On Photography: Before The Mirror and the Titian Palette

look at a hi-res version of the photo: Before the Mirror by Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu In this series both Kevin and I write independently about a photograph, first my...
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look at a hi-res version of the photo: Before the Mirror by Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

In this series both Kevin and I write independently about a photograph, first my thoughts, then his…

Sylvie writes: This photo is of me at Thapae Stadium in Chiang Mai, where I’ve fought over a hundred times. It’s any moment, just putting Vaseline on my face before my fight. This is something that in and of itself is a story. Fighters often depend on their cornermen to wrap their hands, give the oil massage, put Vaseline on their face, help tie the steel cup on (for men), and the emotional dependence of someone looking after or taking care of you before a fight. For 6 years, I’ve been doing most of this myself. I recruit someone to give my oil massage and ask someone to corner for me, which is generally just giving me water between rounds. I wrap my own hands, do my own Vaseline, warm myself up, etc. Even when I have people I truly trust in my corner, I still prefer to do most of this by myself now. I don’t know why, but the peachy-yellow hue of this photo expresses that to me. If it were Black and White, it might feel a bit somber. But preparing myself isn’t somber at all. It’s not lonely. It’s not stark or moody. And these colors capture that feeling for me. The peach-pit palate of self-sufficiency.

And this is what this space feels like. The lights are far apart from each other, creating large swaths of dim space. Where the lights are, they are too bright, often bare bulbs just shouting their light down onto the various cement surfaces. It feels a bit like how an old club might feel: urban and tucked away, but not nefarious or hidden. When you walk into Thapae, you follow a long alley until the space suddenly opens up. It feels very much like holding your breath through an underwater passageway and then coming up for air in a tucked back cave. The space just gasps open, the yellow lights over the ring calling from a distance. Something about Kevin’s palette here, pulls at the yellow of those lights that hang over the ring. They remind me of food-warmer lights, or maybe the lamps that keep reptiles warm in their aquarium. And maybe that’s what this image in the mirror is like for me as well, the way a lizard is just living out its lizard life and the fact that the sides of its enclosure are glass allow us to watch. But that lizard is just being a lizard. Sylvie as lizard. contained and yet not constrained.

Kevin writes: These moments, stretches of time before a fight, have no character. There is just “waiting”, in the same sense as there would be if waiting for a bus, or even standing in a long line, but too, you are surrounded by fighters, by trainers, gamblers, so you are soaking in the casualness of fight culture, almost like you are on a picnic blanket before fireworks. There is a sense of milling. Sometimes fighters shadowbox absentmindedly, sometimes Sylvie does as well, but it all feels more like a dancer’s studio, before class. Fighters come back from the ring, battered, or completed, confident and praised, but it’s all the same. It composes a Same. This photo, the way the light falls, the palette of green and yellow, becomes a wash of that space for me. A painterliness, of thick, fleshy light, like a burning bulb. The atmospherics of that space, in Thapae Stadium, are like this. The mats are all shared, the perfunctory is everywhere, but fighters still are assembling themselves. Sylvie is assembling herself. There is a mirror. I call to mind the backstage mirrors of cabarets or theater, where the actresses or acrobats apply their stage makeup. I recall the thespian trade of building up the layers of yourself, so that others in the back rows can see you. This kind of light in stunning. It’s fleshed. Light so often is ethereal, signaling ascension, another plane. But yellow light, green light, it is of this Earth, it is of us, of what we are, and of the making of what it can be. It is horizontal light.

Background on this Photography

Kevin’s photography has been evolving, rapidly, over the past year or so, since we purchased the Fujifilm XT3 and committed to taking photography seriously. Recently, I happen to have been looking back on some very old photos and posts, which has illuminated for me just how far the quality of our equipment has come. Photos from Lanna are taken by a really bad camera phone. Dim, blurred photos at Petchrungruang and Or. Meekhun from our first couple years there. Then they start getting better because we got a digital camera. Then there’s a leap in quality because the camera improved again. But there’s nothing like what an artist’s eye does for the actual feeling of what’s produced. Quality helps – like having nice paints, a variety of brushes, better tools – but the actual eye is the thing. Kevin’s eye is amazing.

For a long while Kevin was focused on Black and White, as this is his aesthetic and he’s brilliant in it. He started gravitating toward a noir feel and named his aesthetic “Muay Noir.” It’s perfect. Recently, he’s been inspired by the concept of color palletes and he’s been working with that. The images he’s creating now are actually out of photos he didn’t develop for Black and White, virtually doubling his spectrum of work. You can follow his progress on Instagram.

on Twitter Kevin references some influences for this palette
You can support this content: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu on Patreon
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Muay Thai

A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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