The task: To re-engage art in my customer’s portrait making and to create pictures on a new higher level.
The goal: To shoot a set of portraits fit for a top fashion magazine editorial and get them published.
The Action: To put together a workshop with like minded professional portrait photographers all driven by the need for quality, integrity and art in their work.
Here is my story…
For the project to work I needed some real artists on board and I know of no finer art portrait photographers than Tamara Peel and Jo De-Banzie. So we arranged a meeting at the Irving Penn exhibition in London. We brainstormed ideas over lunch in the fabulous National Portrait Gallery restaurant. The views over London are splendid yet intimate from this crisp modern restaurant. It nestles at just above roof height in the heart of Wrens London. An inspirational location indeed to hatch a plan.
We sipped Belinis while I keyed the core details of our project into my iPad. Tamara said “I want to photograph naked men”. “Have you ever photographed nudes before” I asked. “No, but it will be amazing”. Jo decided to photograph children. One of her two principal genres, The other, being music celebrity commissions. Children are always a top subject in our industry and it was Jo’s workshops that sold out first. I decided to stick with female beauty and fashion, with a twist. I was only going to use continuous light. It was time for a welcome change having just spent 18 months researching and creating the Speedlight Mastery DVD and running numerous flash workshops. A back to my roots move was definitely needed. I was taught continuous lighting at the BBC and now was my opportunity to use what I learnt during my lighting director training back in the early 90s.
A date was set in our diaries for the three day workshop. We had 12 weeks to pull it off. I found our perfect location in deepest Somerset, Blaise booked our models, and a top make up artist. Luke created a web page and designed a marketing PDF. I put Twitter into action to sell the workshop places and Laura started taking bookings. The process was like planning a wedding, we decided on menus, timetables, accommodation arrangements and equipment supplies. We used every contact we could to help us bring this project together.
One major change was made to the schedule quite late on. Tamara switched to photographing a nude woman after the feed forward research that Blaise and Laura had carried out indicated this preference amongst delegates. It was just two men that wanted to photograph a man and they were out numbered. Tamara remarked ” You don’t find a crowd riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave”. You never know, naked men might well be the next big genre to emerge in social photography.
I was delighted when I heard that one of my brides (client not wife) was going to fly in from New York just to attend our three day workshop. It was at this point that the scale of the project was dawning on me. We needed to create real art in our photographs in order to pull the whole thing off. Jo with her MPA fellowship and Tamara with her degree in fine art had a distinct advantage over me in this respect.
I tweeted the quote “Success happens when preparation meets opportunity” Just to remind myself what my part of the equation was. Chloe Jasmine Whichello, my chosen model and I swapped DMs (direct messages on Twitter). We shared ideas and schemed. Chloe fired email after email of fabulous art portrait pictures my way. We had lengthy discussions about the clothes, poses, expressions, hair, makeup and mood of the shots that we wanted to create. I trawled the net and chose the work of Vincent Peters as my key inspiration for the lighting. Vincent is inspired by the Italian film makers of the 40s and 50s and that’s good enough for me.
The evening before: Tamara had just got off a plane from Tenerife and journeyed to Somerset for a 5pm arrival. Jo flew in from San Tropez where she had just spent three days photographing the family of one of the worlds top five richest men. She then had a quick corporate job in London photographing the Labour Party leader candidates before driving to Somerset to arrive at 6pm in torrential rain.
Stress, self doubt and the realisation of the daunting task ahead of us set in. I felt like a personal therapist at times as we made our acquaintance with the cottage that was to be our home for the next three days. We popped out for a curry then had an early night. We awoke to views of the sun glistening in the mist on the lake. It was picture postcard glorious and Jo was in her element. The cockerels were having a ball and the light was wonderful. Panic from the night before was replaced with smiles and confidence. A 7am recce by the girls was followed by preparation for when the models arrived at 8.
Blaise was on hand to meet and greet the delegates, split them into the three designated groups and we were off. Jo, Tamara and I had planned our locations and schedules to avoid being in each others way. I regularly consulted the inspiration pictures on my iPad and got to grips with my new prime lenses. By the days end we were all shattered. I still had an after dinner talk to give and so preparation was swift. Dinner in a stately home by candle light is always special but when it is with fellow artists it is magical. Tales of the days events were making their way around the room. There was a buzz, a very special buzz.
I had felt that magical energy once before, on our workshops in Tuscany last year. And the buzz was just as good in Somerset.
On day 2 after dinner it was the turn of Jo and Tamara to take to the stage. Their presentations were sensational, inspirational and beautiful. It is rare to have one great artist share their inner most feelings and motivations but to have two was a delight to behold.
Marko joined us on day three to give a masterclass in fine art image preparation to the delegates that chose that option. He is the best art picture editor I know. It’s fine being a Photoshop guru but that doesn’t make you an artist. Marko is both.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you the pictures that Jo, Tamara and I shot, starting with my first batch on Monday. I am excited to say the least. My best work to date, perhaps. I hope you Will agree.