From a recent interview:
Photographer: Lee Howell Stylist/Designer: Stacy Jansen Hair/Makeup: Caroline Stewart Models: Anna Modell and Kevin Manga
About the Project: TRIBE - Maasai
A project in collaboration with US costume designer Stacy Jansen, centred around traditional ethnic tribal dress of indigenous tribes from across the globe.
The requisite was to photograph models here in the UK, dressed in the garments Ms Jansen creates for the film, theatre and television industry, and composite them into suitable backdrops that had been previously captured.
1. Can you tell me a little more about the TRIBE project. Some background info, etc. & What inspired you to feature the Maasai people?
Tribe is a collaboration project between myself and Stay Jansen, who is a costume designer for theatre, film and television. I had seen a collection of her designs in a recent fashion catwalk show, and was very interested in the way much of her work is heavily influenced by that of indigenous tribal people from around the world, in particular Africa in the styling and production.
Her experience having spent time out in Africa has given her a real insight into the people, their traditional dress and how it’s put together and worn, so when time came to photograph these garments it seemed illogical to simply picture them in a sterile white studio, completely out of context with everything these garments were about.
Much of the imagery that I am renown for producing are works of fiction, whether the Work is for advertising, editorial, fine art photography or for personal projects, there is always a sense of romanticism and escapism engrained within the imagery. As Stacy’s designs are so heavily influenced by her time in Africa it seemed only fitting that we should try and portray them in context with which they are associated and with my particular expertise in image manipulation and compositing we were able to make this possible on a very small budget, without leaving the UK.
"Photography is an accessible medium; it holds great potential to inspire interest in and convey the beauty of a culture. Our aim was to create a series of photographs which would explore facets of these cultures through the medium of Lee’s unique photographic style.
To do this end, we chose to focus on creating photographs which would draw an emotional response from the viewer, photographs where we blended visual elements which allude to Maasai material culture with extraordinary settings.
This series is intended to be a departure from typical “style” photography. This is a representation of the elegance of the Maasai, but also a reminder of the individuality of people worldwide – an awareness which can easily be lost"..Stacy Jansen
2.What are some of the challenges that you had when shooting the tribe?
I work with a great team of creative individuals, makeup, hair and lighting assistants, so once we had found our ideal models, of which Kevin Mdanga our male model is actually from Maasai descent, then it was down to me to make a grey, overcast, rainy couple of days shooting in Scotland look like the sun dried savannah of the Serengeti, which was no mean feat I can assure you. I already had all of the backplate imagery already captured from a previous trip to Africa myself. I knew which scenes I was intending to use, so had to try to match a Scottish foreground location to that of the already captured backdrop, we ended up supplementing African bush for a piece of scrub land at the base of the Pentland Hills on the outskirts of Edinburgh perfectly. Due to freezing cold temperatures and persistent rain, we started our shoot in the studio, capturing much of the models imagery indoors, that way they could really get into their roles without teeth chattering and turning blue from the severe cold.
3. Can you describe some of the things you do in retouching?
For this project it was the full works, each image is constructed from scratch in Adobe Photoshop CC, taking the original files captured in camera and then adding these individual elements to the scene one at a time, much the same way a painter will produce a painting or an artist may put together a collage. I usually start by putting the foreground, middle ground and then background in place, then the sky, the main subject matter, in this case our Maasai models, additional components like tree’s, animals, birds are then introduced. Then I may add, light particles, bokeh, dust particles, add some blur to the for ground or any number of other elements that help cement the the final image together. Areas are dodged and burned, usually on a grey layer using the paint brush tool, so as it is all totally editable and none destructive.
Finally when everything is in place and I am happy with the way it all sits together, I add a layer of colour toning to enhance the richness of the colours already embedded within the image, and more often than not I will pull back on the blacks a little with a curves adjustment, which again makes the final result a little more pleasing to the eye of the viewer.
Lee Howell Photography: Website