Portrait of a Winemaker

Craft is often celebrated more than it is truly understood. That’s not to belittle those celebrations, particularly when it comes to Wynns 60th Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Release. No, rather it is to recognise the difficulty in conveying the importance of the patience, care and quiet passion that underpins the maker’s method.

 

Simon Harsent’s solution was to inhabit the process; to become what he wanted others to see. In this case, that meant building a camera out of a wine barrel. Of course.

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Wine flows through the portraits here, from the camera to the background’s deep hue, to the sitters themselves for whom it is their lifeblood. Meanwhile, for the landscapes, black and white was chosen to give a strong sense of place, earthy tones rooting us in the soil and capturing the terroir, another crucial factor in the craft.

Here, Simon expands on the collaboration…

How were you approached to do this project? What was the most important motivation for you to take it on?

 

SH: I was originally approached to shoot two ads for Wynns for JWT Melbourne. During the conversation, one of the things the creative team kept stressing was ‘craft’; the craft of wine making and the comparisons that could be made to photography. One of the things that struck me straight away was that the agency wanted a strong collaborator who would take the idea and push it. It’s challenges like this I love the most.

What inspired you to build your own camera? Had you built something like this before?

 

SH: After discussing several different approaches on the initial call, one of the things that came up was the idea of slowing the process down – trying to emulate the way in which wine is made. Shooting film means you have to consider the subject and take time crafting the lighting, so I started thinking about large format photography and it was at this point I came up with the idea of building the camera from a wine barrel. I’ve had a lot of experience with large format cameras, but I’ve never built one before. I loved the idea that we would be making portraits of the wine makers using the wood from a barrel they had made wine in.

How does this camera actually work? And what qualities did this camera have that were different from the other cameras you typically shoot with?

 

SH: The camera is basically like a camera obscura, but with a lens and a back plate that holds a film holder containing film. Each film holder has two sheets of 5x4 inch film one on either side. The lens has the shutter speeds and apertures built into it, but it’s a fully manual operating camera. You compose the image on a ground glass screen on the back of the camera then close the lens, insert the film then set the shutter speed and aperture, remove the dark slide and expose the film.  

 

Most experienced photographers would be familiar with the 5x4 system, and the camera operates just the same. The only difference is that this one is made from the wood of a wine barrel.

How did those differences affect the way you were shooting, and how do these differ from how you usually shoot and direct subjects?

 

SH: Well, as I mentioned, using the 5x4 means you have to work a lot slower. The time it takes to view the subject, load the back, set the lens and then take the picture is considerable. This means once you have your subjects posed the way you want them, you have to ask them to hold that pose and not move at all.

 

One result of this is a very different experience for the sitter. They will often react in a very different way than if you were clicking away with a digital camera. It slows everything down and fills it with purpose. I find it helps people relax.

 

I’m not the sort of photographer to run around my subjects shooting every which way. I’m normally quite considered in my approach, so, for me, not much changed apart from the fact I had to load my own film between shots – not many assistants know how to load 5x4 film.

What did you think would be the biggest challenge?

 

SH: I thought the biggest challenge would be being able to make a camera that was free of light leaks. Basically the interior of the camera when the lens is closed has to be totally blacked out and free of any light leaks. Because we were using wood from a barrel, there was always a risk of the wood expanding or shrinking.

 

However, a potentially bigger challenge was me being hospitalised with gallstones during the shoot. Either way, I felt the need to produce something – it’s just that one of those things was significantly more painful than the other!

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What steps do you like to take in your planning?

 

SH: Carpenter Chris Lain was the hero who actually constructed the camera. We looked at a few existing cameras to decide on how we were going to construct ours. Once we had decided on it, we met a couple of times to discuss certain issues that were arising – mostly due to how the wood was responding. We hit a few snags, as you would expect from a project like this. One of them was making the moving parts that hold the front and back plates. The metal from the barrel rings was far too malleable, so we decided to recycle. Due to time restraints, we weren’t able to forge these parts, so we decided to use pieces from an old 5x4 camera. Everything else is made entirely from the barrel  

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What is your definition of ‘craft’?

 

Craft to me is caring. It’s taking time to do something in a way you know is right. It’s not always about finishing the first thing you do, it’s about revisiting something so you know you have explored all the boundaries.

How was the process of working with Wynns rather than realising the project on your own?

 

SH: The thing with a commission is that you always have to take on board what it’s for. There are always people with an opinion, and those opinions matter. Personally, I thrive in this environment. It’s great to have people push you and help you exceed your expectations. I’ve worked with Kieran Antill, the ECD on this project, on a bunch of things over the years. Apart from being an amazing ad creative, Kieran is an artist in his own right. He’s a painter, so he gets the creative process from an artist’s point of view. As far as the images went, the intention was always to have them framed and hung rather than use them in ads, so I had free reign to how I approached the final images. We shot two ads with the camera – one of restaurateur Guillaume Brahimi, and another of a cellar. As part of the project, I also directed a series of round table conversations with Guillaume and senior wine maker Sue Hodder. 

