Last week I got the chance to shoot a couple of days of London Fashion Week. With colleague Carl de Souza organising the week’s coverage, the bulk of the shows are being covered by him with a few odds and sods open for me to play with. The work that goes into dealing with pass applications and PR-chasing is unbelievable, so I was more than happy to just cover a few on the outskirts!
Having not shot fashion in a few years, it was quite a jolt to rediscover how fast and aggressively you have to work to get things done. At the second show of the first morning, tempers were already fraying as photographers fought to preserve their positions on the podium. While most of the British contingent were approaching this with fresh eyes, it has to be remembered that those who cover the fashion season full time have a hell of a lot of work to do. Starting in New York, the season then moves to London, Milan, then Paris with little or no break in between.
With photographers, models and stylists all working to incredible deadlines, the days are a constant rush of fighting, pushing, working then dashing, with little time to gather thoughts in between. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that designers generally aren’t keen on holding their shows in the main tent, opting instead for “off-piste” venues. While this breaks up the monotony of the photographic options by providing new backdrops and environments, it means that as soon as a show finishes, hoards of journalists, photographers, models, stylists and audience members rush for the door to fight over passing taxis to the other side of town. Oddly enough, after managing to grab a taxi, we got a few hundred metres down the road before the driver told me that he had to read me something. With growing concerns of being abducted or, even worse, becoming a contestant on “Cash Cab”, I was somewhat relieved when he produced a piece of paper and read, “To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the love between Barbie and Ken, this journey is free, compliments of Mattel”. Only at Fashion Week…
Life isn’t made easier by the small amounts of room reserved for the photographers to work in and the lack of early access for marking up positions. In the main tent, positions are assigned before fashion week begins, meaning that there is some semblance of decorum but when it comes to fresh venues for one-off shows, the race is on. To sum up the pressure, you have to consider that a model will walk down the runway, staring straight ahead of her. The fashion magazines all want photographs that look as though the model was presenting the designs exclusively for them, so the need to have the model looking down the barrel of the lens is critical. Now consider the fact that at the big shows, the stand at the end of the runway will be loaded to capacity with 100+ photographers, the majority of them urgently needing to be in a 2m square area that the model looks towards. Sounds fun, eh?
Thankfully, AFP doesn’t put the pressure on its photographers to get eye-line from the models, which is certainly a relief. This frees us up to shoot a mixture of straight catwalk (from as close to the magic spot as possible), runway from other angles and backstage features. I think that being forced to shoot every design from every designer in the same way, show after show would quickly become exceptionally dull, so I’m very happy to have the option to put the ‘Arty Farty Pictures’ into AFP.
The issue of marked positions has further problems than just being able to get a spot. If a show is well-attended, the photographers will positions themselves in rows with the front row sitting on the floor right through to the back row on the tops of very tall stepladders. During the marking up stage, photographers mark a nice 40-50cm square on the ground with gaffer tape and write their company name on it and you’d think that they were then safe. Unfortunately, aside from the ever-present threat of just outright cockish behaviour by some who just ignore the marked spots and refuse to move, there is also the physical issue. If you’re on the fourth row and need to shoot over three rows of heads in front, you’ll need to be pretty high, right? Now remember the fact that you’ve only marked up a 40cm square. If you’re standing two metres off the ground, do you really want to be balancing on something this narrow as you try to work? Stepladders take up WAY too much floorspace for any of the rows within the group, so ingenious systems of wooden blocks, flight cases and chairs become the norm. Who thought fashion could be so lethal?
I guess when you approach fashion from a news point of view, a model walking down a runway in constant light can seem a little flat. As fellow photographer Jeff Spicer said, you can often tell if a show is going to be interesting within the first three designs. To followers of fashion, this will sound like heresy but to someone who is trained to look for interesting and unusual pictures for their newspaper/agency, the difference between a model wearing a long-sleeved green dress and a short-sleeved green dress is not enough to ring the creative alarm bells. It’s no coincidence that a designer who puts in a series of eccentric hats or the occasional revealing outfit will find themselves in the next day’s newspapers.
Thanks to the slightly less regimented coverage of these events by AFP, when the show isn’t the main one of the day, I can squeeze out of this delightful tribute to personal space and head backstage. Like a lot of my colleagues, I believe that this is where the best pictures are. While the conditions are often as equally tight as those on the photographers’ podium, it gives you the chance to see some human interaction, some unusual sights and work close-up with people whose job it is to look great for photographers.
While it certainly looks glamorous in pictures, it has to be said that life backstage isn’t exactly what a lot of people expect. When taking taxis between shows, the drivers will often see my pass and ask if I get to go backstage and spend time with the semi-naked models. I always feel a bit of a let-down when I tell them that while I do, it’s not exactly the teenage fantasy land of “Entourage”, with women seductively sauntering around in lingerie. The majority of the models have their heads buried in their phones or a book, desperately seeking some calm among the chaos while any clothing changes are done at a sprint as they dash between appearances.
On a separate note, you may well have noticed that this is my first fully black & white post. When I came to edit my shots for this blog, I found that I fancied a bit of a change so gave it a try and I was quite pleased with the results. It’s a hell of a lot easier on my colour blindness too… All “Multichrome” lovers out there will be pleased to know that normal service will resume with the next post. I’d enjoy the glamour while you can though, as I’m guessing that the Irish election may not offer quite as much to please the eye.