Contemporary, Nostalgic, XtremeTEXT BY INGRID S. KRAMPE • IMAGES BY TIMOTHY WHITE
Last May, during the USO tour in Bosnia/Sarajevo, thousands of postcards featuring Christie Brinkley--clad in a flimsy and wildly creative replicate of army fatigues--were air-dropped to troops stationed in that region on a peacekeeping mission. While the event was a welcome diversion to the day-to-day travails of war, for U.S. troops, it was also a reminder of home--a nostalgic, Vargaesque image of the World War II pinup, the essence of the American "girl next door," liberally dosed with 1990s sex appeal.
Exposed by this month's cover artist, New York photographer Timothy White (whitespace studio), the image is singularly analogous of him and his work: heartwarmingly nostalgic, yet blisteringly contemporary, and depending on the angle, just a bit extreme. What else can you say about a photographer who bought an entire town somewhere west of LA in the Mohave Desert "because the paint was peeling perfectly," who after more than a decade on the Hollywood roller coaster continues to be one of the most sought after celebrity photographers in the country--all while running a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art studio in Manhattan.
"My shooting style tends to be reactionary. I go in with a big bag of tricks, but without a preconceived notion--until I see clothes, mood, and personality, I don't know where the final results will end up. It's an evolution. It causes difficulty for my agent," he laughs, "because he has to get clients to buy into my (non) look."
AMERICAN INNOVATION--FROM PINUP TO
White offered the public another dimension of his talents when Esquire magazine commissioned him to re-create a '90s version of Alberto Varga's pinup girl illustrations from the '30s and '40s.
To create the effect he was looking for, White relied on state-of-the-art imaging technology, although he captured the models with traditional film. Once captured, the images were processed and then scanned with a high-end Optronics drum scanner. The files were eventually manipulated in Adobe Photoshop to re-create muscles as well as other nuances.
PERFECTLY PEELING PAINT
If re-creating a '90s version of the Varga girls doesn't induce a bit of nostalgia, a ghost town on California's Highway 66 probably will. Crossing the Mohave Desert, between Palm Springs and Las Vegas, on his motorcycle, White cut off the main road to find himself running into a "Town for Sale" sign. While the average response to this type of advertising is probably nothing more than a chuckle and possibly a picture-taking opportunity, White took it seriously. "The paint was peeling perfectly; you couldn't art-direct this location any better than it is," says White, who went on to purchase the town with a partner "from a guy named Buster." "It's a good conversation piece," he adds, "a beautiful town that time has passed by."
While its a hot location for shooting, the thermometer stays up there, too, especially in the summer, with temperatures looming in the 120 to 130 degree Fahrenheit range. There is also no fresh water on the property. Fifty attempts to drill a well pulled up saltwater because of its elevation. White relies on a 100-year-old grandfather clause that has the railroad bringing water in on a daily basis. Other than making the site available to others, he also uses Amboy for many of his own shoots when he is not in Hollywood or at his high-tech, studio rental facility in Manhattan. whitespace Despite extensive assignments on the West Coast, White maintained a studio on Manhattan's West Side for more than 15 years before building and opening his current studio, whitespace. Only a block from the original, it is the epitome of style, functionality, and technology. Spurred by a need for more space, he purchased a 100-year-old carriage house slated for restoration--before the project evolved into a three-story, 15,000-foot, brand new state-of-the-art facility with White's personal stamp of boutiquelike intimacy. "I got started on it and it got out of hand," says White. "I found some structural damage, so I had it torn down and built a new studio from the ground up."
At street level there's a 50-foot-wide, drive-in cyclorama with 22-foot-high ceilings. The third floor is a daylight studio with picture windows to the east overlooking Manhattan, and west to the Hudson River--two decks extend north and south behind glass walls.
White's photographic and artistic genius has been plastered on the covers of popular magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, People, Life, Newsweek, US, Premiere, Vogue, Time, and a host of others for almost two decades. Name a musician--from jazz to rock 'n' roll to pop--White's been there. The list is eclectic, a roster of contemporary greats, from Aerosmith, Bjork, Jon Bon Jovi and James Brown to Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Metallica, and Roy Orbison.
For studio rental information go to www.whitespacestudios.com.TIMOTHY WHITE'S
Bose Portable Sound System
Great Music, Great Assistants
Mamiya RZ Pro II
LARGE FORMAT CAMERA(S)
Profoto 7b Battery
Kodak EPR, EPL, EPT, TRI-X
Fuji RDP III, RTP II, Tungsten