Joey L Infuses Reality into Fantasy
The world of fantasy is exactly that: it is invented by the imagination, only inspired by real life. In that world, words on a page can create any image, no matter how impossible in reality. The mind can create environments, universes, and dimensions unfathomed by the natural laws of our world. These stories and ideas don’t exist in our world, so what’s a photographer to do when he has to put these images on film?
Photographer Joey L was faced with this exact challenge this season for the Starz series Black Sails. The show follows the golden age of Piracy in the Bahamas in the early 1700s, and for the promotional posters Starz wanted to highlight the drama. Illustrating the action, the cable network and Joey composed an impossible image: a pirate and a skeleton climbing the mast of a ship rapidly sinking in rough seas. This image would effectively be impossible to create “in camera” (taking a photo without any digital assistance). Typically when presented with the impossible, photographers lean heavily on retouching and some CGI, creating on a computer what cannot be created in real life for the camera. That’s industry standard, that’s what is expected of photographers. But Joey L approached this project in a different way, creating as much in camera as possible. “Oftentimes with composites it looks off because it’s just done with all different pieces or digital elements, but we thought this through,” Joey says, explaining how their process began.
Joey’s team set up a huge pool of water, and constructed the mast in it, at the angle it would appear in the images. He could have shot the image with the mast coming straight out of the water vertically and rotate it in post production, but tiny details like the way fabric hangs, or the model’s musculature would be slightly off. Even the skeleton was real. It wasn’t a real human skeleton, but the piece was there on the mast climbing with the model. “If you do composites, it’s nice to use organic elements because no amount of Photoshop wizardry is going to get past the weird uncanny valley that happens when everything’s fake,” Joey says, explaining the slight uneasiness that comes with looking at images that look almost real but not quite. That can only be accomplished with proper planning.
If every element is going to be photographed, they have to know in advanced what the final image is going to look like so everything can be captured perfectly. For example, Joey photographed the flag in the image separately. Since he knew exactly how it was going to lay out, he photographed it in such a way that it would fit in seamlessly. Even the waves were photographed in that pool, using a leaf blower blowing directly into the water. The careful measurement of each piece guaranteed they would all come together into an image that told the exact story necessary, no matter how impossible in our reality.
Check out the second season of Black Sails to premiere on Starz on January 24.