In the Twilight Between Art and Life

In the Twilight Between Art and Life

Last winter I conducted a series of shoots to help promote a fashion show, the theme of which was the “collision” of art and fashion.  The concept is far from new.  The promoter’s idea for advertising was for the models to have makeup resembling paint on their faces, and to show them in the act of painting, as if they had accidentally made a mess of themselves in the process.  They also would be wearing outfits to be featured in the show.  I didn’t care for the “accidental mess” idea, and after doing a few of the requested shots, quietly moved away from it.

fashion model as artist with paint makeup on her face
An example of the rejected approach that showed the model as an artist with paint "accidentally" on her face.

In order to give this old theme a bit of a fresh turn, I took the approach that the models were, themselves, creatures that moved through the mists separating art and life.  To do this, I married the image of each model with a single work of art, then through various effects, attempted to imply an inherent relationship between the two. As you will see, the project evolved over the several shoots.

In the first image (below ). Houston model, Jessica Patterson, wears a mermaid-inspired nightclub/party outfit by Houston/NYC designer Adrienne Yunger. The dress features a mini-skirt in iridescent fish scale sequins, a Littlest Mermaid bralette, and a feathery, striped jacket reminiscent of underwater light play. Kyong Burke, an artist in the studios where we shot, had a large, minimalist painting of paper boats floating on blue water.  I seated Jessica in front of the painting and lit her on the left with a blue-gelled spot to create an underwater ambiance and to connect our mermaid with the water image behind.  I lit the model from the right with a single strip, which also illuminated the background painting.

Model in mermaid dress shot in blue light to match marine image behind.
The final image of the model in a mermaid-inspired outfit with the paper boats painting behind her.

The clothing chosen for the second shoot was much less thematic.  Here, the model wore a dress by designer Megan Beck made from a silk floral print designed by Ann-Joelle Designs. Despite the strong floral elements, the dress draped in a way that rendered the print an abstract.  For this image, I posed model Savannah Martinez in front of a primarily blue and white abstract painting by artist Valentina Atkinson which incorporated a range of blue hues very similar to those in the dress.  I lit the scene with a small deep Profoto umbrella at upper right, which created a strong light to shadow gradient.  During editing, I layered portions of the background painting over Savannah’s form and made numerous blending adjustments to create the impression that she existed in a transitional state between art and life.

fashion photo of model that is part painting and part living
The final image from the second shoot depicts the model standing amidst the dimensions of art and life.

In the final shoot for this promotion, we chose a dress by Nick Nguyen — a sequined, couture gown in silk and tulle with a strong pastel floral theme.  The tulle skirt and raised hem line gave the dress a bohemian feel.  The model’s makeup and hair emphasized this feeling.  Two drastically different images resulted.  In the first, I used an abstract-impressionist painting by Houston artist Nergis Mustafa.  The painting strongly evoked a flowery wetland.  I shot both the model, Gigi Horton, and the painting in the same light conditions. Then I placed a cutout of the model on the painting and created a watery refection in the lower 1/3 of the image.  To make this fantasy seem real, the physical connection between the model’s bare feet and the water in which she waded had to be believable.  You can see the results in the detail image below.

a model walks through the fantasy garden of an impressionist painting
The first image from the third promo shoot. The model walks though an impressionist landscape.
Detail of model's feet in the water from the fantasy garden image.

The second image from this shoot takes the surreal convergence of art and reality to another extreme.  In this image, I asked Gigi to pose in front of a large painting of a stark female face by Nergis Mustafa.  Again, using layering and blending adjustments, I created the surreal glow in the background and blurred the transitions between the real model and her dreamlike environment.


The final promo image immerses the model in the painting's dream state .

Please follow the artists, designers, and models who contributed to these works on Instagram:


Jessica Patterson   @say_yes2the_jess

Savannah Martinez   @savannahmtz_

Gigi Horton  @imgerlice

Fine Art Painters:

Kyong Burke  @kyongburke

Valentina Atkinson  @serranogallery

Nergis Mustafa  @nergis28art

Fashion Designers:

Adrienne Yunger  @aryunger

Ann-Joelle Designs  @annejoelledesigns

Nicholas Nguyen  @mysteriousbynpn

Megan Beck  @megan1beck1

Makeup Artist/Hair Stylists:

MQ Designs @mqdesigns_

A Touch of Artistry Makeup @touchofartistrymakeup

Taylor Jane/Black Sheep Parlor  @McNamara_Designs 

Ana Rivera @anarosastyle_

Amanda Torres

Blair Bresler @blairb33

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About Gerard Harrison

With over 30 years' photography experience, Gerard is the owner and founder of Image Theory Photoworks, a fashion and fine art portrait studio.

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