Even Medusa Needs Headshots

Medusa has always been portrayed as ugly, sinister, and monstrous. I've always found her to be beautiful, so when she wanted headshots and personal branding images, I was onboard immediately.

Personal Branding for Medusa

Despite how she has been mythologized as a Gorgon, a beast, and a monstrous destroyer of souls, I have always been fascinated by her beauty. I even have a tattoo of her on my forearm.
So I started thinking about modernizing the myth and wondering what it would be like to provide Medusa with headshots and personal branding images.
What if Medusa walked into my studio and wanted a contemporary portrait session? How would I treat her? What images would I take to make her look like a modern, powerful woman?
With the Portrait Masters Awards and Accreditation on the horizon in February 2021, and knowing that I wanted to submit this image for judging I knew I only had one or two opportunities to make a shoot like this happen.

Planning the Shoot

So back in my role as a photographer, I started thinking about how I would style the session and to me the most important thing would be getting the snake-hair correct.
Thankfully, I remembered I had been given a Medusa headpiece a few years ago that was sitting in one of my costume trunks. Pulling it out and looking at it more closely I knew it would be perfect.
The headpiece was a mix of rubber toy snakes and industrial tubing, spray painted and full of wonderful textures. Now I needed to find a model and makeup artist to do justice to this concept.

Finding the Model

I had been working with Nikki Hunt, a performance artist based here in Maine, on other creative work and it just seemed natural to see if she would be interested. Besides being a model she is talented at creating cosplay and fantasy makeup looks so it was fate that we were working together! Thankfully, she gave me a wholehearted YES to the Medusa project!
We started brainstorming makeup looks and how we could replicate the lizard-like scales and skin tones so that it had a fashion-forward feel.
We settled on a gold bodypaint for the overall skin, and Nikki had some ideas about using some fishnet to create the scale look on her forehead and neck.

The Dry Run

Wanting to use our time most efficiently, and since we were already doing some unrelated photography work together, we used the end of one of our sessions to do a dry run on the makeup and for me to test out some lighting.
I wanted to use a contemporary lighting setup, similar to Felix Kunze’s Signature Light but make it a hair more dramatic. Would I use a green backdrop or gold? Composite a background, or let it stand alone? That would be the part of the discovery process that you can only realize in the moment.
behind the scenes portrait of medusa with a spear - stonetree creative - maine's premier portrait studio
behind the scenes of a medusa portrait shoot - stonetree creative - maine's premier portrait studio
portrait of medusa - stonetree creative - maine's premier portrait studio
closeup of medusa headpiece - stonetree creative - maine's premier portrait studio

Results of the First Shoot

The first test shoot got us very excited, but the scales just didn’t look right. I knew we could do better. I played around a bit in photoshop to do some color grading and light skin retouching to see if we were headed in the right direction and to create guides for the next real shoot.
After a few weeks of back and forth, thinking about how we could improve on the look and feel of the images, we tried it again. This time, Nikki had found a much better body paint and we utilized Pinterest to find more interesting images of Medusa from which we could draw inspiration. 
Surprisingly we couldn’t very much in the way of what we were doing, so that made us feel good about all the work we were putting into this.
In the time between shoots, I had also acquired some new wardrobe pieces including an authentic Japanese kimono and a black corset. In addition to the Greek goddess costume that I had in the wardrobe, I had all the different looks I wanted to shoot.

Trying It For Real This Time

On the day of the shoot Nikki and I were both excited but we still had to do some pre-work.
My first concept was to have Medusa sitting in front of a mirror, but seeing her reflection as her beautiful self. I got the set ready and we photographed Nikki in the Greek costume without makeup first. These images would serve as the reflected image in the composite. Once we had those images done, it was time to start makeup.
It took Nikki about an hour or so to put on the makeup and we started where we left off, getting the mirror concept finished. After that we shot more portraits utilizing a bit more contemporary posing.
Changing outfits into the corset and black leggings we continued the shoot just like I do with all of my sessions. Nikki brought a black trenchcoat with her that worked perfectly with the styling. I even had an authentic spear that we used as a prop.
Lastly, for a little bit of fun, we put Medusa into the kimono and gave her a curling iron. I wanted a funny image of Medusa trying to curl her hair and having a hard time. It came out WAY better than I thought.

So what do you think? The goal was to provide personal branding images and modeling headshots for one of the most iconic creatures of all time. Did we give Medusa what she needed?


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This is another installment of a sub-series of Generator called “Focal Points” where Maine photographer Matt Stagliano speaks with Jonny Edward, a commercial and portrait photographer, as well a top-tier educator based in Denver, Colorado about a variety of topics.

In this episode, Matt & Jonny recount their vastly different experiences at WPPI 2024 in Las Vegas. This is Part 1 of a two part episode.

There will be more topic explorations on future episodes of Focal Points so stay tuned for those!

For more on Jonny Edward’s photography and educational courses, please visit jonnyedward.com

Published in the Wall Street Journal

I do work for local real estate agencies. While I was recently in Arizona attending a workshop, the images of this home were published in an article in the Wall Street Journal. All I can say is how grateful I am!

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