Following the ethos that "ludicrous ideas should realised", Ransom & Mitchell (aka Stacey Ransom and Jason Mitchell) are in the business of creating beautifully evocative fine art narrative, portrait and commercial photographs and motion works. Their debut solo show, 'Smoke and Mirrors', is currently showing at San Francisco’s Varnish Fine Art.
Your shots typically have a strong narrative edge. What kind of themes and scenarios inspire you both?
Stacey Ransom: For our narrative pieces, we combine scenes of lush grandeur with uncomfortable emotional themes that address issues of obsession, consumption and longing. We're drawn to stories that provide cognitive dissonance, and seek out scenarios that are visually beautiful, but with a disconcerting message, so that our work creates a need for emotional reckoning. For our portraiture, we seek to tell personalised stories about our subjects and fill their scenes with clues about their inner truths.
You've cited the work of Italian and Dutch master painters as major influences. What is it about their work that you find influential?
SR: We're drawn to the works of Johannes Vermeer and Caravaggio; they used light and shadows to further the narrative of their works. The lighting of a scene strongly influences the overall emotional portent; by allowing areas to fall into darkness, it furthers the tension and emotional discord that we find compelling.
You both have a background in film and adverts. How has that experience fed into your current work?
SR: It's honed our process. The work ethic that exists in the film world is exceptional – the dedicated camaraderie within film teams and the deep desire to create the extraordinary is par for the course. We conceptualise everything in advance – the cast, set design, wardrobe design, hair, make-up, lighting – nothing is left to chance. It's not unlike creating a short film.
Tell us about your Artist Portrait series. What motivated you to shoot other artists?
SR:In 2009, I began art blog Ransom-Notes.net, focusing in in-depth interviews and studio visits, and began to shoot portraits of the artists; collaborating with other creatives willing to throw inhibitions out the window and embrace the true nature of storytelling proved to be extraordinarily rewarding. We try to create a sense of connection and curiosity in the viewer. We hope that if a fan sees the portrait, they think, "AH! This is what I had hoped this artist was like… it's what I suspected all along".
Purebred Studio [which Ransom and Mitchell run together] produces commercial work – how do you find working on commercial projects, versus creative ones? Would you ever like to focus solely on your creative work at some point?
SR: Every artist has the narcissistic dream of being able to just do whatever they want, but that's a reality for a very small percentage. We're grateful that we've been able to apply our aesthetic and techniques from our fine art into our commercial work too. We recently shot a series of corporate headshots for gaming company KIXEYE – they wanted to portray their executives as nefarious space marines with sci-fi details like holograms, cyborgs and death rays. That was pretty much a dream job!
Your Fake Believe site shares behind-the-scenes images and how-to technical guides to your shoots. That's a pretty unusual approach to take in the art world.
SR: Knowledge should never be hoarded; inspiration should be celebrated as the very fuel of innovation. We're not giving out blueprints to be followed to the letter – we're sharing our experience with materials and explaining our overall process. If it inspires someone to build something AND helps them develop a technique of their own, that's a double win.
What's the best part about working as a duo? Are there ever any creative differences?
SR: There are many, many best parts. It's amazing to have someone to bounce ideas off of who has a vested interest in the results, and will give truly honest feedback. The only time it's tough is when we're hunkered down on a project, working really long hours for days on end – invariably the dishes get stacked in the sink and our laundry piles up – but then we're able to just look at each other, know that the art we're making is more important and shrug it off.
Jason Mitchell: I wouldn't say we have creative differences, but we each have ideas that haven't moved forward because both of us aren't on board, which might never see the light of day... but that might be a good thing.
Creating such complex fine art images must take exhausting amounts of time and energy. What are your opinions on today's prevalent instant photo culture, with millions of effort-free images being taken on apps like Instagram every day?
SR: I love it! Everyone is an artist inside, and it's great that Instagram has encouraged people to just LOOK around them and share things they find interesting. We're both happy Instagramers! Stacey @hld4ransom & Jason @impureacts.
JM: Those with a unique style and voice really stand out in this commodisation of images. Our ability to build and light a set helps us to differentiate ourselves from the crowd technically, as our style and themes do narratively.
What would be your dream shoot to work on, if you had an unlimited budget?
SM: I've typed three answers, and each time I've said, "Hmmm... that's good, we should do that". So, instead of getting specific, I'll reiterate the various things that make us happy: sumptuous decay, heart-breaking circumstance and longing. We don't need endless money to chase our dreams, just resolve and time. Hopefully, we'll get to hang out on this earth long enough to escort all our ideas to the other side.
You can see more of Ransom and Michell's work at Purebed Studio, and aspirant photographers can see exclusive behind-the-scenes shots at the duo's Fake Believe site.