Jeepers Creepers! I have really started this year slowly. If I don’t want you, my dear esteemed readers, to forget me while I’m gone, I better get my act together! And lo and behold, on the day of the week that used to be my dedicated *ooof*day in days long gone, I have managed to cobble one such photo ramble together. I was even inspired to write a ficlet. What brought that on? Well, read on, and you’ll find out…
Just a few weeks ago I remember seeing a photo shoot with Luke Evans and declaring that what I would like to see Armitage in a similar set up that included a cosy bed. No, not like *that*. I was just longing (not sure if that is the appropriate word in this context *coughs*) for a photo shoot with context, and not the neutral background stuff that we had lately been given. Sarah Dunn made my wishes come true, because some time in December 2014 she released images from a Hobbit cast location session with Armitage that also contained a bed picture. But not to worry, you can stop hyperventilating. This is not going to be smutty and NSFW. I will subdue my RAging libido *ggg* for the public and analyse the image as usual. Where some people have to recite Bible verses or recapitulate mathematical equations, Guylty thinks of camera angle and f-stop. Mind you, occasionally that can be quite an excitement-enducing pursuit, too…
if you are a photo geek. Here it is, then, the first ever bed picture of RA. Well, the first ever published one, that is. Who knows what the man has on his iPhone…
Let’s delay the interpretation with some titillating picture description.
A man Armitage sprawled on a bed.
Do I need to say more?
Alright then. We have a cosy little scene here. In what looks like a shabby chic cottage with flaking paint, exposed beams and old-fashioned window we see an old, ornate metal bed and a small round bedside table. A candle and table lamp sit on the table. In the centre of the monochrome image we have the sitter reclining on the pristine linen on the bed. Armitage is fully dressed in jeans, a cosy chunky woollen sweater and a bulky military style coat.
While a picture of a hot man in a bed may be enough for some, a good picture is one that can sustain the interest beyond the “drool factor”. Switching fangirl Guylty off and ignoring the person in the picture, the image loses some of its magic, I must admit, even though I am generally a sucker for shabby chic and the aesthetics of peeling paint and by-gone interior non-design. But there is an interesting tension between the upper and lower half of the image that keeps my interest engaged for a little longer and beckons me to examine the scene a little more. The tension is created by the composition of the setting itself: The upper half of the image is strongly characterized by various vertical lines – the window frame and panes, the wall beams, the bed frame and the tall table lamp. The lower half of the image is devoid of any such lines – a contrast that you may not even consciously discern. No wonder – the sitter in the centre of the image diverts your attention. His face in near-profile stands out and commands your gaze in the upper half of the image, while the rim effect caused by light from the left highlights the shape of the sitter’s propped-up left leg in the lower half of the image. As usual, the tension derives also from the contrast between the round shape of a human and the straight lines of inanimate objects – wall, window, bed frame. There is also the inferred contrast of hard metal and the soft bedding, or the whiteness of the bedding and the dark colours of the sitter frolicking in it. This kind of contrast and tension is what compels the viewer to look closely, to try and understand, and to interpret what our eyes communicate to our brains. Ok, yeah, and then leaves us to deal with the titillation.
But the question is, is this titillating? And if so, is this titillation purely in the eye of me, the beholder? Or is there intent? I would argue that there is. Because a bed in a picture is not only its denotation, i.e. a place to sleep and to rest in. It comes with a range of connotations, for instance a place where you are stuck when you are sick. Or a place that
most many humans prefer for indoor sports certain other activities. Now, Mr A certainly does not look sickly in this image. In fact he looks quite happy, as snug as a bug in a rug coat. He smiles and lounges comfortably, sprawled on his bed. His body posture is certainly suggestive – he has positioned his arms in such a way that his torso is unobstructed. This could be construed as an open invitation to come and join him there – the literal “open arms”. Mind you, his left leg is restricting our visual access, and he has kept his right foot on the ground. Ready to get up and flee? Nonetheless, the leg position is not entirely restrictive if only we could see from the other side. Seen from futher to our left our gaze would not be restricted by the leg, and the overall impression of comfort would not only apply to the position on the soft bed, but also to himself, as a body in its own right. There is a certain suggestiveness in the right hand holding on to the bed’s metal frame, too. The mind may take a few detours to construe something titillating from that – metal bed frame > metal bars > prison > handcuffs, for instance; or possibly a bit less circumspect by associating the hand holding on to the bar with a situation, right in this particular setting, where a person might attempt to hold on to their own composure by steadying themselves on a bedpost.
And yet the titillation is not quite as straightforward as that. By looking off-camera, the viewers are not directly invited to jump into the subject’s arms. The sitter is merely toying with the connotations, throwing the suggestion out there, but not giving any indication via his own gaze what he really wants or thinks. The turned-away head could even indicate that he is ignoring the viewer completely. For all we know he might be enraptured by the thrilling suspense of daytime TV flickering on a set in his line of vision but out of our sight. Yet the passivity and stillness of the pose invite viewer reaction.
But any picture of a cosy scene on a bed is of course reminiscent of boudoir photography. This is a genre of photography that has recently become rather popular but has been around for longer than most people realize. As early as the 1920s, photographers made pictures of women in the intimate setting of bedrooms, and before that there was a rather popular genre of painting which was expressly made for display in private rooms, and therefore often depicted scenes of a sensual nature – harems, partially nude sleeping beauties and such like. Like in the early days, boudoir photography nowadays aims to stir. Most often than not they are images of scantily clad brides in picturesquely ruffled beds, intended for the happy grooms. As a by-product, boudoir photography is also often seen as a self-esteem boosting exercise for women, allowing them to enjoy their bodies and to feel confident about their looks, especially when set in scene by a sensitive and creative photographic pro. But a boudoir image need not necessarily feature a (partially) undressed subject in order to kindle emotions of a sensual kind. The mind works in wondrous ways, and even a high-necked woolly sweater can look titillating on an attractive man… [insert own further imagination HERE]. I think this picture is a case in point,
fangirl Guylty bounces back.
