In Okinawa, Japan, at three years old, photographer Michelle Pedone got her first taste of pop culture. “I was way into Ultraman, and on my first record player I spun 45s of children’s songs sung all in Japanese,” she recalls. Pedone’s father was in the Air Force and they moved from country to country, instilling within her a global perspective early in life. “I think being exposed to different aesthetics and culture from an early age definitely had a long-term impact on my creative psyche,” she says. She still carries with her a love for Japanese street youth culture, and it finds its way into her work, like her offbeat series Otherwordly Soulmates, of two young lovers who bring life back to the dead.
© Michelle Pedone
Two lovers with supernatural powers from the series Otherworldly Soulmates.
Although she was born in the United States, American popular culture was foreign to Pedone. “I look back and see myself as this American kid in a strange world,” she comments. Her only sense of home was a stream of pop culture being fed to the rest of the world. In the early 1980s, her family relocated to the Panama Canal Zone. With no access to cable, the birth of the MTV era flew by her. She learned of it in small doses from the nearby home-run video store that had hours of MTV footage available to rent on VHS tapes. “I remember watching them over and over to the point where I knew what belts and shoes the New Wave bands had on,” Pedone says. “I would study their outfits and hairstyles, I watched so much I even had their mannerisms memorized.”
Now a self-proclaimed “pop culture junkie,” Pedone draws inspiration for her work from film, television and art, paying homage to others within her eclectic style. Her whimsical nature is imbued in her iconic, graphic images, and her characters come to life within her narratives.
Pedone’s most recent series Oh LaLa! centers around two privileged “queen bee type girls,” who both possess a “whimsical playfulness with a mischievous edge,” she explains. The characters were inspired by a coupling of Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette and Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. Oh LaLa! is influenced by the palette and set design of Marie Antoinette, while the detail of the “shoe hats” reference Ida Lowry, the “surreal, vanity-obsessed” character in Brazil. Pedone saw the film years ago and became fixated on the shoe hat; several of her personal sketchbooks include drawings featuring the accessory.
Pedone’s sketchbook is her most relied upon tool for preproduction planning. She creates loose storyboards for her shoots, mapping out the color palette, lighting and props. It allows her to fully realize the scene beforehand and gives reference so the stylist, hair and makeup artists and prop/set designers are all on the same page.
For this shoot, Pedone enlisted the help of wardrobe stylist Melanie Willey and hair and makeup artist Pascale Poma. Pedone shared her sketches with them and created a mood board to give a sense of what she was looking for. She also held a casting at her office after contacting several modeling agencies. “I wanted to cast two girls whose look had classic beauty with a slightly quirky edge,” she says. She selected a blonde girl and a brunette as a “yin and yang” for her concept.
© Michelle Pedone
Portrait pair from the series Oh LaLa!
Months before, Pedone had spotted an inflatable zebra that she stashed away, waiting for the right shoot to use it. The prep day for Oh LaLa! presented a challenge as she had to relocate the 5-foot zebra from her office to the studio. It would not fit in a cab, she quickly learned, so Pedone held a one-woman parade as she walked the zebra up 8th avenue in Manhattan to the shoot. She chooses props that promote interaction and creativity from her talent. “I like to create environments and then let my subjects be spontaneous within them,” she says.
© Michelle Pedone
A girl and her zebra from the series Oh LaLa!
Oh LaLa! was shot in both stills and motion, with the motion piece still in the editing phase. This will be Pedone’s second time creating a motion piece, and she is excited to give her characters a greater vividness through video. “The accessibility and affordability allowed me to start experimenting with creating moving images, which brings my vision and the subjects I shoot to a whole other level,” She comments. “It gives the energy of my still images a pulse.“ She has called upon Industrial Color to match the look and feel of the stills through retouching, and her husband is creating original music for the piece.
Her still series has been well received by the photography community, snagging two honorable mentions for “Fine Art – Portrait” and “People – Portrait” at the 2012 International Photography Awards. The motion version for Oh LaLa! will be completed early next year.
For more of Michelle Pedone’s work, visit her Web site.
Tech specs for Oh LaLa!:
Camera body for still/motion capture:
Canon Mark II
Canon EF 24-105mm zoom
Canon EF 200mm
Lighting for Stills:
Three Profoto 7A 2400 kits
Key light: 1 beauty dish
Hair light: 1 beauty dish overhead on a boom with a grid
Fill Light: 2 heads with 7” reflectors and small silver umbrellas
Hensel 1200 Porty pack with 2 heads and silver umbrellas + silver reflectors
1 K5600 Joker 800 & 2 400 HMI’s crossover kits, which included Profoto adapters that allowed use of the same dishes from the strobe setup.
Shot through an 8’X8’ ¼ stop silk for fill.