Emergency *ooof*: The Body Unprotected

If I start off this emergency *ooof* by calling the latest promo poster for The Crucible “evocative” I am understating things. This is appealing to the point of titillation. Fangirl fantasies are running wild. I lost a whole day yesterday to the scenarios that this image has evoked – ranging from harmless considerations of the practicalities of performing in the half-nude (how cold or hot is it in the theatre? I imagine, the collective heartbeat will raise the temperature by a double-digit figure *ggg*) via health deliberations (how cheaply can you rent a defibrillator?) to imaginative associations that are just a tad too colourful for public consumption. I can’t unsee the mental image (courtesy of Richardiana) of RA having to shower to wash off the make-up dust. In short – I shirked work and therefore eased myself back into my normal life after my week-long absence. Thank you, Old Vic *ggg*.

Images like this one are tough on the fangirl heart:

Old Vic Jay Brooks 3

John Proctor in a promo poster for The Crucible, Old Vic 2014, photographed by Jay Brooks

Let’s sink our teeth into this. Lead actor RA is posing as John Proctor. With his body turned almost 90 degrees to the camera, A___ is looking (almost) along the line of his shoulder. His right shoulder is nearest to the camera, his head looking down to the front right. Visible in the image are head and shoulders only. In order to allow for unobstructed writing on the poster, the image has been given a vignetted effect at the left side and the bottom that creates a neutral background which blurs with the faded out image. Harshly illuminated from the upper front right, the face of the sitter is well lit. Both eyes are clearly visible (and not to mention the sinfully long eyelashes which catch the light), their light blue colour discernible. The lighting is so harsh, indeed, that every pore and every line, even if not accentuated by the light dusting of make-up, is clearly visible. We can make out every individual hair of the beard, the eyebrows, the hair. Even a few stragglers from under the right arm stand out against the darker background and attract the attention of the Armpitage Army.

The lighting is an interesting choice for this image. The harsh light from one side only creates strong contrast and shadow, making the contours of the body stand out sharply where it hits the skin. The effect of this is a gritty, harsh and aggressive feel. Those who are familiar with the plot of The Crucible will find this in keeping with the events that are going to embroil John Proctor in the play. In that sense, the lighting already gives away the tragic fate of the main character. A lesser photographer might have chosen to cross-light the scene, creating a warmer hue which might evoke the association flickering fire light and of witches burning at the stake – evocative, too, but much less original than Brooks’ decision to emphasise the characters’ particular situation at a pivotal moment in the play by showing him in blinding light and small-aperture detail.

Not many of these details escape the RArmy, and thus someone on tumblr noticed very quickly that we have another flipped image in front of us. (Was it applefia? I’d like to credit the idea, but I am not sure who first posted the flipped image yesterday.) And I have to agree with that opinion. It is highly unlikely that the lighting set-up was reversed for this shot. And there are several reasons for that. Photographers are lazy – never touch a winning set-up, especially as it is not as easy as you may think to re-create the lighting for a particular series of shots. Changing places with the sitter may seem like the obvious method to get the light illuminating the sitter from the other side, but even that is not without its pitfalls as the whole set-up would need to be metered anew. Both previously published posters are lit from the upper front left, so this allows the conclusion that this image was produced in the same set-up. The background, although uniquely mottled, does not give conclusive evidence to the theory (it could be photoshopped in, anyway). RA’s face is not that much help, either, as the characteristic side parting in his hair is currently not as distinct in his short crop mop. The light does indicate the lines and marks of his face, however, the make-up slightly obscures the usual left-right marker – the cute, oval-shaped pock mark on A___’s forehead.  The minute detail that finally convinced me that the image has been flipped is a speck of dirt between A___’s beard and his ear. I doubt that this has been painstakingly symmetrically painted on but then again, some people would go to *any* length to work a bit longer on the bod *ggg*.

After all the detective work comes the question for the “why?”. Whatever would this image need to be flipped for? The other two promo posters were illuminated from the upper front left and were obviously shot in succession. Why change the winning team? For visual variety, I presume.

The pose is an unusual one – for a man. The soft rounded shape of the shoulder is often used to set women into scene. With a  suggestive look over the shoulder at the camera, this pose can be quite flattering and visually stimulating interesting. For a man, however, this is not quite so appealing, imho. Round shapes tend to be the domain of female subjects, emphasising the female form, and the naked shoulder carries an association of fragility and sexiness. Sexiness is a given with this particular sitter – but maybe not in this particular context?! Although the sins of the flesh feature in the play, it is not about infidelity. And thus, I expect the “shirtless scene” (no doubt this is going to be a reference point of notoriety for years to come whenever fangirls meet…) to draw the sobs for other reasons than animal attraction… [SPOILER ALERT. Do not read on if you haven’t read the play and want to remain unenlightened!] In fact, I believe that the scene we see hinted at here is towards the final climax (sorry) of the play, Proctor’s execution.

