Coming this Saturday, September 8th, to the Varnish Art Gallery in San Francisco is the debut exhibition For Smoke & Mirrors by Ransom & Mitchell. This SF based art duo includes Jason Mitchell, photographer-director, and Stacy Ransom, set designer and photo-illustrator. Since 2004 the couple has Purebred Studios, a still and motion production studio in SF, that along with client work also serves as the studio they use for personal projects. Not only do Ransom & Mitchell create breathtaking images based on artist they respect, they also share how these photos were created in a behind the scenes website they call Fake Believe. Fans are able to see that what they believed to be photoshop illustration in the image was in fact part of the set, or even a full costume that was constructed just for the shoot. While living in San Francisco for a short time, I was asked to stop by the studio and hang out while the the duo and their crew worked on a new artist shoot with Scott Musgrove. Below is an exclusive image of one of the final photos from the Scott Musgrove sitting. Read more for a breakdown of the days events, and more images of this upcoming exhibition.

I tend to be a bit of a hermit, and even though I lived in San Francisco I didn’t make it to as many art shows as I would have liked. If I remember correctly Stacey Ransom contacted me, stating that she had been a fan of the site for quite some time. Coincidentally Stacey has her own art blog entitled Ransom Notes that I have read on many an occasion. I was excited to act as a fly on the wall, and see how this dynamic duo worked to create these images. I am no slouch myself when it comes to photoshop, and am a big fan of photography, so this seemed like a great chance to observe as well as learn. However, it is days like this when you learn, maybe you aren’t as good at photoshop or photography as you thought. While Jason Mitchell is the photgrapher/director, and Stacey Ransom is the set designer and photo-illustrator, there is a also big team that goes into these shoots. Make-up, assistants for set design, assistants for lighting, etc. I think in this age of people using photoshop, people tend to think that many simply shoot photos, make sure they are ok, and then go into photoshop and make them better. That is not the case here, and I was very happy to see that even though Stacy is an expert level user of photoshop, what you think might be digital illustration in the images, is in fact part of the set, or part of the costume. It was very clear shortly after I arrived, that the goal of Ransom & Mitchell, is achieve a high level of production from beginning to end.

When I first showed up on the set I met Stacey and Jason for the first time, both very nice, and the crew was happy and very excited to be working on these shoots. Luckily for me there was a great spread of food, which was good since I didn’t eat. When I walked into the set I could see two separate setups, and after an explanation by Stacey, these two sets would soon become one in the final image. Lighting equipment surrounded the area, and Scott Musgrove was being prepared, make-up and costume, for the beginning of the shoot. Stacey took me on a tour of the studio, which included the offices upstairs and a small museum in progress of artifacts, costumes, and accessories that have been featured in previous shoots.

After the initial setup, there was a round of photos taken to see if everything was going to be in the right position. Even in these beginning shots the lighting was perfect. Scott was brought to his seat, and then a round of photos to make sure a perfect images was taken. In between these shots there was constant tweaking, of the lighting, the set, additions the set such as more moss on the books, or moving frames so that they line up perfectly. It was a pretty long process. I was impressed that while it was a very long day, the energy was still there, Scott was a champ about sitting there so long, and everyone was onboard for the goal of having the best images possible so that the the final could be produced. Once the shoot was over, Scott Musgrove would fly back to Seattle, and it would be too hard to fix anything that was not captured that night, besides just the set. So it was important to get the best images they could while Scott was there. Along with the large image of the two sets, as seen, another photo was taken that was more of a personal photo. Closer, and included two of the animals found in Scott’s work.

Seeing how meticulous the art duo of Ransom & Mitchell are, I knew the solo exhibition at Varnish Fine Art was going to be amazing. This Saturday fans will not just see photos, but images of well respected artists rendered in environments that their own art and the minds of Ransom & Mitchell have created, The gallery itself will be transformed, with details added on the walls specific for this show. Images of artists such as Jl Schnabel, Greg ‘Craola’ Simkins, Alex Pardee, and more. The reception is from 6-9pm, and the show runs until October 27th. Cartwheel Art has a great interview to read (here), and make sure to stop by the artists website for more work and info.
Ransom & Mitchell
See more images, and even setups of the gallery over at the Varnish Fine Art Facebook Page. All behind the scenes images courtesy of Shaun Roberts.

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