Having said all that, I am not sure whether this image is a classic Armitage Army favourite. If so, it is maybe more for its novelty factor (“first ever Armitage bed pic”), its titillating content or technical execution. The lighting, for instance, works marvellously in this image, the slight vignetting in the corners adding to the cosy feel of the cottage and simultaneously reminiscent of the early days of photography, which gives the image a certain classic, time-less feel. It may look as if the image is naturally lit by the light that streems in from the window, but if you look closely you will notice the shadows of the metal bed frame against the wall, indicating that an off-camera light-source was used to throw some illumination onto the scene. But even the (deliberate?) arrangement of the askew lampshade works well to make us think that light is coming from that angle. (It was probably placed out of frame and Armitage is facing it, otherwise the side of his face would be in shadow.) As usual, I have my niggles with Dunn’s cropping – which is largely fine, placing Armitage bang in the centre. And then cutting off part of his foot.
What I like least about the image, as much as I like seeing my wish for a bed pic fulfilled, is that to me a believable context has not been achieved. There is nothing wrong with fully dressed men posing on a bed, even in a photo that is reminiscent of boudoir photography (see above). In a way, that could be even construed as an ironic take on boudoir photography by creating all the sensual trappings of an intimate boudoir image – cosy, vaguely classy background, metal bed, ruffled sheets, candle stick and all – and then offsetting that with a demurely dressed sitter. That could be quite funny, or even thought-provoking, actually (a photo project waiting to be made, Guylty makes note). But the suspension of disbelief stops at a man *in a thick warm coat* and *shoes* lounging on a bed. No, it is not that I have an imaginary Mama Armitage in my head, berating her son for putting his dirty shoes on the pristine bed linen. It is simply not taking it far enough, it’s too subtle to be seen as an ironic take on boudoir photography, yet too much clothing to fit a realistic and thus non-ironic context. The image illicits the (presumably) intended emotional response from me. “Take off your coat and shoes, Richard!” I want to shout. But for the wrong reason. It’s not because I want to see more of the man’s shape, but because a coat and shoes in bed are simply wrong: There’s no need for them. If we want to warm up, we take the coat off and huddle under the covers.
Having said that – I *am* pleased at seeing a bit more than just a neutral background. As much as I like to concentrate on the features of my favourite subject, there is a certain visual familiarity with his face. A picture with a background takes a little longer to explore. And I enjoy spending time with Armitage – even when it’s only in 2D. And even with my niggles with the image – I appreciate that Dunn gives us new imagery, professionally executed, whatever the intention. Believable context or not.
But hey, I do not know what the intention, the intended context was. For all I know, this is what really happened:
This was a good sign, she knew. After he had tidied away their lunch in the cosy mountain hut, he had donned the big, bulky coat. She loved seeing it on him – it meant he was warm and happy, and they would spend time on an extended walk. Just him and her. That meant alone-time. No phones ringing, no one coming to the door and visiting. They would be outside on one of their peaceful walks, enjoying their time undisturbed, and together. In the short time she had known him, he had become her sole focus. Away from it all, he cared only for her, and even when he had to look at his work, he would allow her to cuddle up to him, nudging her blond head under his arm. He didn’t have to talk to her. She enjoyed his mere presence, even if she didn’t have his attention. But on their long walks she knew she always had his attention…
She was out of the door of the chalet before he had even closed the buttons on his coat. It had snowed the night before, and the air was chilly despite bright sunshine. She ran ahead kicking up the deep soft snow that surrounded the hut. “Wait”, he shouted with a laugh, “not so fast.” Not turning back, she ran on, but stopped with a start when something soft, wet and white exploded on her head. She playfully growled. What the??? Today he meant serious fun, it seemed, and when she turned around, he was already running towards her, grabbing another handful of snow and hurling it into her direction. She ducked and shrieked with joy. “The fun is in the chase, eh”, he panted as he continued to follow her, “wait til I get you!” She shook her blond tresses and made a sharp turn, just about missing his big powerful hands that were ready to grab her. She knew how to keep him chasing after her… and yes, there was nothing better than that.
By the time they were both exhausted from the chase, not a single snowflake of the previously virginal snow around the chalet had been left unturned. He smiled at her, his rapidly coming breath leaving clouds of steam in the chilly winter air. “Come on, let’s go back inside, I need to catch my breath”, he softly said to her. She sidled up to him and together they leisurely walked back to the entrance porch. She was enraptured, observing him opening the buttons of his coat, and before she could slip in through the door, he held her back, leaned down to her and smoothed a few bits of icy snow from her hair, finishing up with a tender kiss on her head. She sniffed softly, the warmth of his breath on her head sending shivers of affection through her, and pushed past him into the hut, sneaking into the warmest room in the house.
He was close behind and fell on the bed with a loud sigh. “That was exhilarating fun, my sweet”, he exhaled. He hadn’t even taken his coat off, but with a contented sigh he pushed his bum up further on the bed and pulled himself up by his right hand on the metal bed frame. He closed his eyes contendedly. When he opened them again, she was standing by the fireplace, warming herself, her chest still rising and falling from the frolicking in the snow a minute ago. He smiled and winked at her. “You look like you need some warming-up…”, he enticed her to join him. “And so do I. Come here and be a good girl”, he patted the white duvet with his left hand. She had waited for that sign. Tail wagging, she jumped on the bed with a “woof”.