuchter :-). A magnifying glass is actually a good idea. Might also help with the growing controversy re. Daffy Duck vs Sam the Eagle.
      As regards the personal practice of my portrait sessions – my tricks are hardly secrets. All *good* and professional photographers know these things. And if they fail to make you look good in their pictures, then they are not worth their money. Cos they should be able to (within reason, of course :-D).


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