I looked at a range of photographers engaged in this kind of work – the tableau vivant or assembled image. The amount of construction and prop placing required varies from image to image but in general they are very carefully managed. They are intended to look that way, even if the evidence of staging is subtle as in Crewdson’s pictures. I had little space to arrange thing but even so there was a fair amount of shifting and placing to do.
I think it’s as well to alert those who agree to be photographed that it will probably go on for longer than they expect, then there’s not so much perceived pressure on the photographer. This has an effect on the process too – feeling rushed is bad for attention to detail and on-the-spot creativity. For my part, in future I need to establish that the shoot will take a realistic amount of time (not “it’ll only take ten minutes”), and plan for more rather than less. I hope to involve more people in my work in future so my people management skills will be tested.
I have found that I’m pretty good at interacting with ‘models’ whilst setting up a shot – I do tend to blather on a bit but I can keep the conversation going whilst explaining in brief terms what’s happening photographically.
When it comes to actually making the exposures I like to stop all that and I have explained to people that this is faffing time – I will be silent, or muttering but it’s not to do with them – this has been a positive move and people do seem to have been more at ease.
I have kept the promise of prints for sitters and they have appeared well satisfied. So far. everyone is pleased to help. I guess this is part of the ‘student’ thing, especially as I must appear a somewhat unlikely version.