Friday, May 8, 2015

Shooting (Vintage Steiff) Stars!

Picture this:  a photo exhibit featuring irresistible vintage Steiff!  Sound too good to be true?  In this case, there's proof on film it will happen soon!  Awhile back, Steiffgal was contacted by colleagues at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE). This fantastic organization, founded in 1933, is the oldest nonprofit adult education center in New England, and offers nearly 2,000 classes each year!  About three times a year, the BCAE mounts an art exhibit (usually photography) which is hosted at their facilities.   The late fall, 2015 BCAE show theme is "Toyland." As such, Steiffgal was invited to share highlights from her Steiff collection to be photographed for this upcoming event.  

There's alot that goes into a photo shoot to insure that the results are pretty as a picture.  The first thing, of course, is choosing which items to capture on film.  To prepare for this, Steiffgal invited the photographer, Joel Benjamin, to her home to view the collection and learn about Steiff.  Joel, a very talented creative director and fashion photographer, was immediately drawn to the whimsical and soulful Steiff items from the 1920's through the 1950's.  And Steiffgal could not agree more - items from that period are amongst her favorites as well. So with that framework, Steiffgal carefully selected about 50 Steiff items from those decades and carefully packed them up for transfer to Joel's downtown Boston office.  You can see these "ready to go" totes and boxes here on the left.

Steiffgal and friends arrived at Joel's photo studio around 10am the day of the shoot.  The facility was located on the fourth floor of a handsome old brick building in the heart of the city.  The studio itself was immaculately clean, comfortably furnished, and neatly stocked with every possible thing that could be required for a professional photo shoot, including numerous backdrops, assorted lights and lighting features, mannequins, computers, printers, and monitors, and of course, many cameras and accessories. And it had great music, too! The first thing that Steiffgal and Joel did was unpack the totes.  They then laid out the Steiff items on a large white table and reviewed the potential photo subjects.  Do you recognize any of these beloved vintage friends pictured on the left?

It's no surprise that Steiff's "First Lady" of dogs - Molly the Puppy - was selected as the first to be shot.  Steiffgal brought along a Molly family of three -  two 10 cm puppies and a 17 cm "Mom."  All were early post war models with red imprinted chest tags.  Joel had a tiny iron which allowed Steiffgal to carefully iron their linen US Zone tags.  Each got a little fluffing with a metal toothed pet brush, and then they were all ready for their sitting. All the animals in this session were photographed against a pure black paper background, which truly highlighted their natural beauty and authentic forms.

A picture is worth a thousand words.  And sometimes, it takes what feels like a thousand shots to get just the right one. There is so much to manage in a shoot, especially when you are capturing more than one item in a picture.  In this case, there were three dogs - each with their own personality, expression, and pose.  In addition, Joel had to optimize the camera position, background, lighting, reflection, size, and scale of the elements of the shot, among many other optical and logistical factors. 

One of the most interesting things about this photo shoot was how just the right pose truly brought these otherwise inanimate animals to life.  For some pieces, this happened magically, even on the first take.  For others it took more time - adjusting a head angle or tilt, hiding or showing a tail, or adding or taking away an accessory - these small changes could make all the difference in the world.  In a few cases, the items were so irregularly shaped, or complicated in design, that Joel decided that they would just not fit in with the general look and feel of the show, despite their loveliness in "real life."  These included a sweet lying lamb from the mid-1930's who just wasn't feeling the love with the camera. And on the other side of the coin, an impish late 1940's Teddy baby practically told Joel how he'd like to be posed for his portrait - sitting, and adorably angled to the camera, as if he were attentively listening to a bedtime story.  

Most of the treasures in this shoot were able to stand (and deliver!) on their own.  However, several of the items needed a little help in staying vertical for their portraits.  Not wanting to busy a shot with a visible stand or prop, Joel came up with a way to support them in a way that would be invisible to the camera.  He made a hole in the back of the black paper background.  He then put a narrow silver metal rod horizontally through this hole.  The item would then rest against the end of the rod, with the support hidden by its body and the angle of the camera.  This was a perfect solution for "non flat footed" 1920's era cubs like Teddy Clown and a blue-eyed Petsy, as well as a grumpy early 1950's style Original Teddy bear.   It also worked quite well for a floppy mid-1940's silk plush Teddy baby doll, who sat for her portrait and used the rod as a backrest. You can see this setup in the photo on the left.  

Each portrait photo taken during this shoot was truly a work of art.  But taken together, they had the makings of an outstanding exhibit.  Joel took great care to insure that the items chosen for the show were representative of the Steiff line (cats, dogs, bears, wild animals, farm animals, field and forest animals, etc.) and were varied in color, size, and pose.  He even chose to do only head shots for some animals, like a large early 1950's blue-eyed Swapl lamb, a 1930's era green-eyed white Jocko chimp, and a proud 1930's era lioness.  These close ups are especially breathtaking and life-life; they seem to make real eye contact with their viewers!

It took nearly seven hours to photograph about 35 vintage Steiff treasures for the upcoming BCAE show.  Steiffgal is happy to report that all of the vintage Steiff behaved well and no items - including a family of blue-eyed Siamy cats - pulled any high maintenance diva behavior in front of the camera!  Joel explained that his next steps in the project included some photo touch ups and editing, determining the actual final printed size for each photo, printing, framing, and then planning the exhibit layout.  The show is scheduled for late fall, 2015 and Steiffgal will certainly post updates about it as more information becomes available.  Thank you Joel for a most memorable and enjoyable day!

Steiffgal hopes this discussion on photographing Steiff items has put you in a great frame of mind.

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more. 

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