Contemplating a hard day's work.
The manic weekend of modelling continued after Sunday’s sessions of Christmas and Broken Doll that I mentioned in the previous article. On Monday Sian, Spike and myself began our latest joint project – creating a calendar. I came up with the idea several weeks ago, and after some less than in-depth research, decided that it would be a viable project. Well, sort of. It’s a bit late in the year to start work on a calendar given that WH Smiths, Hallmark et al are already bursting at the seams with them. However, we were all full of enthusiasm about the idea, and having got the concept and a potential printer lined up, we set about the task with relish.
Obviously the calendar would be based around Sian’s modelling, and to that end it really had to be lingerie if we were to actually sell any. There are dozens and dozens of lingerie / swimwear calendars out there, so we put some thought into creating something different and unique that would stand out. Sian’s wardrobe received a lot of careful thought – a calendar needs 12 outfits plus a cover photo, so we agreed on 13 different, sexy and tasteful sets for her to wear. Each lingerie set was allocated a particular location so that it would work with the chosen background. Shoes then had to match the outfit. It began to feel like an Apprentice task, Surallen.
Most lingerie calendars consist of a girl posing in skimpies inside an unimaginative studio creating pictures that range from seductive to gynaecological depending on the calendar’s promoter. We wanted something different; something that would demonstrate our creativity as a team consisting of photographic skill, artistic direction, inspired locations and modelling capabilities. Both Sian and I had fancied a go at shooting in an abandoned factory, and indeed a while ago I found an excellent location near Halifax that I wrote about here. Unfortunately the owners of said factory read my blog and sealed off the factory as of last week, only days before the shoot. Thanks, guys. Of the three people who read this, one of them had to work for elf n’ safety. Hmmmm, nice one.
It would have been awesome...
Fortunately, Spike knew several locations around the area that would provide some great alternatives, and as I had access to The Nene Valley Railway I knew that we could find enough places to create the same sort of run-down, derelict industrial landscapes that we sought. Clothing wasn’t a problem following our eventful trip to Corby on Sunday, so mid afternoon on Monday we packed up the equipment, outfits, accessories and a pack of Fox’s Chocolate Biscuits and set off.
The first location was at Stamford, using the long demolished brickworks for the initial sets. These provided abandoned works, rubble and piles of gravel that worked particularly well for the first two sets. I wanted some pictures in a Pirelli-esque type setting, where the model is just a tiny part of the overall scene, but still stands out in sharp contrast to the bleak surroundings. We were assisted by dazzlingly clear skies that contrasted with the otherwise dull greys of the area we were filming in.
Following this we moved into the woods, where Spike had discovered an abandoned corrugated iron cylinder with masses of yellow warning tape discarded nearby. Or he’d brought it with him and dumped it; you can never tell with Spike. It created the look we were after, so Sian changed into plain white lingerie and heels for this set to contrast against the dominating browns and greens of the area. The set worked very well and we were pleased with it.
Next stop was further into the woods, where Spike got even more adventurous by finding (or cutting down, you can never tell) a fallen tree with a large Y shape branch that Sian could pose in. It wasn’t easy for her to get up there and the language wasn’t pretty, but once in position she was comfortable enough. Well, she stopped swearing which I took as an encouraging sign. To maintain our surreal industrial look, Spike took an old steel frame up into the tree to make a prop for posing – it’s amazing what you find if you go down to the woods today! These days you get illegally dumped chemical drums, rusty beer cans, left over needles and discarded Y-fronts with questionable stains on them. If today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic they’ll all end up pissed, high as kites and spreading STD’s around.
Time and light were running out now, but there was one last photo opportunity at the former quarry where we got some absolutely outstanding pictures with Sian silhouetted against a sunset. The photos are as good as anything I’ve seen in that genre as Sian’s striking poses took an average scene and turned it into art.
That was as much as we could do in the light, but with four months nailed we were confident that with a full day of shooting on Tuesday we’d complete the task. Retiring to the Brewer’s Fayre in Peterborough rounded the day off nicely.
Tuesday dawned with leaden, dull skies and temperatures to match. Not ideal circumstances to have a model wearing next to nothing all day. One of my favourite expressions is ‘they didn’t think it through.’ Er, okay – yes, hands up. I am an idiot. We set off regardless to The Nene Valley Railway where I’d arranged access to the track between Wansford and the tunnel mouth so that we could film on the railway lines without being run down by a train. That sort of thing really spoils the day and is best avoided. The first session would take place around the tunnel mouth and adjacent to some long parked up, abandoned and graffiti-ed rolling stock to provide a sombre and dark atmosphere to the pictures. This element of the day was very successful, so we moved into a moss covered Danish coach for some interesting interior photos.
Then it was time for the next set – something Sian and I have always wanted to do. Recreate the girl chained to the railway tracks in the path of an oncoming train! Now whilst the Nene Valley were very accommodating in every way about using their facilities, even they drew the line at running a loco down the tracks towards our heroine. Something to do with health and safety, of course. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It wasn’t a problem as there was a handy mail coach on the siding we chose for this scene, and suitably cropped with a bit of editing it works well in the photos.
