Andrew Dawson - Goldsmiths PRF - The Articulate Hand

Andrew Dawson | Goldsmiths PRF

Goldsmiths regularly hosts Performance Research Forums in the George Wood Theatre. While I was doing my MA there I attended all of them, and as I still live in New Cross I was very interested to attend this particular PRF by Andrew Dawson, The Articulate Hand. Dawson has a particularly interesting take on the integral use of the hands in human expressivity, which he arrives at through collaboration with neuroscientists and people with impairment affecting the use of their hands. His presentation was a mixture of video and audio directly from his research, as well as short performance etudes.

Particularly striking was his depiction of one woman's use of her opposing shoulders to control prosthetic hands in order to pick up a fork to eat (I'm afraid I forget her name). A recording of the woman's own description of this accompanied him. This kind of thing is potentially very controversial but he handles it very well.

The Photography

I really do enjoy the challenge of photographing in a theatre - it takes a surprising amount of concentration and guess work. This particular shot was taken at 1/200, f/2, ISO 1600 (shot RAW and white balanced in post). I find it's impossible to rely on any automatic settings for theatre, as even with spot metering the camera is wrong most of the time - so I shoot in full manual mode, even in regularly changing light.

One particularly challenging part of this performance was a small sequence of movement lit by a single side light. Andy would place his hands suddenly into the light, giving the effect of appearing and disappearing. Everything but his hands was in complete darkness, and his hands were in constant movement, so it was very difficult to focus on them, and expose correctly for them as they appeared unpredictably closer and further from the light source (hence brighter and darker). I made a composite of some of the shots from this sequence - not entirely sure it works, but it gives a clearer impression of what was going on than if I just chose a single photo of a hand. If I'd had a tripod and knew what was about to happen I would probably have tried a long exposure. The way the hands appeared and disappeared from the beam of light would have worked very like multiple flashes, though I'd have been left with more motion blur than this.

Andrew Dawson - Goldsmiths PRF - The Articulate Hand

Photoshop

This is a simple combination of the 'screen' blend mode and 'blend if', so that I didn't need to mask individual layers. I created a custom brush to make a bit of dust, and drew some curves in the shape of the light, which is what gives a little bit of definition to the beam, which was invisible to the camera, though visible to the eye. I think it's a pretty good justification of this kind of photoshop if the stills you get don't capture what the scene looked like.

The photoshop on the top image is a bit more subtle, but I think equally justifiable. The hand that Andy is holding looked very real from back in the audience. However, looking at it in a close up out of the camera, sharpened and magnified, makes it look very fake. In order to recreate the realistic look from the performance, I split the image with frequency separation and painted in a colour layer in between, sampling colours from andy's own hands and painting the fake hand to match - these went underneath the high frequency layer and I set the blend mode to 'hue' so the texture, luminosity and saturation of the fake hand were untouched.

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