As an image of A___ the picture does not quite appeal to me aesthetically because it emphasises the frailty of the human body. However, as a poster advertising The Crucible, it works on several levels. The shoulders – maybe because the image has been photoshopped to fade out and omit part of the left shoulder – appear almost frail and fragile. This is of course a powerful statement that serves the conflict depicted in the play – the struggle between the body politic and the individual. Proctor is the individual that has come into conflict with society. On his own, the individual is frail and defenceless, naked and without any means of protection. Protection lies in community. Stripped of the affiliation to a collective, the individual is frail, unprotected and defenceless. Logic does not necessarily protect the individual. In the face of mass hysteria the individual is defeated.

However, within the image there is an extremely interesting contrast between the frail body, characterised by the nudity, the soft curve of the shoulder, the suggestion of  breakable bones underneath the skin, and the pale whiteness of the body (even if stained by dirt). Nudity already denotes vulnerability, but the pose emphasises it further, alluding to defencelessness: The pulled-back right shoulder suggests that Proctor’s arms have been cuffed behind his back. Observe how the right upper arm is pulled back. It is not dangling down in its natural position but allows a view of the chest, hence must have been pulled backwards – for his wrists to be bound. The expression on Proctor’s face however, does not evoke defencelessness or frailty. There is a look of concentration on his face. The frown is combined with an intense gaze to the bottom right.  The look downwards might usually indicate the loss of hope or the succumbing to an inevitable fate, but the eyes here contradict that. They are very clearly focussed on something, bright with energy, they are not turned inwards to a helpless acceptance of fate but turned outwards. They communicate a sense of the character’s inner turmoil, a possible horror at the events that are threatening to culminate, or an intense attempt at remaining unbroken and to behave with integrity in the face of madness. SPOILER: With my limited knowledge of the play I see this image unfolding as a scene in which Proctor is led to the gallows, bound for his own execution, staring at the madly shrieking, blood-thirsty crowd, half-unbelieving that *this* is really happening, and happening to *him*. I imagine the hand of a warden pushing him in the small of his back, forwards, to the gallows, a relentless cog in the mad machine of murder.

As titillating as this image comes across – with all the show of skin – it is not an example of nude photography. I am not only saying that because we can assume that A___ did *not* take all of his kit off for the shoot. Well, what happens outside the frame, *stays* outside the frame, to paraphrase the man… As a very general statement I would argue that nude photography is about the “body” not the “person”. This image, however, is very clearly about the character that is being acted for the camera. This is a representation of Proctor, not of Proctor’s body, so to speak. The fact that Proctor does not connect through a direct gaze at the camera with the viewer is only secondary in this context. What strikes me more in this instance is that there is much more emphasis on the face and the expression on the face than on the body shape. This is not a shape or a faceless body. This is a person who is half-naked, not half-nude. Is there a difference between those two terms? Yes. You are probably aware of the distinct usage of the two terms in art. While both terms refer to an unclothed body, the difference is in the connotations that go with them. “Naked” implies embarrassment at being deprived of clothing, of having been stripped of a protective layer that conceals what is generally not shown to the public. Nude, OTOH, has a slightly educated ring to it, sounds respectable and not embarrassed. The artistic nude, therefore, is and always has been an acceptable subject of art. In the context of this image (and the play), the unconcealed torso of Proctor is a symbol of his defencelessness, of being humiliated and exposed to the wrath of the society that has turned on him. And thus the lack of props is more efficient in the photographic representation of the story of Proctor than any piece of costume could ever be.

Of all three published promo images, this one is my current favourite in terms o artistic impression and from my POV as a photographer/fan. The first image is too obviously copied (plagiarised???) from Gonnord for my taste, even though it conveyed the message of the unbroken man of integrity very powerfully. Image #2 with its wonderful profile porn is a great advertisement directed at fans who have a propensity for imaginative interpreting – the humbly bowed head, the modest actor, as we *know* him. For me, number three hits big time – skin or no skin. It is appealing in a sexual as well as a non-sexual way: Skin evokes imagined sin, and simultaneously represents vulnerability and frailty. Spoken directly to the heart, appealing to the eyes. It doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to advertising. Or photography.