What kind of lights did you choose – and where did you want them placed?  

 

SH: For the portraits it was all Profoto flash. When shooting large format you need quite powerful lights, the minimum aperture is f/5.6 and generally for portraiture you would want to be shooting at f/64, so it was lit with Profoto flash. I used a soft box to create a side light and then used a ring flash in front of the camera lens to fill and deliberately cast a slight shadow on the background.

 

The shadow was an aesthetic choice that I’ve used a lot in the past. I love how it interacts the sitter with the background.

 

For the landscape images I used natural light and chose to shoot in black and white. I like the contrast between the dominant red of the background in the portrait image coupled with the black and white of the landscapes.

What is the takeaway from these portraits? What choices did you make to enhance their meaning?

 

SH: The portraits are very much traditional sittings. One of the things I wanted to do was present each person as a bold, almost renaissance, figure. I decided to shoot them against a wine coloured background as a play on Cabernet being their background in life. To contrast this, the landscapes were shot using black and white film to add a sense of mystery and a timeless feel about the images and to root them in the soil of the place.

 

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Winning AWARDS with style

Simon’s directorial spot for glasses retailer OPSM is the gift that keeps on giving. On top of the New Director bronze at Adfest earlier this year, it has now earned him a silver and three bronze pencils at AWARD.

The series of vibrant vignettes goes to prove that, while fashion is fleeting, style remains.

Full thanks and credit to the whole team:

Client: OPSM

Agency: Marcel Sydney

Production Company: The Pool Collective

Director: Simon Harsent

Executive producer & managing director: Cameron Gray

Photographer: Simon Harsent

Producer: Eloise Hastings

DoP: Ross Giardina

Production designer: Tess Strelein

Post production: Heckler

No end to the Tears

Following on from the recent POOL IX show as part of Head On photo festival, which featured Simon’s Tears of Hinehukatere alongside work from all seven of the collective’s members, his collection has now taken pride of place in the stunning surroundings of the Golden Age cinema in Paramount House, Surrey Hills. Be quick though – unlike the slow wax and wane of the immense Franz Josef glacier it features, this doesn’t have quite the same sense of permanency. The collection is there until the end of June.   Paramount House 80 Commonwealth Street Surrey Hills, Sydney   

Following on from the recent POOL IX show as part of Head On photo festival, which featured Simon’s Tears of Hinehukatere alongside work from all seven of the collective’s members, his collection has now taken pride of place in the stunning surroundings of the Golden Age cinema in Paramount House, Surrey Hills. Be quick though – unlike the slow wax and wane of the immense Franz Josef glacier it features, this doesn’t have quite the same sense of permanency. The collection is there until the end of June.

 

Paramount House
80 Commonwealth Street
Surrey Hills, Sydney 

 

ARTBREAKING STUFF

ABC's ArtBreaks project is a bold and inspiring vision, giving artists free reign to create and do exactly what they want. No brief, no borders. The experimental shorts run as ads might on the commercial-free channel and highlight both the strength of the creative industry in Australia and the audience's thirst for art.

Simon has directed The Faintest Clasp, one of the first instalments ABC iView. It's a collaboration with MARCEL’S David Nobay who wrote the poem, which is read by actor John Waters.

Simon interpreted the words with complete artistic freedom and the result is a thrilling and visceral collaborative experiment, the results of which are a resounding success.

Not only that, but – we're very pleased to announce – that The Faintest Clasp has been awarded two Bronze Lions at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Which is something to roar about.

OPSM

“It’s the rhythm, it’s the tempo. Style and substance go hand in hand.” The sonorous, sotto voice of Dr Cornel West, philosopher, author and activist speaks with authority and clarity in Simon Harsent’s latest ad, for glasses retailer OPSM.

 

It’s a no-nonsense message, communicated with honesty and precision and aimed at our innate sense of style and self. And what better to accompany this lulling discourse on style than Simon bringing his singular portrait style to life in a series of vibrant vignettes?

As ever, it's a team effort, and that team is:

Client: OPSM

Agency: Marcel Sydney

Production Company: The Pool Collective

Director: Simon Harsent

Executive producer & managing director: Cameron Gray

Photographer: Simon Harsent

Producer: Eloise Hastings

DoP: Ross Giardina

Production designer: Tess Strelein

Post production: Heckler

Editor: Andrew Holmes

WHO IS ETHAN H MINSKER?

