You might remember a couple of posts in the near past where I shared the talents of my buddy Helen Quinn – one showcasing her art, stop action films, and photo-styling and the other, premiering the gorgeous film she created for the singer Migguel Anggelo and his song “Donde Estara Matisse.” Recently, Helen shared with me the fruits of a stunning and recent collaboration between herself and the dynamo photographer Burcu Avsar. I think the work they are doing is so beautiful, and I am both honored to share it here and give the reigns over to Helen . . .
Helen Quinn: When the amazingly talented photographer Burcu Avsar approached me this spring about doing a “test” (a photo shoot for our portfolios, not for a specific client) I jumped at the chance. We talked over Skype and in New York coffee shops and decided we would do a series of color studies. We began with Indigo Blue, followed by Cochineal (the Mexican bug that when ground up makes a vibrant pink) and we just finished shooting Black & White. All the tests can be seen at Burcu’s website under “color studies” or Helen’s under “tear sheets” and we hope to continue the series over the summer.
For the Black & White story, Burcu and I were captivated by the chapter “The Whiteness of the Whale” from Moby Dick by Herman Melville, 1851. In it, Ishmael explains why the color white is so terrifying to him. He lists examples of how white can be pure and beautiful with pearls, marble, wool, “kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds”, the Iroquois’s fascinating mid-winter sacrifice of a sacred white dog, etc. But his true feeling is that the color white is terrifying. He says, “there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.” Ishmael thinks that anything already horrible in nature is even more eerie and ghostly if it is white, like a white shark, a white tiger, a polar bear or of course, a giant white whale.
So for our take on white, Burcu and I wanted to go to the dark side and include black and tarnish for contrast. We used charcoal, worm-eaten wood as a surface and I painted several backgrounds with ink and gouache. Burcu suggested that I make a paper mache rock. I agreed whole heartedly and had a great time wrestling with that challenge, which included a trip to Kremer Pigments to buy mica powder, plaster, small stones and gray pigment. Burcu went to Chinatown and bought the crazy five pound octopus and the beautiful silver fish. We borrowed antique jewelry from a trusting friend, dyed cheese cloth, and amassed our tarnished silver and bake ware. Sculptor Melissa McGill’s porcelain figurines were included in the broken plate image as they truly have a ghostly quality to them. We wanted to create a 19th century, eerie, Nantucket, buried treasure kind of feeling by adding the cotton, lantern, and nautical antiques.
Seeing white as a scary color, steering away from its possible sweetness and preciousness, and trying to understand it as more of a void or absence was a great challenge. The color GREEN is our next challenge. We will see what we come up with…