At the beginning of my Final Major Project I had a detailed vision as to what kind of images I wanted to produce, and now at the end of this module I can finally say that I have achieved what I had set out to do. The first big challenge of this project was switching from digital to film, I had used film extensively in the first year, but I needed to do a couple of practice shoots first to get myself used to the mamiya, and decide which type of film I wanted to use. I’d say that working with film also allowed me to slow down the whole process, everything was considered and checked as I couldn’t afford to make a mistake, it also felt a lot more intimate than working digitally, you couldn’t waste frames, so you spoke to the subject and directed them more than you would normally shooting digitally. I also had to work with available light, so it wasn’t just a case of directing the model into the best position to showcase the venues, but finding the best light which would highlight her and the venue to compliment one-another.

I feel that my first two shoots were a success, but didn’t necessarily portray what I wanted to say about my subject, I think I only really achieved this by the last shoot, this is why the majority of my final set of images are from that particular venue. Initially I was only going to use the images of the burlesque performers, but after I presented my images to the mentors, they explained that the audience played an important role in this act, so it would be vital to include them in my final images. I had taken quit a few images of the audience, but because it was so dark at the shows, and you couldn’t use flash photography, they came out either very dark or too grainy. This was my reasoning to only use one image from the audience, mainly because it fits in best with the others aesthetically, and I think it is also one of the most thought-provoking.

This project has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone, not only shooting film, but also documenting burlesque in a more gritty and realistic way. The majority of my images prior to this project were of burlesque performers in the studio, they were nice images, but too romantic for what I was trying to present. I have positive feelings towards burlesque, I like what it stands for, and I have witnessed the good that it can do, but this is something that I had explored before, so this project, for me was about documenting burlesque and the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience. Burlesque is portrayed in the media as glamorous and glitzy, but when you look closer and especially at some of the up-and-coming shows, some of the audience members aren’t glitzy and glamorous, far from it actually. This is something that I felt had not been explored before photographically, so it felt like something new and exciting for me as an artist, which I am planning to carry on after University.

I think that in terms of research, I have explored relevant texts and practitioners, people such as Lisa Kererszi and Sarah Schorr, who have influenced me, not only with subject matter, but their style of photography too. Texts such as Voyeurism and Exhibitionism by Maous Artiste which have changed my perception on ‘the spectator’ and how the audience are perceived. Finally my mentor Tom Hunter, who has given me a great amount of advice on my project; he’s not only helped with the final selection, but also my presenting methods, and where the best places for printing/mounting are etc. He has been a most helpful and inspiring contact, and I hope we stay in touch.

This has been a stressful, enjoyable, exciting and tiring project, but I have learnt so many things along the way, not just technically, but mentally too, after three years I finally have the confidence in my work to be able to show it to others and be proud of it. If I could go back and change anything I would have possibly looked further into presenting my images with alternative processes such as a medium format slide project, but unfortunately it was way out of my budget, but this is something I’m definitely going to consider in the future. Overall it has been a great experience creating my own brief and working to my own deadlines, and I feel this has helped show me what my own self motivated projects will be like when I finish my degree.

Final Images and framing

So after four shoots all in different locations I have finally narrowed it down to this final selection. This series contains images from 3 separate venues, but I still feel they work well as a set. I decided to stick with portraying one performer in the end, although I felt the other shoots were a success, some felt a little too romantic for what I was trying to get across to the viewer. In the feedback with Tom and Suky Best it was suggested that I incorporated the images with the audience to show the less glamorous side of burlesque. Suky said that ‘burlesque and stripping have been romanticized recently’ and that the images with the audience added another level to my images. What was also very helpful with the feedback was that during my presentation I mentioned the words ‘Raw Glamour’, which Suky said would be a great title for my piece, this was something I was struggling with, so that’s something else to cross off my list.

Although my intention was to show burlesque in the positive way in which I see it, I think the image of the two male audience members demonstrates that although this act can be glamorous to the audience, the performer cannot pick and choose their audience and these types of men do attend these performances, for what ever reason that may be (although I think the majority can imagine why). Furthermore, the two men were not present at any of Charlotte’s (Miss. Von Vamps) shows, but I think that aesthetically the images work as a set as the colours are very similar.

The three images above show behind the scenes, something the audience wouldn’t typically see and also the audience’s role within burlesque is rarely seen in the media or even in other burlesque inspired photography projects, so I thought this was necessary to add this particular role. The 3 images below are the more glamorous aspects of burlesque, I wanted to show the performer in a positive light and they way in which I think she should be perceived.

I’ve decided to get my images printed at Palm Labs in Birmingham, each image costing £35 for 30cm x 30cm, so in total that’s £210 for 6 prints and the frames will be from Ikea, which I previously stated in my proposal and they are £12 each, so in total £72 for 6 frames. I had also looked into frames with LED lighting around the edges which would flash different colours, but when I saw an example I could see that glare would be a big problem, so I’m going to keep my framing simple and stick with my original idea of black frames with white mounting, so not to distract the viewer from the images themselves.

