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Monday, April 28, 2008

Randal Ford - Rockwell Revisited

Iconic American artist Norman Rockwell serves as inspiration for a new series of images by Austin-based photographer Randal Ford


randal ford

Norman Rockwell is an iconic name and one of the most prolific and recognized artists of the past century whose work has found a place in the American psyche. His oeuvre successfully captured the elusive and transcendental essence of the American spirit.

Today, more than 20 years after his death, photographer Randal Ford has revisited Rockwell's unique vision of America and re-created some of his classic work, updating it with a modern spin.

“I've always been inspired by Rockwell—blown away by his style, technique and composition,” says Ford. “I just felt it was time to do a personal project and re-create his timeless look. Rockwell had these classical American values that anyone can relate to. The real challenge was to bring his style into the modern era, but still keep it all cool and fresh.”

Ford began by shooting “Spelling Bee,” inspired by a limited-edition lithograph. The idea was to shoot and present the photograph to a local fashion magazine and get a series of Rockwell-inspired images published in an upcoming issue.

“Spelling Bee” presents a long line of children who stand on stage, each conveying his or her own individual mood. As they wait for their turn to spell, we see fear, excitement, nervousness and other emotions palpably expressed.

Ford shot the essence of the moment in his usual fashion.

“With a lot of images that I shoot—especially with such a high production value and with this many people—I basically create a composite,” he explains. “I'll frame up my main image and then get a bunch of tighter frames. The kids were all up there at the same time. I directed them, but they could only hold their pose for a few minutes.”

A total of 15 composited images created the final shot. Ford notes that his use of different ethnicities gives a nod to modern times. “We cast this by word of mouth and through agency websites,” explains Ford. “Rockwell's stuff was so white America; adding different ethnicities talks to the melting pot that our country is today. That's a personal signature I enjoyed bringing to this image and to the rest of the series.”

Armed with the shot, Ford approached local fashion magazine Tribeza. Jazzed by the concept, they were game to feature a portfolio and even helped cast specific models for each shoot; plus, they had specific wardrobes in mind.

“They found clothes that had a classic yet modern feel—they took the Rockwell wardrobe and gave it an updated but timeless feel,” says Ford. “We also searched through Rockwell's work because I didn't want to do anything that was super well-known. It quickly gets dangerous if you do that, because it's cliché in a heartbeat.”

With a lot of images that I shoot—especially with such a high production value and with this many people—I basically create a composite,” he explains. “I'll frame up my main image and then get a bunch of tighter frames.

One aspect of Rockwell's work that translates through Ford's photography is a determinedly two-dimensional feel—something Ford attempts to generate in much of his own work.

“It was definitely intended on my part because all of Rockwell's work is in great detail,” says Ford. “What gives these photographs a two-dimensional quality is the depth of field—everything's in focus, and you're not necessarily used to seeing that. It's something that I try to create myself because I think it's a cool look and it feels right. I think it's almost surreal when you look at an image that's so sharp throughout the frame.”

Another image from the series that translates to modern times is the image of a girl seated before a mirror. On her lap rests a fashion magazine; by her feet, ruby-red lipstick, a comb, a brush and a doll. Her look of trepidation signifies her dislike at what she sees in the mirror juxtaposed against the image of beauty pushed in the pages of the fashion rag.


 

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