Or…Three Things I've Learned From Being The Subject


Chicken HeadWhen Dan asked me to collaborate with him on this project, I was very enthusiastic. For me it was more than just a chance to get show off my skills as a costumer, it was a chance to be in front of the lens. As a photographer myself, this was a chance to do a photo series without ever picking up a camera. It was a chance to collaborate on a story, and tell it from a different angle than I had experienced in the past. So I jumped on it.

I’ve learned a lot from being in front of the camera, and I’ve had a chance to experience what models (granted, I’m no Derek Zoolander) experience when working with a photographer. Let me tell you, it’s not an easy gig.

Out of everything I’ve learned so far, there are three things that stand out as the most important in our adventure capturing Picture Me, Loving You.

1. Standing Still is Not Easy

Starlite FeetFirst of all, it’s really, really tough to stand still. To stand motionless for long periods of time while a photographer shoots a long exposure sounds easy at first, but after about the 20th 30 second exposure standing in the cold at an awkward angle with a heavy mask awkwardly juxtaposed on your body (unbeknownst to the photographer, of course), you begin to realize that you have limits to this whole “standing still” thing. Fortunately for me, that week in high school over Christmas where I modeled in the “Living Christmas Portraits” series came in really handy.

Standing for long periods of time was definitely a theme, and, at times was way more uncomfortable than I ever imagined it could be. I remember one shoot, in particular, when I was going to meet Dan and I was somewhat dreading the night. I was exhausted and concerned that with the weight of the character I had to dress up in that I wouldn’t be able to survive that day. While driving to meet up with Dan, the podcast I was listening to brought sudden inspiration. “I love this man because he puts art before comfort, as I do,” – Clive Barker, Nerdist Podcast #590. This quote, in the context of my trip to see Dan was definitely timely. It reminded me that we both were both making sacrifices for our art, and it strengthened me for the night of shooting in a dark cavern in the middle of nowhere.

2. When in Public, People are Curious

Standing in the cold in the middle of nowhere isn’t the only hazard of working with Dan though. There’s also being in public. You see, the public and my costumes have an odd relationship. There’s a bit of “instant celebrity” that comes with wearing Starlite or my Chicken around Market Square in Knoxville. Normal people are always curious about what we’re doing, and drunk people are always more curious. Sometimes they’re too curious. This always makes for awkward situations. Thankfully, our nights out in public were fairly safe. We fell more to the side of “instant celebrity” than “freak show”, and we had many people asking for pictures of us in public. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that it wasn’t just one of us. As I have learned over the years, there’s strength in numbers when it comes to costuming:


3. Suffering For Fashion is a Real Thing

Suffering comes in many forms when working with Dan… on this project… If it’s not from dealing with drunkards or freezing my tail off while getting a terrible cramp from standing in the same position for hours, it’s at the hand of my own costumes. Yes, suffering for fashion is an actual thing. I am committed when it comes to the look of the characters I’ve created over the years, and I’ve found many ways to both achieve the visual representation of the creature I’m creating and torture myself at the same time. It’s a rare art form that I hear is common amongst both fashionistas and top-notch character actors.

I’ve learned a lot about how to improve the costumes I’ve made over the years through this project. I’ve learned where to improve the suits I’ve designed and how to actually make them comfortable and mobile. I’ve learned that it’s not easy to really understand these things until you’ve worn enough of them to go, “Oh, wow, yeah. I should have done this way differently.” As a result, the costumes I’m working on today have very little resemblance to the characters I’ve made in the past. I’m getting better and improving through rigorous testing and research thanks to Dan and this project.

Overall, this project has taught me much more than how to stand still, deal with people in public while dressed as a white horse, and suffer for my fashion. Picture Me, Loving You has been a series that has taught me how to be a better collaborator, a subject, and a photographer as well. It’s been a labor of blood, fur, sweat and tears, but it’s been awesome. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, I cannot wait to share this series with you all.

–Chris Hill

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