I’m extremely happy with my final selection and printing/framing, and now all that’s left is to hang them in the gallery!

Business cards

For my exhibition I’ve designed some business cards made from moo.com. They allow more creative control than other business card sites such as vista print. I’ve decided to go with a rounded finish and have 19 designs in total, this would be ideal for different clients, for example I could give vintage clothing companies my Urban village vintage themed cards etc. I have also bought a card box holder to place in the exhibition.  The overall costing is £28.19 for 50 business cards, but I have saved my design, so I can order more if I need to.


I know a fair amount of my peers have decided to incorporate a book within their degree show. This was an idea which interested me but I was feeling a little pessimistic about the outcome because all of my images (aesthetically) are quite different to one-another. The audience series are very dark, and I know from previous experience with printing that they would come out even darker in a book. The colours throughout my images also varied depending on the location, as I used natural light where possible; the different gels on the house lighting created different hues.

I decided to make a template anyway just to explore different ways of exhibiting my work. I’m quite pleased with the front cover, I think the font compliments the subject and the cover image represents what I’m trying to explore well. I think when I carry on with this project after University, this is something that I would like to experiment with more, but at the moment I think my prints demonstrate what my project is about and they work well as a series on their own; I don’t want my audience to be flooded with images at my degree show, I want to give them an insight into my project.

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Final shoot: The Old Rep Theatre

I took my final set of images yesterday at the Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham. I had no assistants, no digital as back up; it was just me, the subject, the Mamiya and 5 rolls of film. By the results of my previous shoots I knew exactly what I wanted to capture this time, more images of the subject getting ready, less close-up portraits and paying more attention to the venue itself. I was hard not to pay attention to the venue itself in all honesty. It was spectacular. It was the perfect location to photograph a burlesque performer in, there were red velvet chairs and huge lights on the walls, I had sketched a few ideas on my notepad prior to the shoot, so I knew exactly where to position the subject.

As she has been the main feature throughout my work I thought it would be appropriate to carry on using Miss. Von Vamp, she is open to direction and has a certain confidence that really comes to life behind the lens. I had sent out numerous emails, Facebook statuses and tweets about the location that I had hired for this shoot, I have about 200+ burlesque friends on Facebook, so I thought I would have had more of a response than I did, I even sent out messages to more alternative/pin-up looking models who have a similar looks, but no one got back to me. I had also asked model, Charly Malone, who I have worked with before, but she had a deadline that day, so unfortunately couldn’t make the shoot either.

I’m quite glad I only used the one Burlesque performer in the end, I think the images are far more intimate than those which I have used 2 or more models in. Surprisingly everything went a lot smoother with just the two of us, Charlotte managed to change into three outfits and I had (more or less) perfected focusing and exposure on the mamiya. I feel that this series os images are my most successful, so I will be using a selection of these for my final prints. Now I’ve just got the hard part in deciding which ones to use! I’m still contemplating whether to create a book or not, my images, aesthetically are very different from each shoot, so I’m not sure if they will work as a set, but I will ask my peers for advice at the final critique with the mentors. I am more than happy with the results from this shoot, and I feel they are my strongest work to date, I hope I get the same response from others and that the viewers of this blog can see the progression of my work from when I first began this exploration.

The roles have reversed!

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Susan Meiselas ‘Carnival Strippers’ and it’s Relation to my own Images.

Susan Meiselas has been my main source of inspiration for quite some time now. I have always been captivated by her ‘Carnival Strippers’ body of work, where she spent her summers from 1972-1975 photographing and interviewing women who performed a striptease for carnivals in New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. She documented them on and off stage, portraying their performances and their personal lives. She also interviewed the dancers, boyfriends, show managers and punters to depict the realness of the strip show. This body of work reflects the struggle these performers had whilst doing this act and brought a hidden event to the public attention.

Susan Meiselas has influenced many recent projects of mine. Although I am trying to represent the positive aspects of Burlesque, the way she documents her performers by gaining close friendships with her subjects is something that I think is vital in portrait photography to capture intimate moments. That is the main reason why I am working so closely with one performer (Miss Von Vamp), who is one of my friends any way, but we have definitely become closer by me documenting her performances, her getting ready and her in a staged shoot. We have spoken a lot about Burlesque performances and she has really opened my eyes to the world of Burlesque, and made me change my views on it entirely. I knew little about it when I first photographed her back in my second year, but I think they are such interesting subjects and that’s why I have carried on with this investigation into burlesque.

