This is the Kai Face.
It is the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on, in terms of time I spent on it (indescribable), and also size – this is a piece not made for the internet. It’s going to be printed at least 2 metres tall.
At first glimpse at such a small size on a screen, it does not necessarily bear much impact. This is why I made a video. (I recommend switching settings to highest quality HD, fullscreen with volume up!)
The making of Kai Face
The commission was to create a large-scale piece, of a Chinese theme, to endlessly compel the eaters dining in the restaurant Kai Mayfair, London. This is an amazing award-winning Michelin star restaurant if you are ever lucky enough to eat there.
This was a very new thing for me to work on, and it was an exciting challenge upon which I embarked with Matthew at my right-hand side. It involved first shooting shedloads of beauty images of the model Alton, using a Phase One 645DF with IQ160 back. We used a specific macro lens (Phase One 120mm AF f/4.0 macro) to shoot extreme close ups of the eyes, nose and lips so I could add these into the image afterwards for maximum detail at large size. Shooting tethered into Capture One, we were able to zoom in and check details meticulously. This is very different to the way I usually work, and I enjoyed the slowed-down, perfectionist, tea-sipping pace.
Above and below – rough iPad shots of the shoot. Below are eyelashes!
I also shot a second model Jade Bianca, to be able to use parts of her face at will. What I would do in terms of surrealism was yet to discover. I shot many images of trinkets, patterns and textures on the day too.
Working out what to do on each part of the face was like embarking on twenty different pictures. Progress was made slowly but surely over 3 months in Photoshop. At least 17 large-format PSB files later, countless TIFFs, hundreds of ancient Chinese paintings and what seemed like ten million Photoshop-save tea breaks, it came together. For every tiny element that now sits in the image, there were at least 20 things that were rejected. I purposely wanted half of the image to remain like a beauty shot. I wanted the elements to appear sweeping in over the face, as if they were in the middle of movement. The most striking thing about the image is the blue eye – I wanted to incorporate a mystical sense of east meets west whilst keeping the image overall distinctly Chinese. However, I found that the less I thought rationally, the more creative I became. It was about the paintings slotting into the place they felt best.
I am used to making images primarily for the internet, so my habit is to zoom in and out constantly, checking how it looks small as well as medium size. But in order to really get a sense of this picture’s presence, I had to keep it zoomed in all the way as I worked on it, remembering how it will look at the end. There are lots and lots of tiny magical surreal details throughout the image, of animals, creatures, objects and people interacting with each other in a manner calling to mind my ‘Surreal Fashion’ series.
A few weeks before I finished it, I had a test print done at a metre wide to show to the client – at a Shoot Experience no less, with a group of people watching as I nervously unrolled it. The reaction from them as we held it up in the sunlight at Lordship Park was amazing – it immediately put me at ease! Even though it was not finished, the ‘gist’ of it was there, and I felt re-motivated to keep working away at it. I wanted to make sure I was ‘in love’ with every part of it. I spent several more hours (spread over weeks) tweaking, refining, checking and double-checking every crevice of the image.
Towards its completion, I started to contemplate the idea of a series of these faces. Matthew suggested it and my ears pricked up. I like the idea of risky artistic adventures only that behold a power to produce something absolutely undeniably mega. They would be all humongous in size, brimming with the craft of months of toil, extremely limited edition. Time to completion unknown… but if there’s one thing I’m learning from life at the moment, it’s to take advantage of the unknowns, the uncertainties, the ugly things that this world faces – turn them on their head and use them as a reason to pursue wild ideas more than ever.
Shot with Phase One 645DF and IQ160. Thanks to Eric Joakim from Phase One. Model is Alton Mashbayar. Blue eye is model Jade Bianca. Assistant Matt Lennard. Make-up by Cristina Iravedra.
Thanks to Bernard Yeoh of Kai Mayfair for this wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to seeing it hanging ‘in the flesh’, for which it was made.