Smoke On The Water

PART ONE:

" Think The Lady of Shalott meets The X-Files"...

Those were the fateful words I used to describe my pitch for my latest photo shoot to the trustees of Cleveland Pools in Bath last Autumn. Fast forward many months and the threat of the unique Victorian lido being closed for years for renovation finally spurred me into action. Little did I or the trust know quite what an enterprise it would turn out to be....

A Friend:" how are you going to get the boat out of the river and into the pools"?

Me: " we'll row it up river then lift it out of the water then carry it over the fence"? "

A friend: " how big is it"?

Me: "twenty two feet"

A Friend: " you're insane"...

He had a point....However row and lift it we did ( well actually mostly the rather amazing people at Bathwick Boat Hire actually, but it's the Royal We you understand)

That would have been fine if it were the only complication, but on this shoot that was never going to be the case. Once I had discovered that the best way to back light the keeper's cottage adjacent to the pools (given the meager power available onsite) was to use a highly efficient light called an Arena Vision by Philips, I arranged to hire three units from my good friend Gary Churchill at IMax lighting in Bristol. What I didn't count on was that they would come flight cased in what I have now christened " The Block of Flats On Wheels" I exaggerate very little I assure you. Add in that these beasts although quite light themselves come with a ballast that takes two men to carry them and then in a very ungainly fashion and it became clear that my earlier plan to collect the lighting in an estate car would have been somewhat akin to arriving at The MOD's redundant plant site to collect and tow home a used Chieftain Tank with a mini..

" come on we can do it, its on wheels isn't?!" ....

" it's a f** *ing tank you idiot" !!!

You take my point...

Philips Arena Vision floodlight, doesn't look that heavy but don't let that ballast at the bottom fool you and don't get me started on the flight case!

Philips Arena Vision floodlight, doesn't look that heavy but don't let that ballast at the bottom fool you and don't get me started on the flight case!

One very large hire van later and it was time to collect the generator I had booked, the aforementioned meager power on site meaning that the two smoke machines and one chilled smoke/dry ice effect machine together with the Arena Visions I had hired would need far more than the available power could manage.

That's when things really took a turn for the worse/comical depending on your perspective.

The very lovely people at Brandon Tool Hire here in my fair city of Bath had kindly offered me a much larger and apparently quieter generator for the same price as the somewhat modest one I had first considered. Yes, I knew it would be large.. very large as it happens but I realised I had really underestimated its bulk when all 460Kg of it came trundling out of the yard on a fork lift.

Whoops...

the mains distribution unit was the only thing from the generator hire that made it out of the truck

the mains distribution unit was the only thing from the generator hire that made it out of the truck

 

There was probably was a time when I was younger and less experienced/stupid when I would have tried to actually offload and use this monster, but after only three trips back up the very steep slope that winds it way down to the pools to offload the kit, I realised there was no way we would ever get it back up the slope and the prospect of being stuck neither halfway up nor down at 1 am with an exhausted crew was just not an option. There then followed some delicate negotiations with one of the neighbours to plug into their tool shed for the cost of about ten times what we would use in electricity but.. hey... what's a photographer Hell bent on lighting up the night sky in a cloud of Ridley Scott inspired haze to do?!

PART TWO:

Rain....

Ah yes the weather part, did I mention the forecast was " iffy" no? well the weather forecast said cloudy with a chance of light showers..

Lying b****stards.

It rained.. then it rained again and then it rained and rained and rained and .. well, you get the picture. Now I'm something of a veteran when it comes to shooting outdoors in the UK in "Summer" so naive I was not but boy.. this was a drag and then some. Still being stoic British types we donned wet weather gear and carried on. Well actually that's not strictly true, one of us had wet weather gear the rest of us idiots just got properly wet.. oh how we laughed.

Not...

Wet Weather crew of one...

Wet Weather crew of one...

Despite all this "hilarity" the boat did arrive and looked as magnificent as I remembered it being and so did a while later our model Angelica for whom a similar adjective might be applied but well.. that's probably not quite appropriate, Angelica not being 96 years old and not made of wood for a start, or if she is she's looking bloody good on it!

The Skiff.. hand built in the 1920's..

The Skiff.. hand built in the 1920's..

Angelica our model in distinctly more sane environs at Bath Theatrical Costume Hire prior to the shoot.

Angelica our model in distinctly more sane environs at Bath Theatrical Costume Hire prior to the shoot.

 

Oh my aching sides I can hear you cry in unison.. Master of light and shade and stand up comic to boot .. who knew?!