When I first began my Final Major Project I was adamant that I wanted to focus on voyeurism and the audiences role within burlesque, but naturally I found myself more eager to shoot the subject in a typical location that they would perform in. I did attempt to photograph the audience at the Secret Fridae event, but the images didn’t represent what I had to say about burlesque. I want to show the audience my positive views on burlesque by portraying these women the way I think they deserve to be presented. I have photographed in small pubs and grand theatres, but the images seem to look the same because my sole focus is on the individual with little distractions. I will have to ask my peers whether they think I should use the live burlesque images or the staged ones. I personally prefer the staged images, mainly because of how they look aesthetically, but also when I shot these, they seemed more personal and intimate to me. I feel a book might be appropriate with my images, simply because of the amount I have taken over these last few months. My last shoot definitely felt like I had captured everything I had set out to do. There was no audience and no distractions, but I’ve now realised by my final shoot that this is what I wanted to portray, the performer getting ready, the location and the amazing elaborate costumes. It’s a simple reasoning, but I’m presenting these subjects in the positive light in which I see them.

You can view Carnival Strippers here.

Walkabout Secret Fridae

I was a little skeptical about this shoot because I would be shooting on film, in a very dark location and I wasn’t able to use flash. I bought 800ISO film to combat the dark, but I knew this would instantly mean more grain. Even with the high ISO I did struggle a lot with this particular shoot. My exposure was f2.8 and my shutter speed remained at about 1/30-60. On a lot of my images there is an awful amount of blur, but this was to be expected. I was hoping to achieve some movement within my images to complement my static posed images. I originally shot in colour, but it just didn’t seem to work this time, the house lights were too red and skin tones looked awful. As soon as I received my images I changed many of them to black and white and felt a little better about the overall outcome. I’d say 25% were incorrectly exposed, but I did my best to get accurate readings at every interval, as the lights were constantly changing through the show, I simply had to guesstimate. I suppose I didn’t do too badly considering! What did go well whilst doing this shoot was that I was constantly moving around and trying different angles. The stage was at a funny angle though, so I was limited to some extent, but I think I have a good range of images from this set.

I had my partner there to take digital images and even he was having trouble with the 70-200 2.8. He’s no camera expert, but he did take a few interesting shots. I directed him to focus on the audience, but what images did I expect to get if there were semi-naked girls prancing around the stage? Yes you’ve guessed correctly, I had about 400 images of bums and boobs on the SD card.

When I was editing my images, I noticed when they were in black and white they looked very similar to the works of Susan Meiselas. This wasn’t intentional to begin with, but aesthetically I’m happy with the results. I think it’s quite an interesting juxtaposition, although the subject matter is fairly similar, my intentions as a photographer is not to show the negative aspects of my subject but the positive, whereas Susan Meiselas focuses on the troubled lives of carnival strippers.

I might re-edit some of my colour images and see if I prefer them in black and white, if they do accompany this series well, I may consider using the black and white medium as opposed to colour. But I’ll wait til my final shoot to decide.

Click images to see best quality.

Black and white images:

Colour Images:

Is it art or smut?

Here is an interesting and controversial article about London clubs hosting burlesque acts are now required to have a ‘stipping license’ to be able to host acts such as these. Through my own series of work I am trying to demonstate the very essence of burlesque and how it is completely different to stripping. To ‘burlesque’ is to entertain the audience by comdey acts, elaborate costumes and carefully perfected routines, burlesque is not about the ‘strip’, but the ‘strip tease’ and feminine empowerment.

Here is the article from the Daily Mail:
Burlesque clubs may be stripped of licences after council classes exotic dancers as ‘strippers’

Dita Von TeeseResurgence: Burlesque performers like Dita Von Teese attract a celebrity following.

Major music venues in central London face having their licences revoked if they continue staging burlesque events.
Camden council has warned that any establishment putting on burlesque will be treated as a strip club and have to pass stringent checks.
The move jeopardises the future of shows at some of the biggest venues in the capital, such as the Roundhouse, KoKo and the Proud Gallery.
Burlesque – which features partial nudity and striptease – is considered art by its advocates and distinct from the activities of lap-dancing clubs.
Performers such as Dita Von Teese have led a resurgence in burlesque which has attracted a celebrity following including the likes of George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
But Camden has deemed burlesque too risqué for normal pubs and clubs and has told venues they must reapply for adult entertainment licences as officials insist it should be classed as ‘adult entertainment of a sexual nature’.
The Proud Gallery, a favoured haunt of Amy Winehouse and Pixie Geldof, has been told it must drop burlesque acts from its popular ‘Be’ club night on Saturdays or apply for a strip licence.
Alex Proud, the bar’s owner, said: ‘Proud is a million miles away from a strip club.’
Roxy Velvet, a regular burlesque dancer at Proud, said: ‘The kind of performances we were doing at Proud were very classic burlesque, very innocent.’
The council said: ‘Camden’s licensing policy states that any premises in the borough that wishes to offer entertainment involving nudity, striptease or other entertainment of an adult nature will need approval from the licensing authority – burlesque falls within this criteria.’