 

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59 thoughts on “Emergency *ooof*: The Body Unprotected

    • That makes two of us already, S! I did like the first poster, it is great. But this one has more in it, and it is not just the skin, but the whole photographic package.

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  1. I love all 3 pics because they show different stages of the character. Form proud and rage to resignation, humiliation and despair, vulnerability and defeat. Indeed I think we can imagine his hands tied on the back, and he’s ready for the execution. The infidelity sin is only briefly depicted and lost in the past. Unless Farber changes much we won’t have any “sex scene” (I really hope we won’t).
    Those 3 shots are wonderful and I hope I will have the opportunity to buy them at the theater foyer. If there will still be some in September.
    Thanks as usual for our *ooof*, once again an emergency one! I can’t complain 😀

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    • That is a brilliant point, Micra – there seems to be a progression in the three posters so far. At least in terms of emotion. Rage – reflection – disbelief?
      They would indeed make a great souvenir of the experience. I doubt I’ll get away with putting them up anywhere in my house though *ggg*. The “Justice for our Father” campaign is in full swing 😀
      BTW – are you back yet?

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      • Thanks 🙂
        I think they wanted to depict a story, yes. At least, different feelings and emotions. It’s not a surprise though that people chose the second poster. More normal, typical RA expression, not much Proctor. Indeed, it’s my least favorite among the 3. Not because I don’t like it, but because it’s less directly connected to the character.
        I am still in the land of nowhere and no connection…

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        • For no connection you are pretty good at communicating 😉
          I only just noticed that the Old Vic had asked people for their favourite. I am not surprised that RA fans like the second poster – it is much easier to read our own interpretation of the ACTOR into it. When it comes to the CHARACTER, though, I think both #1 and #3 are much more evocative, particularly because we see more of the facial expression. On first impressions, #2 was initially my favourite, though… (but I have convinced myself via *ooof* that the other two are better for promo 😀 The power of autosuggestion ;-))

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    • Throw Miller into the mix, possibly Farber and costume and make-up. Pretty strong, that… I am assuming it is collaborative. So far they are keeping me very much on the edge of my seat. That’s when I am not in the shower 😀

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  2. Wow, i didn’t notice that his hand were probably tied back. Makes so much sense! I love these analyses because I learn so much every time, Thank you Guylty! The only thing I thought about looking at this picture was that I wanted to feed him, haha. According to the new old vic picture of RA signing one of the posters posted today on fb, i do think he’s either lost some muscle on purpose or just a lot of weight. Probably for the character but also maybe because of the intensity of the role? What a dedicated man–an inspiration. But i’m a natural worrier and so i worry. i know i know, he’s a grown man and he knows what he’s doing 🙂

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    • Thanks, D 🙂 I still learn by researching and writing them, too.
      I hadn’t seen the signing pic yet and checked. Hm, I don’t really think he has lost weight. It’s the perspective. If anything, I certainly find his face chunkier than six months ago. But I agree that he is definitely inspirational in his dedication to his work.

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  3. Here you are! Back again, alive and kicking !!!! Das was sich mir sprachlich erschlossen hat, kann ich unterschreiben. Ja, diese Schulter ist fürchterlich zerbrechlich. Das Bild schreit mich an: “nimm mich in den Arm” . Und dabei wird ausdrücklich NICHT die Mutter in mir angesprochen 🙂 Ach so, Defibrilatoren gibt es bei Amazon 😀

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  4. this image has been haunting me. I don’t see it as an “OMG! skin!!” kind of thing but more vulnerable/frail, as was mentioned above. it’s beautiful in that sense. the milkiness of his skin, the odd twist of his neck, the thin boniness across his shoulders and the freckled dirt throughout. it’s that vacant, concentrated look in his eyes though that is messing with me. I’ve read the play so I know where the story ends up: he’s conveying the emotion that will accompany his character throughout, in this one simple promo shot; superb 😎

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    • That’s exactly how I see it, too Kel. One shot that says it all – there is faint rage, there is helplessness, disbelief, worry, vulnerability, dignity, integrity… Ok, I admit that I am reading a lot into this because I have a lot of trust in RA’s acting abilities. AND I know how the plot goes. – I am also amazed again how different Armitage can pose when he is in character *ggg*.

