Silent Era.

Once in a while I mess around with costumes. Last night I was looking at Steichen’s amazing photograph of Gloria Swanson in a turban with the lace in front of her face, and I thought “that sounds like something fun to try.” I didn’t want to make an exact copy of Steichen’s piece, but I liked the idea of dressing up in a turban and trying to make my pictures look 90 years old.

I watch a lot of silent movies and have been really fascinated with the photographs and styles of the era since I was a small child. I tend to use that look a lot in my photography, because it feels more comfortable to me. Anthropologie can have its candy-pastel vintagey hipsters-in-wheatfields bullshit…I’m going for German Expressionist melodrama!

From a photography standpoint, my face’s sharp features are always a challenge. Wrong angles make Alice look pretty grotesque, but if I’m going for a character, it’s perfect. I have gigantic eyes (one is much larger than the other) and a strong chin. Certain angles make me look unhinged and psycho because of my eye sizes. Great when playing characters – kind of weird when you have to show people your crazytown driver’s license.

In silent movies, facial expressions were the only means of conveying emotion. What I like about silent movies is that you have to focus on action and facial expression to understand the character’s stories and emotions. Buster knew that his lack of facial expression made his insane actions all the more powerful. Chaplin was a master at bringing in the melodrama with his pathos-laden eye movements. Gloria Swanson knew how to play up her strong facial features in both the movies and in still shots. Lillian Gish’s expressive eyes and mouth are often the first people think of when her name is mentioned. I think, from a movie standpoint, the power of strong facial emotion fizzled when the sound era entered Hollywood, though actors like Bette Davis still understood it well. It seems that comedians are the only people these days who continue to really exaggerate their faces for effect, or are prized for unique facial features. Silent movies, during their short reign, set the standards for that expression. You can be allowed more subtlety when sound is involved…and though that sort of acting is more real, it’s not as fun to photograph.

Can you believe the only light used in these were from my bathroom mirror? It’s true!