Sony RX1, 35mm f2 Carl Zeiss
ISO200, f/2.8, 1/125, raw
First day of “Sacra Famiglia”.
Eleventh theme of the “365 Days of RX1: one camera, one lens, 12 projects”. Back from the empty streets of “Night Walking” I’ll be spending the next month in my studio, shooting portraits. My intention is to portrait all my family members, that is, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws.
I called this theme “Sacra Famiglia”, because December in Italy is dedicated to Christmas and the Holy Family is the center of Christmas. The whole family gathers around the same table, sharing dinner or lunch and eventually presents, but the point is: the link between Christmas and Family is strong even in those who do not believe in Christ at all. Families here use Christmas to count their members and see how much Time has changed them, by birthing, growing, ageing, or dying. Every Christmas gets inevitably compared to the previous one(s), and stories of past parties come out naturally, creating joyous melancholia in those who remember, and fascination in those who don’t because they were too young or just weren’t there yet.
I feel the urge to capture my family, my whole family, since a few years already. Like a need for cataloging. I can’t help but feel sad for those who left us too soon and I won’t be able to include in this work. I know already that those missing faces will hunt me.
About the technique I’m going to use for these studio portraits. To bring a taste of the first family albums in my shots, I’ll be using a very old field camera to frame and focus my subjects. The camera is so old it misses the shutter, so it basically is a wooden box with a lens on the one side and a ground glass on the other. The wood inside the box has been left with its original color (instead of being blackened) which gives the subjects a peculiar warm tone, and the ground glass produces old-school textures plus a kind of natural vignetting which is just fabulous. Once the subject is framed and focused, I put the RX1 behind the field camera and focus on the ground glass, framing the whole back of the field camera in the shot. I use a 400W studio strobe mounted with a 120×80 softbox to light the subject. However, the way the light seems to hit the subject doesn’t only depend on the strobe position, but also (and mostly) on the position of the RX1 with respect to the ground glass. If you ever looked through one of those you’ll know what I mean, the glass shows a bright image solely in correspondence of the lens position (since that is where all the light comes from), so by moving the head the light seems to move within the frame.
This technique requires to focus, frame and exposure at least twice. It isn’t fast nor good for snaps, that’s for sure. But I feel it gives that sense of aged and sacred that photography had at its very beginning, when its roots where still so intertwined with painting.
I went for repetition because I think it helps to get the technique (and, with it, the photographer) out of the equation, leaving solely the subjects, their personality, their similarities and differences, to speak for the images. That said, I hope I’ll be able to capture enough personality, similarities and differences in my family portraits. The photographer may seem out of the equation, yet it’s his full responsibility to get those attributes to shine in the first place. I hope I’ll be good enough.
So, let’s start with the “Sacra Famiglia”, and let’s start it with my origin in it. Let’s start with Mother.