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  5. Yep. Vulnerability, it is. Though as you had written, I did find the pose unusual (since it’s more commonly seen when the model is a woman). Also, I think he’s lost a bit of weight (or probably it’s the Photoshop)

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    • Yeah, I was discussing that with RA-overload further up. She cited the picture of RA signing the posters (Old Vic FB). I actually don’t think that at all but believe it is a matter of (photographic) perspective. Dear Mr A – if you read this, please send us your current weight. We need to settle this issue 😀

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  6. Happy to read your comments Guylty as usual !
    In front of this picture I don’t know how to speak English. Or French. In fact I don’t know how to speak anymore. LOL.
    You mentioning to rent a defebrillator made me laugh so much ! Only one week and HE will be on stage. Oh Mon Dieu !!!

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    • I think it is *only* because I have to keep my wits together and write in English that I do not wither into a dribbling, sobbing mess *ggg*.
      The defibrillator should come with the (steep) ticket prices imho 😀
      Is it only one more week? Gee, he must be shaking with anticipation…

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  7. Despite years of experience, I am always surprised at how wrong I can be. I thought this was a man ip from a fan, because it seemed so improbable to me that RA would use more than his face and voice to generate sex appeal in this role. Of course, he can use all his body parts and is trained to do so, they are equally attractive and we are lucky some of them will be on display “live”. The first time I saw this, I immediately thought “alabaster shoulder” and sculpture. I did think his arm was probably pulled behind him or it was much smaller than usual, because the curve of his chest is not obscured by the muscle in his arm. Maybe that’s why some of us think he as lost weight or muscle mass. Anyway, I am feeling rather stupid for thinking this was a fake poster and shirtless Proctor is presumably about to be in the house. Wow!

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    • Well, I don’t think you are wrong there, Kathy. First of all, I don’t think that sex appeal was in the mix at all. We were all put on the wrong track by that tweet weeks ago. I really doubt that “sexy” will be the thought in my head when I am seeing the (shirtless) events unfold in front of my eyes. I suspect it will be haranguing from beginning to end. As for fake – while RA has appeared topless in a few roles (BTS, CF, RH, SB), he’s never been so for the purpose of (self-)promotion. The topless images we have seen have always been caps, so this really is a new departure. All for the sake of art, of course *coughs* From that POV it is only normal that you assumed this wasn’t “real”. But wow – yes.

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  8. Thank you, guylty! Although nuditiy in the case of RA raises phantasies in fangirls’ brains – this is the tragic climax of the plot, part of John Proctor’s unchangeable fate. No more and no less. It is a very intense poster and I almost “fear” the performance. The first posters had already been very impressive, I like them both. And I like this one. I am really anxious if I will be able to bear this production… Danke!

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    • I am fully with you there, Nell. The play will be one of those pieces where we know that we will be assaulted by the looming tragedy from beginning to end. I am not looking forward to that. But I am looking forward to the play nevertheless. I guess it is endurable not just because of RA but also because we know it is worth-while, challenging and thought-provoking. It’ll be all the better for it.

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  9. Until I read the accompanying description (and saw that familiar mole on his back!) I too first thought that it was a fan manip, it is so unlike anything we’ve seen before.
    “Spoken directly to the heart, appealing to the eyes” sums it up perfectly, Guylty. *0oof* in the sexy sense was my initial reaction – the last time we saw a bare Armitage back was Porter’s wasn’t it, so it’s been a while – but the combination of the vulnerability of bare skin and the intensity in his eyes very quickly evoked a much more emotional response, even without the recognition that his arms are “tied” back rendering him defenceless.
    Richard is simply incredible, and kudos to Jay Brooks, his Crucible photos are stunning. Thank you for a wonderful “ooof” G. x

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  10. (WordPress ate my comment twice earlier today…. hope it gets through this time.)

    “Sexiness is a given with this particular sitter – but maybe not in this particular context?!”
    You’re spot on, as usual, Guylty….between the “dingy” background, his dishevelment and bony angularity – all the setting details imply dungeon and humiliation, not boudoir. His expression and attitude here strongly evoked “Invictus” for me – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182194
    I’m sure this isn’t a new insight, but I think that poem could have been written for / about John Proctor.
    This is my favorite pic from Brooks so far. (Welcome back, by the way! So happy you could work this in so quickly 🙂

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    • Wow, that is an amazing poem, SH, thank you for linking that in. And it really seems to be written for Proctor, I agree. The captain of his own fate, how fitting!
      “dungeon not boudoir” – you are dead right, and I like the way you have neatly captured that.
      As for getting an *ooof* out after my travels – no resistance possible 😀

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      • LOL, no resistance indeed to this pic!
        Glad that I could introduce you to “Invictus”….
        it’s William Ernest Henley’s main claim to fame & I have loved it for a long time.

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