M·A·CZINE MEETS ARTIST STEVEN SEBRING AND GOES INSIDE THE WORLD’S FIRST FOUR-DIMENSIONAL COSMETICS CAMPAIGN
In 1872, a wealthy racehorse owner hired the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge to settle the debate as to whether a galloping horse’s feet leave the ground at the same time. By 1878, Muybridge had come up with an innovative solution – cameras stationed along the edge of a track, each triggered by an invisible thread at the exact moment the horse raced past. The resulting sequence of images became a huge leap in the evolution of still imagery towards moving pictures (and yes, they do leave the ground at the same time).
135 years on, the influence of Muybridge’s 19th-century innovations could be clearly seen at artist Steven Sebring’s show in New York’s Armory gallery, where he debuted the results of a new and revolutionary multi-camera set-up.
On display were huge, haunting stills and videos of moving subjects frozen in time and space, including the supermodel Coco Rocha, as well as interactive touchscreens and 3D-printed sculptures – all ways of visualizing and exploring what he refers to as “the fourth dimension.”
Three months later, we are in Sebring’s downtown studio for the shooting of A Fantasy of Flowers. A model ascends a small staircase and clambers cautiously inside a large geodesic dome, pausing to ensure her pink tulle creation clears the opening. Inside, 100 cameras await, staring inwards and slightly upwards from a circular rail around the bottom edge. The stylist and hairstylist complete their final adjustments, then emerge from the futuristic silver capsule in a light cloud of hairspray. Assistants wheel away the stairs and seal the model inside, along with the artist cocooned in his viewing station. Two technicians at a mission control of monitors quietly observe pulsing colour signals and numbers – then, on Sebring’s command, the cameras fire in sequence, split seconds apart, and the first phantasmagorical frames from within begin to appear on their screens. This Revolution is being televised.
Watch the A Fantasy of Flowers video.
How do you feel about the results of this collaboration with M·A·C?
STEVEN SEBRING: My Armory show was not long ago, so this is the first time I’ve used the rig for something else – I really wanted people to see the possibilities first. This was a great experience because it was the first time I’ve had great hair, makeup and styling.
How did all these elements come together for this project?
The “revolutions” that we did in the past were brilliant without hair, makeup, styling and so on – just natural. But these images tell me this system is so incredible and beautiful that, whatever you put in there, it’s going to have its own style! It can be raw or off-the-charts chic, or whatever we want…There are infinite possibilities. We don’t even need a big team to run it. We just flick a switch and tell the cameras what we want.
You make it sound so easy, but presumably there was a lot of work getting to this point?
The key to it all is that anyone can put cameras on a pole – but it’s what you DO with those cameras. That’s where all the software and technology comes in, and that took us a couple of years to create. Now when we shoot on it, it’s like a drug! People are entranced when they are watching.
It’s mesmerizing seeing the stills come in – a different feeling to video, but also not the same as stills…Why do you think that is?
Movie cameras don’t do what we can do. That’s what is so interesting – we’re shooting with stills, and that’s why I enjoy making movies out of them. There’s no effects – that’s the other thing people have a hard time understanding. It’s all pure photography, just going back to actually taking true pictures. And all we’re doing is stitching them together in sequence.
It feels like this has come along at the right time, when people are starting to tire of CGI excess. Do you think people are looking for something else?
CGI has become very heavy. Big movies are now a tech-driven world, but a lot of these guys are not directors or artists. I’m already infiltrated in the film industry, the cosmetics industry, fashion, celebrity portrait. So for me, it’s just an extension.
Is that where the original inspiration came from, pulling all those worlds together?
Exactly. Now, we’ve got touchscreen, in-store, web, ad campaigns, and when I shoot 20 revolutions, you’ve got a film. You can even make a 3D print. Also, the biggest thing is the public can interact with it. They can zoom in, move round, look behind…We’re not about retouching either – the flaws are what’s beautiful. It really looks organic, like what Eadweard Muybridge was doing in the 1860s.
Do you see this as part of a lineage of artistic exploration?
He’s the holy grail of what I’m doing, and filmmaking generally…which is why I launched this in the art world. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (also first shown at the Armory in 1913) is based on Muybridge’s Woman Walking Downstairs (1887) – we merged the two at the show, and it was like the atomic bomb! This is really a new way of seeing everything and interacting with it.
What is the ideal way of experiencing a “revolution”? These images can be sliced and represented in so many different ways…
It’s the full package – you have to think of these things as a full-on experience. We shoot a still – that’s cool. Then you go to a touchscreen and you can interact with it. It’s like, I always want to see the back of a Picasso painting. How was it framed? Did he write on the back of that thing? With this, you could see.
For this collection, M·A·C has been very inspired by the idea of flowers and fantasy – did that also inspire you when making these?
James Gager came to the show and saw Metamorphosis, with Coco on a 60-foot screen, and said: “That’s M·A·C.” It reminded him of flowers and fantasy…James is always looking for something new and exciting. A lot of people are caught in the past – people have been doing what’s going on for years and years now, and doing it really well. That’s great! But what if I then say you can achieve those same great images, but now you can interact with them? That’s really all I’m saying.
How much do you think this has the potential to change photography?
Honestly, once you’ve shot with this, you have to carry on – you can’t go backwards. It’s the new way. That’s why I call it Revolution – I truly believe that what we are doing is revolutionary. We are finding things in the fourth dimension that Picasso, Braque, Duchamp and all those guys saw in the Muybridge photographs – they were reaching for this in paint, and we’re finding the truth. And doing it very much how Muybridge shot. We’re just taking it to a new level.
If a photograph can suggest a fantasy of movement, are these images a reality?
In its purest sense! M·A·C is really going for it – that’s impressive. I’m a risk-taker, I go against the grain, and I’m such a believer in this that I am putting everything into it. It’s important to me that if a brand wants to use this, that aesthetically it’s bad-ass! The time is now. It’s not next year or in six months. It’s now. M·A·C is really doing the world’s first four-dimensional interactive cosmetics campaign.
Images courtesy www.stevensebring.com and M.A.C Cosmetics. Story provided by M.A.C Cosmetics.