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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Michael Crichton: Kinetic Still Life

Graphic, minimalist and having a penchant for deconstruction, Michael Crichton transforms the mundane into something unexpected

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Product photography isn't what you'd call exciting. You aren't working with gorgeous models, you aren't traveling the world, and you aren't partying with rock stars. What you are working with, however, are lifeless props and a set of clients who expect you to be able to turn plastic bottles into something truly wonderful.

Photographer Michael Crichton is inspired by the ordinary. In still life and commercial product photography, the challenge is to bring life to an otherwise lifeless subject, and Crichton's imagery of eggs, sandwiches and computer peripherals explode, literally, with energy and a vivacious look. Crichton's work exudes spontaneity, but a final image is often the result of numerous takes and lengthy postproduction work.
"Still life, in its essence, is very contrived," says commercial photographer Michael Crichton, "so we try to bring an element of happenstance, whimsy or the unexpected to the image."

When asked what it is that attracts him to product photography, Crichton says he's most excited by this kind of work because he feels that he's able to transform everyday objects into something fantastical. Crichton's minimalist approach to product photography lies somewhere in between fine art and still life, yet the images pop with life, no doubt due to the energy that he's able to instill in his images through meticulous designs and the technical proficiency to make the image in his head come to life. Making the familiar extraordinary is a rare talent, and Crichton is quite talented at what he does.

Crichton says he's able to construct incredibly dynamic shots out of what are essentially still lifes because he employs the basic principles of design in his images, but he's not afraid to ignore them when he needs to. Form, color and composition are at the forefront of his process, but then, during that initial approach he'll step back and figure out when to "break those rules." "That's where your intuitive gifts come into play," he notes. "You just know when a shot works and when it doesn't. When it doesn't, your experience and craft will help you work through that to get one that does."

Perhaps Crichton's strongest quality as a photographer is that he's not afraid to take chances. He often uses a color palette that borders on desaturation. His concentration is on texture, repeating patterns and leading lines over anything else, and he's not afraid to go ugly, either, with compositions that bounce back and forth from magnificently elegant to truly messy.

"For example," he says, "I personally couldn't imagine creating a flowing stream of mustard in CGI. It's very rewarding and a lot of fun to capture it in midair with a camera, but I also embrace the creative possibilities that Photoshop can bring to a photograph."

He uses Profoto lighting gear for most of his studio work, but when needing to freeze action like in his Flying Foods series (his personal favorite), he falls back on his Broncolor Scoro A4S system for high-speed-sync and quick recycling.

"After that," he laughs, "a good toolkit of blocks, glue, sticky tack, tape and fishing line helps a lot. As one of my college professors once said, 'One of the hardest things in still photography is making things stand up.' I find that challenge still confronts me every day!"


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