Spike prepares the chain.
Sian lies down on the job.
"I don't want to look!"
By now the problem was the cold weather, and Sian was suffering badly from being exposed to long periods of photography in next to nothing. She wouldn’t give up, however, and kept on changing outfits then performing as required. It got to the stage where I was extremely concerned about her health and wanted to call a halt. Sian wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Part of the problem is that financially the calendar is all-or-nothing. If it doesn’t work I won’t have a pot to piss in as the banking system puts it. This inadvertently placed Sian in a position of guilt, as she didn’t want to call it off without enough material to use. By now that side didn’t interest me at all and I’d have happily settled for studio work to fill any gaps, but Sian was doggedly determined to press on and give her all to complete the shoot. So now I felt appallingly bad about making her feel that she had to continue, all of which put a real downer on the day. We’ve never experienced this before on our shoots together, so I felt like an absolute arse for not anticipating the problems of shooting outdoors during October in lingerie. That was probably the most unforgivable aspect of the shoot.
Thankfully Spike was on hand to see both sides and came up with an ideal compromise solution. We’d do another couple of very quick railway sets then go home for four hours of warmth, food and coffee. Once warmed up, we’d pop back out for a night time shoot that would be well planned with everything set up so that Sian would only be exposed to the low temperatures for minutes at a time. At that point both Sian and myself were in ‘yeah whatever’ mode and just wanted to get done. The last two sets were achieved very quickly – and remarkably effectively – before packing up returning to base in Stamford.
Sian's body double creates the pose so that the camera can be set up for the shot ahead of getting Sian on set. This scene cloned the opening of Queen's 'Breakthrough' video and was one I was particularly keen to recreate.
Had it not been for Spike, that would have been that. Exhausted, cold (particularly Sian of course) and feeling down in the dumps, we were pretty fed up and done in. Neither of us could face any more calendar, but Spike worked away on his vision for the night shoot as we demolished a McDonalds. Fortified by food and a rest, we set out once again – to a Little Chef! Well, not quite. Close to Wansford on the A1 there is an old Little Chef that has been abandoned for years. The condition of the place is predictable; boarded up, smashed up, graffiti everywhere and littered with debris; it’s a lovely spot to wind down in after a crappy day. Photographically, however, it was the perfect location for some artistically lit night time pictures. We were organised now thanks to Spike having worked out a plan, and three different locations, each requiring a new outfit by Sian, were marked out. At each point we set up the camera and lighting, checked and tested it before Sian came out of the car, posed and popped back again. She could stay in her dressing gown until the last minute, thus keeping warm and preventing the problems encountered during the day.
I'm putting on my top hat
Tying up my white tie
Brushing off my tails
And I'm steppin' out dear
To an abandoned Little Chef.
It didn’t take long for the enjoyment and creativity to start flowing again. Buoyed up with the success of the new set up, everyone got back into our normal swing of a shoot. The mood changed rapidly, and as a result so did the shoot as a whole. The piece de resistance came up on the roof of the restaurant. By positioning Sian at a particular spot, I could not only capture the night sky above the distant City of Peterborough, but also the vehicle headlights down on the A1 as well! We quickly established a routine; the camera was readied and from my vantage point I’d see oncoming traffic, particularly lorries with masses of bright lights. I’d call out ‘Now’, and Sian would whip off her dressing gown as Spike shone a torch onto her for illumination. With a slow shutter speed of 2 to 4 seconds I’d then get the long stream of light from passing vehicles in the background. This was a novelty for us, and we got excited about the whole thing. Finally we got some pretty impressive shots and were able to return to base – but this time buzzing with the feeling of a job well done.
And thus ended the two days of intense and hard work by all of us. Although by far the most difficult shoot we’ve tackled, the end results look pleasing and the calendar itself is now a distinct possibility. The event proved the worth of working as a close-knit team, and despite the setbacks along the way we stuck at it and completed the task. Spike proved a Godsend yet again with his artistic ideas, lighting techniques and being able to draw on his experience to advise me how best to get the shot. Not a lot of photographers at his level are willing to pass on the benefit of their experience in order to help out a newbie, so I really appreciate his enthusiasm and help to get me started.
As for Sian I have nothing but admiration for her commitment and willingness to work her socks off – quite literally. She had the most difficult task of us all; always having to look great, constantly getting changed, and having to pose artistically whilst freezing cold isn’t a task anyone would relish. The fact that she carried on working until the last picture was taken is testimony to her dedication, and it really overturns the popular myth that a model has such an easy life. I only hope that the calendar will be a success and reward all her efforts, because if anybody deserves success it is Sian.
Thanks are due to the Nene Valley Railway for permission to film in restricted areas and across the running lines. I understand that the Health & Safety Executive ran out of Andrex when they saw what we were doing.
Other than a few Nene Valley photos, none of the calendar set have yet been published for obvious reasons. We are currently moving into the choosing and editing stage before hitting production and ultimately (and hopefully) sales. If it doesn’t work, guess who’ll be the one to confront Surallen!