Glass sculptures always pose challenges when it comes to photography, but we recently had an object in the studio for photography that presented some interesting ones. Coffee Pot by Studio Job (Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagle) may appear functional at first glance but a longer look reveals it to be utterly non-functional. The artists appropriated an unused cased and cut lead glass vessel from the Val St. Lambert storerooms and added a cast, polished, and gilded bronze top. Finally, they created a gloss white pedestal decorated with gilded wood elements. The result is something that looks like an absurdly fancy Pyrex coffeepot on steroids. In fact, the coffeepot alone weighs in at over 64 pounds.
Our first challenge was to convey the size of the sculpture in a photograph. That is difficult enough with any sculpture, but when the object is something as instantly familiar as a coffeepot, we have to overcome the viewer’s assumption of a certain size. Of course, this dynamic between expectation and experience is part of what makes Smoots and Tynagel’s design work, so it is especially important to communicate the scale for that reason. Photographing the sculpture on a wooden floor rather than a neutral backdrop establishes a scale reference for the overall view. For the tighter views, keeping the object large in the frame and choosing a slightly high angle helps convey its mass and size, as well as the thickness and weight of the metalwork.
The second challenge was dealing with a highly polished metal surface which acts like a mirror. Aside from not wanting to mirror the camera in the image, the gold only appears correct when it is mirroring something white. We frequently deal with this this type of lighting with white cards or white tenting around an object on a photo table, but in this case we had to build eight foot high white foam core “walls”. The images below show the object without and with the white cards.
This image shows the studio with the “room” built around the sculpture.
The third challenge was making the cut glass look good. The cut glass requires contrast, but the foam core walls diffuse and soften the light. A bright Fresnel spot (visible on the right in the above image) is focused on the wall behind the glass to provide some “pop”.
For the tighter views, even more foam core was required.
When all was done, it was time for a coffee break.