It happens all the time: The subject of a portrait tries to put their best face forward but the photographer senses a more authentic expression locked inside. To get to something real, the photographer utilizes a range of tricks and charms to peel back the subject’s veneer.
South Carolina photographer Patrick Hall used 300,000 volts.
Shockingly, close to a hundred people got zapped with a stun gun for Hall’s series of still photos and a slow-motion video that went viral soon after it was published on the Fstoppers website, which Hall co-founded.
“I wanted to start making more photo series of things I don’t normally do,” Hall told Cult of Mac. “Why don’t I get reactions of people doing something painful or joyful that is more than the standard portrait? What could I do to consistently get reactions?”
Hall, 32, of Charleston, had been flirting with the idea for close to a year as a way to break from his routine as a wedding shooter and overseer of the popular website that provides video tutorials for working photographers. A friend told him to stop talking and start executing.
“300,000 volts sounds very powerful and I thought, ‘Great, this hurts but doesn’t hurt so bad.'”
He focused on pain and thought stun guns. He searched online for the stun gun that would deliver enough of a punch but not one that would put someone out. “300,000 volts sounds very powerful and I thought, ‘Great, this hurts but doesn’t hurt so bad,'” Hall said. “It was the perfect balance.”
He went through a series of test shots to settle on lighting, background and also whether people should be clothed. Hall did not want colorful clothing to distract from an expression. He decided on a nude look, meaning the photos would be made from the bare shoulders up. Guys would remove their shirts and women would have the option of a provided tube top or pulling bra or top straps down.
Then came the hard part — or so Hall thought. Who would subject themselves to shock and pain for the sake of art?
Hall found a coffee shop to serve as a venue for his shoot. Two days before the event, he posted an invitation on Facebook. Beer was provided. The Aug. 13 event drew about 100 people and the majority in attendance were willing to get zapped in front of the camera.
Slow-motion video, captured by two Sony FS700 cameras, was projected on a wall. With all eyes on it, Hall realized the power of the project would come from the video. It also helped encourage more and more participation. A video on the making of the shoot is below and has been popular with readers of Fstoppers.
“It was funny,” Hall said. “Once they saw, say, a 100-pound girl get tased and the reaction, they thought, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ Some people did it again.”
Fstoppers posted the work Aug. 25 and within 48 hours the video had a million hits, Hall said, rivaling the traffic of an iPhone fashion photo shoot the website published in 2010. That was the year Hall and photographer Lee Morris – who did the fashion shoot with an iPhone 3GS – launched Fstoppers.
Hall is still processing all the attention the shoot has garnered but the experience helped him conquer an obstacle common among photographers.
“If you have an idea, you just have to do it,” he said. “People will not do something because their idea isn’t perfect enough. I could have put a single light bulb in the room [for the stun gun shoot]. If you have a good idea, stop talking about it.”