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The Return of Madame X
The Return of Madame X

Photograph Information Photographer's Comments
Challenge: Free Study 2011-01 (Advanced Editing VII)
Collection: 2010
Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Nikon AF Nikkor -S DX 18-105 f3.5-5.6
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: Jan 8, 2011
Galleries: Portraiture, Studio
Date Uploaded: Jan 11, 2011

Model: Tracy Braime

When I first met Tracy, I knew I would use her in my homage to John Sargent Singer's masterpiece, Madame X.

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This was my first ever solo studio lighting session, and I have to say, I was feeling a little nervous the night before.

I have always loved that painting, and wanted to create an image that captured her haughtiness, her ethereal beauty, her regal posture, her dismissive yet alluring attitude. Just slightly updated. To that end, her stance is more suggestive, she is holding one of her shoes instead of a fan, and both her feet (one of them naked) are visible. In the original scandal-provoking painting, the right shoulder strap was off the shoulder, as in my photograph. Sargent painted it back up on the shoulder after the public outcry and at the socialite's insistence. Too provocative for the times, it seems. Of course, today it is barely noticeable in our hypersexualized society, but it is my nod to his original vision. I didn't have a suitable table, but oddly enough, I did have the lion, which turned out to be more aggressive and somehow, more modern.

For the dress, I tapped my costumer friend who works at Warner Bros. (thank you Dana!!!!). She brought me two gorgeous dresses, which in the end I did not use. Instead, I ended up constructing the ensemble using a Valentino gown I've owned forever for the top, and over it, a skirt I'd picked up the day before at Goodwill. I occasionally go in there scavenging for wardrobe for my shoots, and the first thing I put my hand on was this skirt. I almost yelped for joy as it was EXACTLY what I'd envisioned. (It is the same skirt I used for my OOB entry, which I shot the following day). As I lifted it off the rack, the loudspeaker broadcast a half-price sale on all skirts. I took it home for $10. For the straps I used a rhinestone belt which I pinned into the dress, and clip-on earrings for the broaches. I concealed the waist area with a beaded belt I have.

Tracy is English, and her skin is naturally very pale. Still, and I used a powder finish to give her a bit of a glow. The lighting did the rest. My in-camera white balance gave her the desired and surreal violet tone. I only took about 15 images. It turned out exactly as I envisioned.

convert from RAW
cloned out wrinkles on the curtain, a seam at the top, and a couple of small skin blemishes.
adjusted huge, saturation, levels, contrast, and a couple of rounds of curves
dodged and burned all over
Topaz simplify on her skin
save for web

I hope you like it.

[post challenge]

Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments. I was hoping she'd place better, but I'm very pleased anyway. Regarding the darkness at the bottom, it was an intentional choice. I could have separated it more (there were other shots where her entire image was perfectly visible), but it somehow lost the mystery and the grandeur.

Place: 98 out of 307
Avg (all users): 5.9085
Avg (commenters): 7.2000
Avg (participants): 5.8586
Avg (non-participants): 6.0233
Views since voting: 867
Views during voting: 255
Votes: 142
Comments: 13
Favorites: 0

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02/11/2011 03:30:39 PM
So close to that 6 - really should have been higher. Your composition and lighting in this photo is top notch Johanna; the commentors and the non-participants show that they too felt this was a lovely shot. Regardless of final score this was a beautiful capture and one that you very well should be proud of.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 09:42:54 AM
I thought this was wonderful and was instantly recognizable to me. Though I think the lion dominates too much, I don't mind its presence. You're lighting on her skin is top notch.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 02:09:01 AM
I LOVED this!! and just exactly the way it is! (should've placed higher! ) Tough Free Study! but this is just CLASSIC
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 02:07:33 AM
You really are doing so well with your photography. The lighting is lovely. Could she breathe? :)
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 01:35:41 AM
Well done J. BTW, what is a powder finish? Did you offer her an undercoating as well? ;)
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 12:30:29 AM
I thought this might be yours when I was voting. Perhaps the model looked familiar to me. Have you previously used her for a challenge entry?
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 12:28:57 AM
Marvelous!! Tom's comment is right on. I love the seductiveness of this and your lighting is wonderful. I also get a kick out of your creativity with the wardrobe. Well done!
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/08/2011 12:10:54 AM
Love this shot, love that painting (got to see it on tour once). Beautiful work. got an 8 from me.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
 Comments Made During the Challenge
02/07/2011 09:52:22 PM
Elegantly tongue-in-cheek (I think) interpretation cleaning up the salaciousness of the original.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/07/2011 03:46:57 PM
well done
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/01/2011 10:16:48 PM
Love the lighting on the model here; the image would have been just as lovely without the statue.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/01/2011 11:30:50 AM
a bit of a reflector to separate on the lower right (just a little) i think would improve this for me.
  Photographer found comment helpful.
02/01/2011 10:13:49 AM
Excellent job and great pose.
  Photographer found comment helpful.

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