It's true: I have been doing a few things at the photo shoots other than taking snapshots of other people while they work. In fact, I've been on my feet and moving around at least 90 percent of the time; comfortable shoes have been my most important wardrobe item. The other 10 percent of the time I can sit next to my computer on a wooden stool and give my feet a break.
My job, which I think of as staging the materials for the photos, is to:
- select the fibers, yarns, and other bits that will be in each picture,
- move them smoothly to the area where the shot(s) will be taken,
- be sure that what shows in the finished image is what needs to be there (although I'm only taking time to check this when art director Mary Velgos and photographer John Polak have questions—during the first day of our work together, we established general principles that solve many issues without my additional photo-specific input),
- retrieve the fibers after they have been photographed,
- restore the items to their folders and file boxes, and
- maintain a tracking system that double-checks that we aren't missing anything.
In between, I have been helping Mary figure out if we need to expand the number of pages allocated for this or that breed (or whether we can, perhaps, condense one section or another, thus gaining pages to be used elsewhere). This sometimes involves judgment calls about placement of information, and sometimes requires me to write or rewrite material.
In one case, Carol Ekarius and I had written a one-paragraph introduction to a section. Mary's layout calls for a spread for each section-opener (lots of photos on the left, text on the right). That paragraph looked lonely and the page looked bare. Something had to be done about it. Fortunately, we discovered the situation on Wednesday. I spent that day and the next mulling what could be added that would not just be filler but would increase the value of the book, and doing a bit of research through my files to come up with supporting information. On Friday, I wrote new text, using my computer. Then I loaded the additional material on a USB drive, walked over to Mary's layout computer, inserted the text into InDesign on the page in question . . . and then got to trim it by about half, so it would fit!
In many cases, I'm cutting a few lines so we can get the photos to work smoothly and beautifully in the layout. Fortunately, even after several rounds of editing there are almost always surplus words that can be eliminated without decreasing the amount of information. Doing this work within the actual book production file means I can cut exactly the right number of words in exactly the right places to make the copyfitting adjustments perfect, instead of having to guess from across the country which changes might have the desired results. Familiarity with both book layout and InDesign are serving me well in these tasks.
But back to the responsibilities that are taking most of my time during the shoot. . . .
My primary working area is a 4 x 8-foot (1.2m x 2.4m) table (supported on sawhorses) roughly 6 feet (2m) from where the photos are being taken. Here's how I set it up:
Each of those manila pockets is a breed or type of fiber. The pockets along the back of the table are sorted into groups of "just finished" and "to be shot soon." (There are many file boxes elsewhere in the studio that contain previous and future days' work.) The pockets lying flat on the table are in the immediate line-up to be photographed. The plastic bags (on top of their respective pockets) contain extra fibers. For example, whenever I had enough fiber available I packed extra locks of wool so that if our first choice gets messed up we have a backup. They are also where the fibers to be photographed come from, and where they go back to. There is a set of plastic bags for each individual type of fiber.
This detail from the image above shows a sequence of fibers that will be photographed together, laid out on a scrap of mat board so they can be carried undisturbed over to the shooting area:
Those samples happen to be a bunch of gorgeous Lincolns grown and contributed by Christiane Payson at North Valley Farm (Oregon) or gathered and contributed by Beth Smith at The Spinning Loft (Michigan).
I'll talk about the cards in front (with the green dots) in a moment.
Here's part of another set of samples ready to go into a photo set-up—these are some of the North Ronaldsays, which were collected and shared by Jennifer Heverly of Spirit Trail Fiberworks (Virginia) or grown by June Morris (North Ronaldsay, Scotland) and sent to us by way of June Hall (Cumbria, England):
The small white tags are identifiers that travel to the photo table and back with the fibers. In this case, there are manila skein tags with two of the sets because their white tags were used for another purpose (to identify the last-minute knitted and woven swatches) and went AWOL in the process. No matter how many labels I have printed for each type of fiber, we often run out. . . . Once the completed photo has been shot, the white tags are set on top of the fibers and a reference image is made, to facilitate the writing of captions later.
My big table is near another table with an iron, which is plugged in and constantly hot, that I use to give shots of steam to skeinlets (to restore their "airiness" after having been packed tightly into folders and boxes) and, less often, to locks of wool that have been bent while they were being transported. I also have been steaming some of the background fabrics for Mary while she's setting up a shot (more on the set-up in the next, and final, installment in this series). The "ironing board" is a terrycloth towel on the metal surface of the other table.
Here's my primary table when a set of fibers has moved over to Mary's and John's area:
The white cards with the green dots tell me what fibers are out working at the moment. The snapshot below shows one of the images about ready to be photographed, with its backgrounds in place. Outside the edges of the image area, you can see some of the the tiny cards that were below the skeins and locks when I set them out and that will be laid on top of the locks for the extra picture that gives us a detailed record of which fiber was which. One card is on the wood just above a set of locks. Another is farther away, on the very edge of the scrap foam core that was used to transport this group of samples. Based on positioning of fibers and the cards we can see, the third card for this group is probably out of sight on the left.
Now more about those cards with the green dots. I made a record card for every fiber I processed. The basic materials consist of old business cards (their nice blank back sides coming into play) and one of the large-size fiber labels. Originally, these cards accompanied the fibers through the washing process and identified the drying fibers. Now they've got a new job.
The boxes below contain the cards for the wools: those yet to be shot are on the left, and those for which we have completed the pictures are on the right (with the date of the image added in the upper right corner).
Based on the number of cards in each box, I'd guess that I took that picture on about the fourth day of the sheep-fiber photo shoot. A green dot means that I spun a sample skein of the fiber (most of the cards have green dots). A red dot means that for some reason the fiber I received was not of good enough quality to spin. Sometimes I had to spin red-dot fibers because we couldn't get any better fiber (in which case a green dot was added). A yellow dot means that the fiber was not spinnable for some reason not related to quality. Often a yellow-dot sample consists of a collection of small locks to show color variety.
A couple of fiber packets got special, handwritten labels:
I'm allergic to something that came along with that particular wool. It may have been a type of grass or a chemical the sheep was treated with. In this case, once the fiber was clean I didn't have any problems with it. However, we're photographing locks of wool straight from the sheep, so that baggie is marked. I left the fiber in the bag until just before it was photographed and put it back in immediately after the picture was done. A few fibers ended up marked this way because they'd been stored in mothballs.
Mostly we don't have pictures of me working, because I was taking pictures of other people working. However, John took my camera and caught me spinning a last-minute sample of extra-wonderful Shetland that I got from Oliver Henry, of Jamieson and Smith, when I was at UK Knit Camp in Stirling, Scotland. (I don't usually spin with my hands that far overhead so my neck tips back; I was trying to do something specific with a tiny bit of fiber and the not-quite-perfect tool.)
The spindle I had with me was too heavy, but I couldn't resist doing the best I could with the tools at hand to get that particular wool into the book.
For reasons of packing space (and weight) and financial constraints, I only brought a few tangible treasures back from my trip to Scotland and England. One of those items was my mascot for the first seven days of shooting:
It's a needle-felted Herdwick sheep made by by Ellie Rowell of the cooperative Wool Clip gallery in Cumbria. Yes, the body is Herdwick wool. I'm very fond of this little creature and when the days of photography got long during the first shoot, it made me smile. It's since taken up residence next to my main computer in my home office, where it also makes me smile.