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FOG! Chats With Bombshell Pin-Up Photographer JOHN GLADMAN

Interview conducted by Stefan Blitz

John Gladman is a member of the Professional Photographers of America, holding degrees in Master of Photography, Master Artist, Photographic Craftsman and Excellence in Imaging.  Since May 2009 John and his girlfriend/Production Princess, Carol Ann, have run Bombshell Studios, creating vintage style painted photography pin-ups.  His new book, Bombshell: The Pin-Up Art of John Gladman is now available from Schiffer Publishing. 

The book captures over 150 images of his work, which combines a modern flair mixed with vintage themes honoring the classic era of the mid-twentieth century.  Special thanks to Carol Ann, who helped coordinate this interview with a very busy John between photo shoots.


FOG!: Your new book, Bombshell, collects some of your pin-up art photography, but your work combined photography with digital. Can you explain the process?

John Gladman: I get a vision in my mind for the final image. I pull together all the needed parts, starting with the photo shoot. The photo shoot can be quick, sometimes just 10 minutes, as I know exactly what pose and shot I’m going after.

Once the image is chosen, I then spend hours art working it. This is the elaborate part and takes hours, sometimes days. During editing, I often change the hair and makeup digitally on my computer until I’m satisfied with the way it looks.

Once finished, I prefer to bring the image to life in the form of a print, for all who see it to enjoy. This best portrays my work. The larger the print the better! That way, it shows all the details.

John, you and Carol Ann started the studio in 2010. Is your work primarily for private clients, or do you do advertising or other outlets?

The majority of work was for private clients. In the last couple years, there has been a shift toward commercial work. I’m currently working with models for my next book and still occasionally fit in a private client. However, I’m very busy since I also teach, mentor photography and editing/artwork, and I’m active in the PPA circuit.

I find it interesting that your focus is on a physical print despite using digital techniques. What about a physical image is so important to you?

It’s an art form that is slipping by the wayside.

If you were only able to see a Monet online, and never experience it in person, it would never have the same impact. It’s night and day. A physical print is a piece of energy… it’s a “thing”… it’s an experience. There is nothing comparable to standing in a room, in front of a framed print, gracefully owning that wall, and gazing upon it’s excellence. It’s a moment that you actually share with that print. It’s giving you all it’s glory, all at once, and it’s a piece of my art, a piece of me permanently embedded into the unseen fabric, woven into the microcosm of it’s being. This experience can never happen with a digital print.

What is the typical process of creating an image?

It’s lengthy to fully explain, with details, the whole process. Here is a condensed version: Each image starts with a carefully pre-planned photo shoot on a plain background for easy extraction. The image is selected and cut out. The post work takes 10-12 hours in photoshop. The image can be broken down into as many as a dozen different layers. Multiple brushes are used. I focus on individual body parts, working the layer until it is perfected. An example of this step is when I focus on each eye, colorizing the iris, sparkling the eyes, and applying eyelashes from a brush that I’ve created, bending and shaping the eyelashes until they appear as the models own eyelashes… only lusher and longer.

This is all before any background elements are composited in. Everything is done by hand, and no filters. To composite together any background elements that the image may contain, I typically take pictures of the background elements and save them in my portfolio of backgrounds, to use later. Sometimes I create them from scratch.

Next, I take each layer and duplicates them in a variety of blending modes, to achieve the overall vintage look and feel.

Once the image is fully retouched and composited, I then flatten the image and treat it as one rather than focusing on the individual pieces as during the first steps. For this finalization step, the image is taken into Painter to fine tune it.

You work with models with various skill sets; from first timers to professionals. Do you find experienced models or amateurs more exciting to work with?

Whether it’s an experienced model, or a client who is an amateur, the photo shoot process is the same, since my process is different than most photo shoots by other photographers. Models tend to move a lot, which does not work for me. I need the model to stand completely still, except just moving her head along with the various expressions. The model is put into position and expected to hold that position until I get the shot. I will then make small adjustments to perfect the pose, but keeping most of the pose the same, such as moving a hand position, or adjusting the knee bend, turning the face more toward the light, etc. Once that pose is perfected, the next pose is started.

Also, Carol Ann coaches for various expressions and helps me adjust the model for posing. This needs to happen for both experienced models and for clients.

Carol Ann in the studio

What photographers and pin-up artists are your biggest influences?

Alberto Vargas, Gil Elvgren, Nicole Brune, Olivia, Irina Davis. Leonardo da Vinci for studying posing and body placement.

If you could photograph any three women living or dead, who would they be and why?

First, Brigitte Bardot because she is gorgeous. Second, Lucille Ball; she is very animated, and drop-dead beautiful. Third, Scarlett Johansson; she has that classic movie star look from the 50’s and she would make a great pinup model. Her skin looks flawless and she looks great with red lipstick.

What are you currently geeking out over?

Right now, I’m changing my look and working on growing out / perfecting my handle-bar mustache! Also, writer and musician Leonard Cohen; photographer/artist Gregory Crewdson; photographer/artist Alexia Sinclair. Plus the new Star Wars and on television, Black Sails and 11.22.63.

Bombshell: The Pin-Up Art of John Gladman is available now
For more information, visit BombshellVegas.com and Facebook.com/BombshellPinup

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