Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 2

29 Jan

Continuing my epic, multi-piece post from last week, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented.

In this second post, I will share with you my 2009 trip to photograph model Trevor Ivanich as Farnace!

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

Photographing the Model: Trevor Ivanich as Farnace

My concept is complete. I know what I want. What do I do next?

My first step is to find male or female models to portray the characters in the scenes I would like to illustrate. Generally, I look for a model who resembles the character I imagine in my head. I have many different sources for finding models (It’s just like stalking!) but my main two sources are friends, and the website, which is a web community where models, photographers and stylists can meet.

I was traveling to Nebraska in January 2009. This trip was the trip where my mother taught me how to sew. It was dedicated almost exclusively to making costumes for my Mozart Project, but I decided to look for models in the Nebraska area who might fulfill a Mozart Project photo.

I found Trevor Ivanich on the internet through Modelmayhem, and he agreed to work with me on my project, and I agreed to take some photos of him that he could use to start his modeling portfolio.

Trevor Ivanich

Photos of Trevor from our first shoot.

One thing I did not know about Trevor, until I spoke to him, was that he was only 16 years old at the time. Now, I’m generally pretty wary about working with people who are under-aged. It’s hard enough explaining my project to a model, but trying to explain why you’re taking shirtless pictures of a child, dressed like a Roman soldier, in front of what must look like a make-shift light set-up in a corner of a creepy basement is not particularly easy. There’s really no grey area in a situation like that. You’re either above board, or you ain’t. Trevor’s parents were very understanding, of course, but I don’t think anyone can really “get” what a composite picture is all about until the image is entirely finished.

Because the boys in the play “Mitridate” are supposed to be between 16 and 20, I thought Trevor would be a very good choice.

So, I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska at Trevor’s house on a mid-winter morning. I do not eat breakfast, generally, and while I did get up early to drive to Omaha on this day, I chose not to eat breakfast, because it tends to upset me if I am anxious.

Trevor greeted me at the door, but almost immediately after that, dashed off to the shower, and his mother took the time to introduce me to all the people in the household, and then took the time to introduce me to a board game called “Thinkfun Rush Hour”, which we played for the duration of Trevor’s preparation. Trevor’s father was away at work.

When Trevor was ready, we teamed up to do some modeling photos for him. This took us a few hours, and it gave me a chance to know how he worked. It also gave Trevor the proper amount of time it takes to get really comfortable in front of the camera. At this point in his career, his teenage enthusiasm was at its height, and he really wanted to convey that sex-appeal and energy. As a photographer, I have noticed that after two hours of being in front of the camera, there is a change in the subject, and with this comes a new energy, relaxation, comfort, and naturalness.

However, I skipped lunch, and moved straight into the Mozart Project. The first thing that we needed to do was to paint the faux-tattoo from my design sketch on to Trevor’s upper body. This process always takes around an hour. It is absolutely necessary to strike up a conversation while painting somebody (unless the subject is asleep). Trevor, his mother, and I chatted while his mother photographed the proceedings.

Prep for Mitridate Photoshoot

Here are some pictures of me painting Farnace’s tattoo on Trevor.

Sitting out in the open getting painted, Trevor got cold, and had his legs covered in a blanket. So, here we have a half-naked teenager in the middle of the floor, wrapped awkwardly in a blanket, getting painted by a strange man, and being photographed by his mother. Without any prior information, this might seem like some sort of pagan ritual. It is at this point that Trevor’s father walked in on us.

“Well, this looks like fun,” he said, and left it open ended for us to explain what was going on. He then gave us pizza, of which I had one slice.

In my initial design, Farnace had cornrow braids. This was not something that I prepared for, and so, instead, we pulled Trevor’s hair back, and added a group of pre-styled hair extensions which I had brought along.

Trevor prepping for Mitridate Photoshoot

The first shot shows a rare instance when I did the hair for a shoot. The other two shots show Trevor getting dressed for the photoshoot.

Then, the photo shoot began! Trevor is a model who blossoms into any of the poses or emotions you ask from him. He tends to synch himself up the camera quickly. He fell in step with my technique faster than many other models who are trained to change poses every instant, at every click of the button, which has never worked for me, because my photography is based on angles and composition.

Trevor Faux Tattoo

Soon, the photoshoot was over. I had spent around eleven hours working. I am not really a social person normally, and I had been “on” all day without eating.

I packed up, and got in the car, and fell apart.

All of the stress of meeting new people, maintaining an appearance of being friendly and talkative while utilizing my artistic skills, and maintaining a grip on the technical details of what was going on, took its toll. Usually, when I’m being artist or technical, I become very pensive and distant while I disappear into my mind, and on this trip I had to do this at the same time as being social. I felt distracted. I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends. I could feel the flame getting closer. I had not eaten anything of substance.

Photographing Trevor for his portfolio earlier in the day only added to the stress. I was literally photographing all day. I wanted to give him a fair trade, a good set of portfolio photos for a Mozart photo, but I was uncertain of where to draw the line with someone who was under-aged. I have in my arsenal techniques for making a male model look good – it’s what I do – but are any of my ideas or techniques appropriate for a teenager? He was bringing everything to the table, and I was hesitating, and I honestly felt like I both failed at getting any good images of him and failed socially, as if everything that was running through my mind was apparent to everyone around me.

And I felt like a hollow shell, too empty to cry, and wondered if success as a photographer was something I could ever achieve, and if taking pictures was really something I wanted to do.

Then, I drove for two hours to home, and slept forever.

Tyson and Trevor

Trevor and I in front of the backdrop.

Every photoshoot I go on has its own emotional presence. Many times the shoots are relaxing, or filled with laughter, or adventure, where you can find things like four adults hiding from youths, exploring new places together, or literally startling screams out of innocent bystanders (It’s the hair). Other times someone on your team has a nervous breakdown, and your friendship grows and is strengthened by working together on both art and relationships at the same time. Sometimes, Lizzie Webb steals your camera, claiming she didn’t want it to get wet in the flash rainstorm, but doesn’t tell you, and you wander all over re-tracing all of your steps, wondering what you’re going to do with everyone in costume and no camera to photograph them!

However, taking the photo of the models in costume is just the beginning.

COMING UP NEXT – Scoring shots from all around America to build a composite background!

The Photographer

Where in the world will Tyson find himself next?


4 Responses to “Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 2”

  1. liselfwench January 29, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Interesting post – I love hearing about the behind-the-scenes stuff!

    And that tattoo you painted on is GORGEOUS.

    • tysonvick January 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

      I’m glad you like behind the scenes! I was worried my costume friends would be bored for a few weeks!

      By the way, his costumes is just four yards of maroon linen.

      I feel kind of bad ruining the illusion of the pictures by showing everything! *It’s just a white sheet and a black sheet hanging up on a wall!*

      I’m glad you like that tattoo!

  2. Twila Vick Rempe February 2, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Awesome Tyson! I love to hear how the final photo was created – cuz I’ve never been able to attend any of your photo shoots. I was also very apprehensive about your trip to Omaha to meet strangers and photograph them as I recall. . . you continue to amaze me.


  1. Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 3 « onedelightfulday - February 5, 2011

    […] Mozart Project photo. You can catch Part 1 if you want to learn about the design and music or Part 2 if you want to watch my mad photography skillz in […]

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