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"Killer Heels" Take Center Stage At Brooklyn Museum Exhibition

We spoke to photographer-turned-filmmaker Zach Gold about "Spike," his new fashion film for the 'Killer Heels' exhibition.

by Emerson Rosenthal
Sep 12 2014, 6:00pm

Photo by Jay Zukerkorn

Since the advent of the movie camera, fashion and filmmaking have shared a special kind of relationship: nearly a century before the late Alexander McQueen turned Kate Moss into a video hologram, and Tom Ford adorned the cast of his feature film A Single Man in 1950's tuxes, pioneering filmmaker George Méliès was creating commercials for Mysteré corsets using then-new reverse-motion effects. Innovation, it seems, has always been a linking thread between celluloid and silhouettes, and, with the explosion of digital filmmaking, still stitches the seemingly disparate mediums together—more than 100 years later.

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe is a new exhibition currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum. Organized by Brooklyn Museum's Curator of Exhibitions, Lisa Small, the multimedia show traces the history of the high-heel as a "fashion statement, fetish object, instrument of power, and outlet of artistic expression for both the designer and the wearer," and features over 160 contemporary and historical heels, alongside six commissioned short films inspired by the lofted leg-extensions of its namesake.

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From artists Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, Zach Gold, Steven Klein, Nick Knight, Marilyn Minter, and Rashaad Newsome, the six films produced for the show run the gamut from fierce, full-figured critiques of high-heels (Minter's Smash), through futuristic vogue performances (as seen in Newsome's Knot film). Each film is exploration of the notoriously nasty stilettos and pumps of the show's namesake as much as it is a celebration of the fashion-in-film medium.

Spike, the four-and-a-half-minute film by photographer-turned-filmmaker Zach Gold, features couture as sharp—literally—as it is cutting-edge, and a horde of digital effects, from CGI through Python-generated video distortion. We spoke to Gold about Spike, Killer Heels, and the future of fashion filmmaking:

The Creators Project: First off, how did you get involved with the Killer Heels exhibit?

Zach Gold: Arnold Lehman, Lisa Small, and I began talking about the idea a few years ago, when fashion films were becoming more mainstream. The crossover from print to video had been happening commercially, and we thought it would be a good idea to create a snapshot of that transitional moment with a show like this.

Images courtesy of the artist

Can you tell us about your background, and how you moved from photography into video, and, today, what we might call, "video editorial?"

I love pictures. I look at pictures more than I do anything else. It has gone from finding and collecting as many books as possible to having digital folders with thousands of pictures on the computer. I used to buy four of the same book printed in different languages or countries to feel the different ways a single image can be seen. If you take every printed image of the Mona Lisa or Raft of the Medusa, line them all up, and try to understand how the communication shifts with each iteration, you see it can be a completely different message.

I came to photography for two reasons: I really loved illustration and painting, but didn’t like the idea of giving away originals, and it seemed like much more fun. The kind of pictures I made were often of bodies in motion; high-speed shots that felt like stills from a dark action films. So the transition from that to motion was straightforward—just let a camera run instead of taking a single shot!

From Datamoshing to heavy CGI, Spike might be your most effects-heavy film to date. Can you describe the techniques you used, and why you chose them?

We had a very diverse post team. Dallas Lillich headed up things on my side. We also teamed up with MassMarket and their Creative Director Rob Moggach and my friend Mathew Lamb. We used Nuke, Resolve, Maya, Houdini and After Effects as well as some custom Python scripts written for some of the video distortion. We were working on a file that was 4320 x 1920, so even beyond what is "typically" deemed 4K. There were many challenges along the way; just getting the computers to deal with files that big was a hurdle we jumped on a regular basis.

Most of the post effects were chosen for one of two reasons: first, the goal was to make everything feel sharp and flat—to push things into a illustrative world. The second was simple: "Does it look good?”

Behind-the-scenes images courtesy of Flower Ave.

You cite Klimt, Bacon, Frazetta, and anime as visual references. Can you tell us about your ideation process, and how you chose your sources of inspiration?

