Being Human with Jamie Chung and Departures Magazine
Still life photography is about precision. Every millimeter must be carefully considered, the temperature of each color must be expertly balanced, and the camera must be placed for the perfect angle. Still life images are meant to communicate information and emotions to human observers without using the cues that a model can offer. Every choice implies a different collection of experiences that have to be controlled down to the finest details. This is a process that Jamie Chung is acutely aware of. He regularly spends hours upon hours on precise compositions to the finest details. But for his latest shoot with Departures Magazine, they opted to complicate the process a little bit. They decided a human element was necessary. “When we were originally doing the sketches we wanted to include some kind of people or human form but we didn’t want so much skin or for it to be recognizable as people, so that’s where the idea came from,” says Jamie. “We put gloves on the models for the rings and the bracelets so all the people would be kind of abstracted. It was an aesthetic choice just to really make the products the focus but also give it a little bit of life.”
The balance between a human element and the spirit of the still life meant that they had to find a way to show off the models in a way that did both. The final images feature human forms that are entirely black, including one image with a bauble of an earring on a woman whose face and hair are almost entirely flat black. This isn’t some camera trick or digital drawing. They made it happen in the studio. “We painted her hair and her whole body,” explains Jamie. “The idea was to have her look like a shadow, and to really have the earring be the main focus. But we needed some kind of human context for it so we just wanted her to be a shadow form.” Every detail is still visible on her face, each contour catches the light in a supremely natural way, but her shape becomes more important than her experience, allowing us to focus on what Jamie wants us to see.
Having the models on set meant that Jamie’s process had to change. With every model comes a whole team to make them look their best, and the new crowd is going to change how the set is going to function, which is something that Jamie is happy to accommodate. “Normally when I do still life it’s usually a smaller team, but when a model is involved, there’s hair, makeup, and a wardrobe stylist,” says Jamie. “It’s a few more people on set so that’s always exciting to kind of work with a bigger team and to have more… There are more ideas back and forth, which is always great. I’m always open to hearing other peoples’ ideas and incorporating it. It’s like more brains.” All those ideas and brains came together to push the expectations of what’s possible in a still life shoot about jewelry, resulting in images that are as equally captivating as they are curious.