Text and photos by Heike Rost.
Photographic work about the stuff dreams are made of began with a portrait series for a client. During the session we were talking about his profession and fascination of gemstones. At the company’s show room, my client presented a choice of cut stones to me: Completely inexperienced in gems, I’ve been completely stunned of the various shades of tourmaline, sapphire and aquamarine colors. Sparkling in my hands, the delicate stones shimmered from soft to icy blue, from greenish shades to deep summer sky tones, unfolding a never seen variety of colors to me – but only a small glimpse of an amazing adventure.
Constantin, the client, asked me whether I had ever seen a yellow sapphire. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea of their existence. I even had not been interested in gemstones or jewelry before, neither in diamonds, nor in something else. Tiffany’s, DeBeers, Winston, those well known names from Hollywood movies and glamour magazines didn’t mean a thing to me. My frank answer could have been the end of the story. In fact, it was an amazing start into a fascinating project, which turned out to be a kind of trip to another galaxy. At the client’s showroom, we spent hours of talking, looking at finest color gemstones in all imaginable sizes, cuts and qualities. Constantin explained their quality and cuts, colors and provenience to me – and also told a lot of interesting stories about his personal adventures in the mines of Brazil, South Africa, Russia and all over the world. The biggest gemstones just fitted to the palm of my hands. Their partly unusual, partly traditional cuts, brought out their colorful sparkling which I had never seen before. No matter if single gems or complete sets prepared to be sold to the world’s most famous jewelers and their designers: Constantin offered me incredible insights into an unexplored world.
To see the raw material was another unforgettable experience for me: The tons of bland stones in the company’s basement were not spectacular at all. Those indefinable hunks of greyish cobbles, stored in wooden cases, don’t unveil their secrets to the layman’s eyes. A stone is a stone, I couldn’t discover anything from the rough surfaces. Constantin took one of the grey, dusty stones in his hand. He smiled at me, took a hammer and a chisel – and broke with a sudden, directed beat the chunk in two pieces. The chisel lingered on for a moment. Then Constantin pointed with a torch to the fracture. Some slight sparkles, then a splendid explosion of rainbow fire erupted from the formerly bland material. In abundantly glowing colors its irisation reflected all over walls and ceiling. The unattractive chunk was a big piece of… australian opal.
The encounter with the world of minerals and gemstones left me deeply impressed, when I returned back home. A few days later my client called. Excited about my portraiture, he asked me whether I could imagine “portraying the spirit of his gemstones”. I was completely perplexed: I have never been a studio photographer at all. For years, I captured the beauty and fascination of natural light, which had been the most important aspects of my professional work – as a portrait photographer. Constantin wasn’t perturbed at all: My individual view to details and lighting made the difference for my client, who asked me to photograph dreams, sensuality and his ideas about gemstones. To shorten the story: I spent a lot of days at Constantin’s company, playing with those precious little stones, the lighting and the details. The gems seemed to have their own will and individual personality. More divas than stones, changing their colors and reflections in many unexpected ways: Due to natural or artificial light, due to cuts and chemical structure, they looked completely different. The closer I approached those eccentric divas, the more they refused to be photographed.
Three perfect gemstones then marked the turning point during my work: A trio of pink topazes drove me nearly insane. With their flawless, softly shimmering clearness they looked sparkling and luscious in my hands. But their images looked boring, even crappy: Like pieces of cheap glass. I was annoyed and left my client’s showroom with the improved daylight studio. Returning from the lunchtime break, I didn’t believe my eyes. My client sat at the table near the window, assorting some gems for a client’s request. In front of him, a sharp ray of sunlight touched one of the “pink divas” which exploded in abundant cascades of marvelous reflections. That moment changed everything: I decided to take a new, completely different series of photographs. For the next hours my client and I plunged – literally spoken – deep into colors and forgot everything else, completely fascinated and enchanted by the spirit of gemstones.
Unusual views and perspectives definitely result in unusual images: Capturing the hidden secrets of gemstones has been an enormous challenge. Meeting the needs of the big companies in the business is hard work, usually the photos are highly specialized studio work with hours of additional computer retouching. Although I know lots about photography, technical skills and lighting, I still continue to learn, from the beginnings of my education as a photographer until today. My personal skill is portraiture – and I make certain differences in photography: My portraits can be a person or a landscape, as well as architecture or a company could be. Or – gemstones. The technical aspects tend to capture a photographer’s attention more than needed and useful. They even can block any creativity and fascination of the photographer’s subject. To my opinion this is the beginning of bland images: Although they are technically perfect, they are completely boring. Fortunately there are no definitions of “right” or “wrong” in photography, neither in lighting nor in capture or frame. So the gemstone work has not only been an interesting challenge. It fitted best to my personal challenge as a professional photographer: Photography means to me inspiration and creation of deep insights… in order to give people an idea what beauty is about.
Please visit Heike Rost website for more information and photos.