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:
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.