The idea for the editing style of the film came from making it “unscrubbable.” When I watch videos online that stay very consistent visually, I scrub through them. Oftentimes you can get that [consistency] while scrubbing through at three times the speed. I wanted to make that very hard to do with this video.

In the past, my ideas used to come from abstract thinking spaces, literature and art history. Now they come from sifting through thousands of images I have collected on my desktop, linked only by the moods I'm in while looking. Screenshots, highlighted phrases, gifs, short video and hazy memories indicate the presence of a collective experience. It was about going through those image folders and finding a visual thread in the archive.

Each time I do this, I get a different result, but for this project, looking with these lenses on... This is what I got.

Do you see the film as having a narrative? Why or why not?

The film doesn’t have a narrative. Narrative isn’t ever something I set out to create. As a viewer, I usually bring my own narrative to an image, and I think when a story is told too forcefully, I lose the ability to inject myself into it; it loses my interest.

The film explores the ways in which we consume imagery online: by placing heels in a digital context, it parallels online shopping—as opposed to trying them on in person. But then by installing it in an exhibition, it brings about the experience of something live, albeit on a flat surface. With regards to film and fashion, can you talk a bit about your relationship to consumption?

Fashion operates on a few levels—there is a consumptive aspect to it, for sure. I personally don’t buy clothes very often, and don’t particularly enjoy wearing fashion. I do love looking at it and entering into the world it continuously creates every day. The positive side of fashion imagery is like a bedtime story or a fantasy we can all participate in but never actually exists anywhere. It is contemporary, consensual mythology. Only through our participation in these myths, are objects of fashion sold.

As sculptures designed for walking in, high heels themselves cross the platforms between fashion and fine art. Your film adds two more disciplines to the table—photography and video art. Do you still consider fashion, fine art, photography, and video to be distinctive mediums?

I don’t know that anything is so distinctive now. There are technical structures that shift how I see things when I am shooting video or taking pictures.

More often than not now, I am doing both at the same time. Those modes are blending more every day. Fashion is communicated through all these different mediums, and I think we are at ease seeing streams from multiple platforms simultaneously and parse all that information on the fly, separating political commentary, from fashion, from entertainment.

Can you tell us a little more about the making-of? Any stories from on-set, or specific challenges you faced?

This was a big production. My friends at Flower Ave really did an amazing job putting it together. We had models flying in from Brazil that walked off the plane after a 14 hour trip and straight onto set to shoot for 10 more hours. There was a 5,000 gallon water tank that a model was meant to be dropped in, from 4-5ft above the rim, but it arrived and it had a mostly solid top, so she had to crawl into it and we rigged a platform she could roll off. Two of the McQueen dresses were stuck in customs until halfway through the first day of shooting. There was a very simple fall shot that got more complex as it was an ex-Navy SEAL who was coordinating, and he found a huge but very sketchy old piece of staging and had our stunt people jumping off of that. See the BTS video [below] for more!

Killer Heels could be seen as a panoramic overview of the "viral short videos for high fashion" landscape, in addition to being a fashion exhibit. You've been working at this intersection for years now—how have you seen it evolve over the years, and where do you see it going?

As it has developed, we now have a generation that has grown up with nothing but this form and their facility with it is seamless. The work they create is less production-heavy, faster, and more consumable. It will continue to develop as a playground where designers and image-makers can experiment with new ways of bringing a collective vision to their audience.

It’s analogous to the transition surrounding music when music videos were introduced. We went from a 12” record cover being the most real estate a band could use, to a 3-4 minute music video, and that changed so much about the music industry. I look forward to seeing where it goes.

Thanks, Zach!

Below, Zach Gold was kind enough to provide us with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of Spike:

Zach Gold Killer Heels Brooklyn Museum BTS from zach gold on Vimeo.

Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe is ongoing through February 15, 2015, in the Robert E. Blum Gallery on the 1st Floor of the Brooklyn Museum. Visit Zach Gold's website to learn more. 

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