Morrigan McCarthy: Dressing Room
Bangor, Maine, USA
Time / Date:
00:00 / March, 2007
Camera Body: Canon EOS RebelX
Lens: Canon 50mm 1.8
Filter: UV filter
Film: Fuji B/W 1600
Shutter Speed: –
Focal Length: 50mm
I made this image while studying at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. I was shooting a project about the life of an 18-year old exotic dancer in this small Maine town, and so I was spending a lot of time at the club where she worked. It was a fairly delicate situation, and so I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. Each time I went to the club to photograph, I carried my little Canon Rebel film camera (that I had received as an award in 8th grade for outstanding achievement in shop class), a 50mm 1.8 lens, and four or five rolls of Fuji 1600 tucked into my jean pockets. No flash. To this day, that is my favorite way of shooting. In my mind, the less gear, the better.
This image was made in the dressing room where the girls prepared to dance. The dressing room was always a strange place because the girls had such intense relationships with one another. They were mostly 18-26 years old, and they were each other’s confidants as well as competitors. They cheered each other on, and stabbed each other in the backs in equal measure. Their insecurities and vulnerability were palpable and I felt like the dressing room was often the place that this manifested in a visual way. In this particular scene, two young women are preparing the the night. I love that velvety blacks and the way she’s looking at herself in the mirror. I feel like it’s a look that speaks volumes.
I used my Canon EOS RebelX and 50mm 1.8 lens. It’s shot on Fuji B/W 1600 film. I love using film for documentary work, because you’re never checking the back of the camera. You just have to trust yourself to get the shot right, and then move on.
Making the Shot:
The club lighting lent itself to heavy blacks, which I always felt helped to capture the mystery of the place. It was winter in Maine too, so the pale skin on the girls provided a shocking contrast, which lets the photographs sort of mimic the shock of nudity. This whole project was documentary, so I didn’t get a say in the lighting or the posing: I just saw the shot and made it.
Editing & Processing:
I developed this film by hand and printed it on whatever paper was in the darkroom cache. Later, I scanned the film and spotted it in Photoshop because I seem to always have so much dust on my negatives!
Looking back, and thinking about how I made this image makes me want to go back to shooting with black and white film. The simplicity of it really does allow for happy surprises and I’d like to have more of that in my life. If I could go back… gosh, I don’t know. If I could do this project again, I’d spend more time shooting outside of the club. When I finished the story, I wanted to see more of what the rest of these young womens’ lives were like.
Know your equipment inside and out and keep it simple. Even if you have to shoot digitally, turn off your back screen and use a fixed lens- you can move your body closer to the subject if you need to “zoom,” and you should be able to trust yourself to get the shot you want without checking immediately after.
I’m driven to make images because I’m curious about other people’s lives. One of the great advantages of this line of work is that you get to be a bit nosey and explore, and then share what you’ve learned! I love it.
About the Photographer
Morrigan is a writer and documentary photographer interested in using whatever medium best suits the story. She has a serious case of wanderlust, but her heart is in New England wearing thick wool socks and sipping hot coffee in the foggy ocean air.
Morrigan was selected as the 2012 Maine Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellow and has won numerous awards for her photography. She studied poetry and dance at Connecticut College and documentary photography at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She was selected to attend the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2007 where she won an award for outstanding work. Her photography has been featured in the New York Times, New York Magazine, Time Out Magazine, PDN edu, and USA Today.
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