Brad French

Lensbaby Meets Burlesque -or- Double Take: Looking at something familiar in a new way (NSFW below the drop)

Last time out, I decided I wanted to try something a little different when photographing the Kiss Kiss Cabaret.  I brought out the lensbaby, a gimmick lens that has a small point of focus, but then gets gradually more and more blurry as you move away from it.  I've always liked the effect, but haven't found much practical use for it outside of the occasional portrait.

Using the Lensbaby in the studio, with Paris GreenIn a studio setting, the lens handles great.  You have to move the focus point manually around the frame by twisting the lens itself (as well as focusing the lens), so when you take your time to nail the focus you can get some really cool results.  But using the lens during a live performance is a lot riskier. There are so many intangibles to creating the shot (focus, exposure, composition,) that sometimes you just miss the moment.  Sometimes the focal point is just a hair off from where you'd like it to be.  Other times the focal point is in the right spot, but the image is so blurred that you miss the reason you took the shot.  I imagine it's like trying to fly a plane with walleye vision.

So why bother?

Because once in awhile you're photographing a subject matter and it becomes too familiar.  I've been photographing burlesque for some time now, and I've got that mental checklist I go through as I approach the work.  I've got a pretty good idea what shots I want to get and how to get them. But that's boring.  I felt like it was important to keep digging.  Finding a new way to look at the work and find new ways to voice my feelings about it.  And for me that came in the form of the Lensbaby.  It reminds me of something Jack White said:

I keep guitars that are, you know, the neck's a little bit bent and it's a little bit out of tune. I want to work and battle it and conquer it and make it express whatever attitude I have at that moment. I want it to be a struggle.  -- From It Might Get Loud

With the Lensbaby, you're forced to struggle.  Follow your instincts, follow that moment, and make quick decisions for better or worse.  As a result I feel that the images show something that I hadn't been expressing in my previous work.  And seeing that, I can hopefully bring out those themes in my more traditional work.  Or at the very least, make something look instragramy enough to trend.

Anyway, you can check out some results below (click below to expand), or check out the full gallery at .  Big thanks to Chris Biddle and the Kiss Kiss Cabaret for allowing me the freedom to try some stuff out.

Also, if you're interested in some more experimental burlesque photography, check out what my friend Brian C. Janes did compressing an entire act into a single image. 

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