Shooting Performance Art In Low Light


My cousin Andy is the artist known as swany. Over the past few years he has immersed himself in many different art projects, the latest of which is a performance piece entitled 40RTY. This new project is an examination of the origins of masculinity, its processes and their effect on the male of the species from an early age.


I don’t know much about art, but a few years ago another photographer who’s path crossed with mine online had a saying in his online signature that went something like this: “Don’t judge art by what others say, judge it by how it makes you feel.” During this 30 minute performance by swany I felt uncomfortable. I won’t go into the specifics of what caused that to happen, but I found the whole thing very eerie. I ended up having a rather unnerving dream that night, which swany says is a good sign that the art was effective.


What I can talk about candidly is the photographic side of things. The artSPACE gallery has been the scene for a few of swany’s works and I have done some documentary work there for him in the past. It’s always challenging, mainly because of the light, or should I say, lack thereof. When he briefed me on this piece he was (as usual) as brief as he could be. I literally had no idea what to expect, so I came armed with a couple of cameras, fast lenses and a flash which I had planned on bouncing remotely if needed. Fortunately the centre-piece of the performance was a Ratel-like structure in which he stayed for its duration. Directly above his head was an old-school incandescent light bulb which kept him well illuminated and also allowed me to get away with ISO values ranging from 1250 up to 8000. As you know I’m not scared to use my Olympus E-M1 at those values, so the results of these images have a distinct grittiness to them which works well with the art swany produced in this piece.


Here are some of my selected images from the night. Click to view larger. 


















For this shoot I had 3 lenses, the Olympus 12-40/2.8 PRO (on loan while mine is being repaired), Olympus 75/1.8 and Samyang 7.5/3.5 fisheye. I shoot in A mode with Auto-ISO. Sometimes I will use the electronic shutter but other times I opt for the mechanical. I find that in A mode electronic shutter always chooses a very slow shutter speed, usually 1/13s. If your subject is static and you've got good technique you can sometimes get a decent shot, but it's probably better to engage S mode and choose a speed that matches the focal length of your lens. I have the front dial of my camera set to adjust exposure compensation so with the EVF I know exactly what I am going to get before I take the shot. I can't live without this in my work now. 


To be honest I have developed a working relationship with the Olympus E-M1 that I'm not all that keen on breaking, in spite of what technological advances have been made in photography in the 3 years since I began using it. I know that sooner or later I'll have to move on to newer things, but while this camera still works I will continue to explore its capabilities rather than hamper myself with having to learn new buttons and ergonomics of a newer model. Being at ease with the tools I have is much more conducive to my output than any potential increase in pixels or frame rate that a new model might bring.  


Follow @swanyart on Twitter

Edited by DDFZ

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Hmmm... Performance art... personally I'm not a fan


I just hope the artist has a day job


Nice job on the photography Dal



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Thanks Rags. He does have a day job, but is also doing quite well on the art side of things as he practices quite a few different media types. Also teaches art part time for University Of South Africa. 

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