 

On the surface, we know this of Ethan H Minsker: he is a man, and founding member of the Antagonist Art Movement – a project borne out of the sort of punk DIY ethos that was given a new lease of life through the 1980s hardcore scenes, most notably in Washington, D.C. We know that he is an accomplished, published novelist, artist and film-maker. We know all this. Through Simon Harsent’s evocative portraits and the words of Ethan himself, we hope to find out more. Why? Because art needs people like Ethan to flourish… That’s why.

 

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In his own words

For most artists, life means a solitary existence. But there is power in building a community of like-minded individuals. The Antagonist Art Movement is a social art movement. It's the connections and friendships developed over our art projects that give us strength, and the network that allows us to tap into a larger pool of opportunity. Our art movement looks to promote and create new and challenging forms of art. The Antagonist provokes others to action. We create venues that work as laboratories, allowing artists to experiment and show their work. We provide mentoring and help develop the artists we choose to work with. We're open to all forms and all styles of art, but in general there is a consistent theme of what we call ‘Brat Art’. It is something akin to the aesthetics and elements that make up punk rock. And it’s an essential element in antagonizing. We hope to affect the viewer.

I am dyslexic and, as a teenager, felt alienated from my peer group. I found solace in Washington, D.C.’s ’80s punk scene. The Dischord bands’ music and art inspired me to create my own fanzine. At first it covered the punk and hardcore music scenes on the East Coast. Mostly Washington and New York City. Over the years, with the help of friends, we added writing and art. Those elements took over and it became Psycho Moto Zine and focused mostly on the arts. Eventually, the readers wanted more and so did we. The idea to add books, films and art events formed over years. We referenced concepts of Nietzsche, Dadaism, Warhol's Factory, nihilism, the Beat Generation, and early punk rock to come up with our own theories on art. We started adding a philosophy section to the ’zine and, over time, that became the manifesto of our group… and the Antagonist Movement was born.

I first moved to New York City in 1988 and began working in bars in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There was a constant flow of struggling artists, musicians, actors and writers who had all moved to the city chasing their dreams, but found themselves enslaved in a day job just to cover the high rents. And the NYC art market was closed off to unknown artists who couldn't generate the income to cover the expenses associated in running a gallery. Sergio Vega (Quicksand, The Deftones), Anders Olson (a painter) and I worked a Thursday night shift in a bar that had an empty room. We began hosting one-night art slams featuring four to ten artists every Thursday night accompanied by live music. The nights were successful and we expanded them to include a Sunday night open mic at another bar, then a Tuesday night public-access show that featured interviews with the artists, bands and writers, and then a Monday night music show. We put on film festivals and produced films, books and curated art shows in galleries. Our numbers grew and we began to do shows in other countries. By the time our back-room gallery closed in 2011, we had shown more than 3,000 artists and jump-started many careers. Today we focus on curating shows and creating films and books. We are selective in choosing the people we work with. Since a number of our projects require traveling together as a group, we insist that the personalities can cooperate. We vet an artist through smaller projects, like our fanzine and group shows before we invite them to do an overseas event. The Dolls of Lisbon, for example, is both a film and art project in which we showcase the talents of unknown artists from around the world. I hand-made 100 blank canvas dolls and shipped them to artists so they could add their own ideas to them. Those dolls were part of an event during Pop Up Lisboa in 2010. The film employs a mix of stop-motion animation, interviews and studio visits, and has a sound track featuring a collection of the best bands we work with. We’re not interested in the stories of the rich and already famous. We want the viewer to share in an experience closer to their own situation. This is consistent in the movies that precede the Dolls of Lisbon, such as Anything Boys Can DoThe Soft Hustle or This Is Berlin Not New York. For me, personally, the Antagonists have made it possible to publish my books. Rich Boy Cries For Momma, which is about growing up dyslexic in Washington, D.C. and becoming involved in the punk scene, and Barstool Prophets, about New York nightlife in the Lower East Side, are both completed, full-length novels. Editors from the fanzine and artists from the one-night shows contributed to each novel. It wouldn’t be possible for me to do these without their assistance. Each project is like buying a lottery ticket where you are betting on your own ability. Each project moves the group to a new level and opens up new opportunities for everyone involved.

Whether it's a book, a fanzine, or a film, we strive to make a unique piece of art that embodies the integrity and commitment of the movement. The funds received from selling a book, film, T-shirt or whatever, goes directly back to making new art projects, but most of our content is free. We hope we are telling a new story, showing you something different and inspiring others to do the same. Each project acts as community outreach, saying, “Look what we have done! Go do better!” In the near future we will be putting out my third book about the creation of the Antagonist Movement, and a new film covering the events of the Antagonists during 2013, including an art project in Ecuador. We created a movement for you. Engage with it. And if you are a group of artists in a far-off land who likes what we do, contact us!