Read more here

Asylum Venue

Equipment: Canon 5d mark 2, 10-24mm lens (for promotional images), Mamiya c330, Fuji Pro colour 400 x5, Bowens  750w twin Gemini lights, light meter, coloured gels, laptop, tripod, reflector, note pad.

Models: Nenedel Absynthium and Emma-Jayne

2x assistants.

On the 10th of April I had my second shoot at the Asylum venue in Birmingham. I had been to this venue on a number of different occasions, so I knew exactly what the lighting conditions would be like. It’s a fairly dark location with only a couple of windows at the back of the venue. I asked to use the house lights which did make a huge improvement, I also had the Bowens 750w lights too to remove the orange tungsten effect from the house lights. Luckily the house lights had coloured gels over the top of them, so I removed the red and orange filters and left the blue and green ones on which helped a great deal.

Today’s shoot was with Burlesque performers Nenedel Absythium (Nen) and Emma-Jayne. I have worked with Emma on a couple of other shoots before, and I had also photographed Nen at a burlesque show a few months back, so I felt confident working with the models and explaining what poses I wanted in detail. Setting up the lights took a lot less time than the previous shoot as we knew exactly where to position them. The models took a little longer getting ready, but luckily the owner allowed us to have the venue from 1-4pm, so this wasn’t too much of a problem. Nenedel had bought along her ‘last unicorn’ piece which you could tell she had spent a lot of time, care and attention creating, the costume was accompanied with white hoof like shoes which were essentially platform shoes without a heel.

It was great having two models, whilst I was shooting one, the other got changed into a different costume, so it meant I was constantly shooting but still getting different looks. I did had a little problem about half way through the shoot though when the back of the Mamiya suddenly opened un-expectantly. Luckily I shut it almost instantly, but when I received my scanned negatives back, I did notice that a few frames had been fogged which was a shame. Also when I moved around the location the light meter was being temperamental and was not giving me an accurate reading, so 2 or 3 frames are under exposed. I’m quite glad that I used negative as opposed to transparency film now!

I’m happy with the outcome of these images and I will continue to work with 2 models on my future shoots as it means I’m not hanging around waiting for the model to get ready, and she isn’t waiting for me to get a light meter reading. Initially I was supposed to have 3 models but one had let me know the night before that she was ill and wasn’t able to make it. I did see her 2 days later at a show though wearing nothing but a thong and pasties. Quick recovery!

Annoyingly I think I yet again focussed on the subject rather than the location. I’m not sure if it’s just me or the camera, but it just seems to look better close up. I have a few shots from further back and they don’t seem to do anything for me. As I’ve said previously I will wait until the Old Rep Theatre shoot to focus solely on the location, I’m using Miss. Von Vamp again, so I think some far away shots will look both refreshing in my portfolio and hers.

Images looks blurry on here. If you click them you will see the better quality image.

Behind the scenes:

The Victoria Birmingham Venue

The first shoot took place at the Victoria in Birmingham on the 3rd of April. We had the venue from 1pm to 3pm, so we had to set up quickly as soon as we got there to guarantee as much possible time to shoot.

Equipment: Canon 5d mark 2, 10-24mm lens (for promotional images), Mamiya c330, Fuji Pro colour 400 x5, Bowens  750w twin Gemini lights, light meter, coloured gels, laptop, tripod, reflector, note pad.

Model: Charlotte-Mary Freeman aka Miss. Von Vamp

2x assistants.

I have worked with Charlotte on many occasions now, so I felt confident in using her as a model for my first location. This shoot was really a test to make sure all of my lighting set-ups were correct and that the coloured gels removed the tungsten orange effect. It was also a test to see how many films I would need roughly for a 2 hour shoot and how much time I would need to wait for the performer to get ready.

Luckily Charlotte had already done her hair and make-up, so it was just a case of her getting changed. I had planned exactly what poses I wanted her to do and what lighting I had in mind. I had been to the venue before, so I had an idea as to what sections of the location I wanted to use and which lights I would need in those specific areas.

I used a black and white film that I had spare to give me an idea as to whether I wanted to shoot in colour on black and white in future shoots. I think using black and white gives the images a more vintage and classic feel, but when I shot in colour the subject seemed to suit this style more.

Colour Images:

I’m really happy with the overall outcome of the images and I do prefer the colour images to the black and white ones. The last two images of this set are my favourite portraits from this series and I possibly will use them in my final piece. I think that in my next shoot I will shoot more of the location and the subject together rather than just focusing on the subject. When I am creating images such as these I find myself wanting to get closer to the subject but I must refrain from doing this if I am intending to focus on the location, especially when shooting in the Old Rep Theatre, that should mostly consist of the location as opposed to the subject.