Quick change of plan. I actually wanted to go hunting/gathering for materials to decorate the advent wreath with, but now needs must. Jay Brooks has released a previously unseen image from his series of images for the Crucible posters. I can only say *ooof*:
Unfortunately we do not get this image in the same high resolution as the official promo images from TC. This time we see Richard Armitage as John Proctor at a 180° angle to the camera, his body turned towards our right. This is an almost-half length shot of the man which stops just underneath his ribcage. While the torso is at a right angle to the camera, the head has been tilted down slightly and turned towards the camera. That way we get a three-quarter profile of Proctor’s face. The sitter holds his arms loosely behind his back, allowing us a glimpse of his back, too. The image does not provide any context for the sitter or the character depicted – he is simply shot in front of a grey, mottled backdrop.
Much of the general parameters of the set-up has already been discussed in an emergency *ooof* which I wrote in June 2014. Back then, the Old Vic released a number of poster designs to promote their upcoming play The Crucible. Just to recap then: The lighting choice here is quite interesting as it consists of harsh light from one side which creates strong contrast and shadow. Lit from above left, the strong light allows the contours of the body stand in every detail. This does not only give us the pleasure of discerning every single hair on this beautiful body and face, but the lighting also adds a gritty, harsh and aggressive feel to the image – a first layer of meaning added just through the lighting choice.
I always find it really interesting when we get to see several images from the same shoot, especially when some of them are “outtakes”, i.e. images that did not make it to final edit and are therefore not post-produced to the same standard or goal. By comparing them, you can make some deductions on the shoot. Compare, for instance, the backdrop of the official poster and the new image. Both images must have been shot against the same grey, mottled backdrop. But the Crucible poster has been given an extra texture that looks like a flaking wall. – Also, the comparison here confirms for me that our assumption that the poster image had been flipped, is correct – set up and background of the two images are identical; it is unlikely that the photographer swapped set-ups.
The pose here is slightly different from what we saw before. Instead of a prominent shoulder monopolising our gaze, we get to see more: While the pose is somewhat forced, with the sitter holding his arms loosely behind his back, it allows us an unrestricted view of his side, and we can see the contour of the sitter’s back. The pose reminds me of a dancer, with beautiful, commanding tension in his body, much like a proud Flamenco dancer: back stretched, shoulders pushed back, arms tensed. The athleticism of the sitter is also emphasised by the glimpse of his ribs. Not an ounce too much on this man…
or his he holding is stomach in? I have vague recollections of some softness around Proctor’s mid-riff from the shirtless scene of the play that this image is presumably referencing.
Where I found the earlier image slightly counterproductive (in that the soft rounded shape of the shoulder is often associated with female subjects, emphasising the female form and associating fragility and sexiness), this one ticks all the right boxes: The pulled back arms make the shoulders look impressively strong. The tensed arms cause the biceps to bulge slightly – there is power and strength in this pose, less fragility. In that sense, this image literally embodies the character from the play very effectively: a strong man, both mentally and physically, who is used to physical labour, and who considers himself (even if not consciously) a sensual, sexual animal. There is a visceral quality to this image, it plays very directly with strong sexual markers – the biceps, the visible body hair (chest, armpit, forearm, beard), the nose (?) – and clearly appeals to our inner cavewoman. *rrrrrrrr*
As such, the image very much meets my approval *just* as a woman. However, in terms of its function, i.e. a promotional image that promotes a specific play through the photographic characterisation of its protagonist, it does not work as well. The sensuality and sexuality conveyed in the image is too overpowering to give enough room to the moralistic dimensions of John Proctor. His sensuality is only just *one* facet of the man; in the play, it is his mental strength and his unfailing morality – despite sins of the past – which make him the hero of the piece. While the image does not exactly represent gratuitous nudity – there is, after all, a scene in the play where Proctor briefly appears bare-chested when he washes himself after coming home from a day of working as a farmer – I nonetheless do not really see a meaningful representation of a real-life situation in this pose. The dirty, naked body in this pose reminds me more of a miner, taking a pause while working underground in 40°C heat, than a farmer who has spent his day doing whatever farmers do. That is not an accusation levelled at the enviable make-up artist, btw. She has done a great job, creating body make-up that enhances the body contours and thus the physicality of the man. Look, for instance, at his shoulder and note how the two dark lines of make-up add a strong three-dimensional feel to the muscles, almost as if there are grooves in the shoulder. (You can see mvtbeauty here in an image that shows her touching up the make-up on the shoot – the image must have passed me by back then, hence I am including it now.)
Maybe the sensuality could have been dampened down a bit by a closer crop? For the fun of it, I tried it:
The crop here shows that this pose does not really work as well as the shoulder shot of the final version. While Proctor’s gaze is equally intense and suitable, the shape of the torso visible in the crop does not add as much interest to the composition, as the lines of the shoulder in the final version do. In fact, the expanse of skin is almost a bit nondescript, despite the applied dirt/make-up, and part of the body ends up “cut-off”.
In conclusion, knowing the play and despite reacting quite strongly to this image *coughs*
’nuff said, I can actually only agree with the decision *not* to make this one of the official posters. My first reaction to the new image was “I’m too sexy for a Proctor”… Right, said Guylty. There’s nothing wrong with sexy, and personally I like sexy *coughs*, but this is very much Proctor animalis as opposed to Proctor moralis. Less skin is certainly more, in terms of a Proctor portrait. Besides, having this plastered all over London’s bus stops and tube stations, might have caused chaos and spontaneous female breakdowns. Thank you, Jay Brooks, for sparing us that. At least back then. *thud*