I digress... neighbourly power duly applied to said smoke and haze machines it was time to light up the cubicles ( having removed an unsightly door covering one of them naturally) with our spiffing battery powered SMARTBATT LED lights, which being wireless and controllable via DMX from the lighting desk are a thing of beauty.  David Johnson our intrepid lighting tech about town was patience personified as he constantly tweaked the position of all 12 of these little beasts as I equally constantly informed him " it's nice.. but not as nice as cubicle 5/6/9...  you get the picture.

SMARTBATTS.. love these little gizmos.

SMARTBATTS.. love these little gizmos.

After a brief if rather dangerous foray into the upstairs and downstairs rooms of the derelict cottage to place lights behind all the windows and despite the rain stopping play for a time we were still about on schedule.

Eventually cubicles up lit, cottages back lit and model front/45 degree top lit it was time to start shooting.. (FINALLY!... I hear you cry in the aforementioned unison)

Look.. no one said this nonsense was gonna be easy ok? if it was easy everyone would be doing it as an old Liverpudlian friend of mine once dryly observed.

The best bit for me was having originally observed with a very sad demeanor that my " Ridley Scott " back lit clouds of haze behind the house were looking distinctly more X-Factor than X-Files I suddenly looked up from behind my iMac where I had been engrossed for thirty minutes to see a sight of true ethereal beauty. Dave J had let loose with a mighty burst of haze on full power a few minutes earlier and the daylight having receded just enough to let the Arena Visions do their thing, the cottage was indeed a vision to behold.

Arena Visions on full behind the cottage but you wouldn't even know they were on at this point !

Arena Visions on full behind the cottage but you wouldn't even know they were on at this point !

The Boom of Doom as Robbie " wet weather gear Wood" would no doubt have christened it ( he wasn't convinced)

The Boom of Doom as Robbie " wet weather gear Wood" would no doubt have christened it ( he wasn't convinced)

 

Getting Angelica in and out of the boat in heels and a variety of impractical head gear was a task I delegated to my partner and long suffering assistant in all things photographic Sarah Lillywhite. Fortunately when she's not assisting me or whipping people into shape in a responsible corporate environment at work she's busy whipping often equally reluctant people into actual shape in her role as a running coach & personal trainer. Thus crouching just out of sight holding the boat in exactly the same spot every time despite the kind of muscle burn that would have you or I running to the nearest physio was all in a day's work for her. Although I think she did draw the line at Dave J and his ever increasing arsenal of smoke bombs that crept ever nearer to her position towards the end.

Talking of smoke bombs, it's at this point I should point out the shadowy figure in the top hat and frock coat is the incredibly patient Matt Nesbeth who is also a trained lifeguard and a thoroughly lovely person too. So engrossed was I in my directing of Angelica and constantly battling with the chilled smoke machine and it's willfully poltergeist-like behavior to my right, that I completely failed to notice that while DJ was smoking up a storm with his box of bombs before every shot, poor old Matt was quietly being asphyxiated in the archway, but like the zen-like trouper he is he never said a word ( probably incapable of speech more to the point!)

I eventually realised that the model who was representing a phantom of the past was in danger of taking the role to a new and hitherto un-dreamed of level of realism and explained that he was totally at liberty to step out of DJ's "Nam style" levels of battle haze between takes.

Like I said... what a trouper!

finally it's all coming together ( DJ.. get out of the shot!)

finally it's all coming together ( DJ.. get out of the shot!)

 

Mindful that the wonderful Sally Helvey, our contact and champion at Cleveland Pools ( and also intrepid holder of the line at the other end of the skiff) was wary of upsetting the neighbours who hadn't accepted the previously mentioned " electricity subsidy" around midnight we finally called it a night.

It was 3.30 am when Sarah and I finally dragged our shattered bodies into the van after what was a grueling load out.. (that slope taking on Everest like proportions after working non stop for 14 hours) but I thanked all manner of Deities for my expensive but oh so sensible decision to leave that Generator of Doom in the van.

Poor Sarah was up two and a half hours later and I a couple of hours after that to start the process of returning all the lights, costumes and van. However, despite aching limbs and a large hole in my bank account it was all rendered worthwhile when the lovely Natalie who works at Savannah Home from whom we had borrowed the beautiful chrome globe at the front of the boat exclaimed on seeing a tiny picture on my iPhone " holy shit! that's amazing"

 

One of the final images from the shoot, Angelica looking gorgeous after Felicity and Clairlouise have worked their magic

One of the final images from the shoot, Angelica looking gorgeous after Felicity and Clairlouise have worked their magic

and that's why we do it folks..

I did mention the chrome globe?? run from the mains?? across the water?? no really?!

Ah, well I guess that's a story for another time....

P.S you can see a picture from the shoot and read more about my idea behind the look of the shoot and about Cleveland Pools ( and the truth behind the shadowy figure) in the September issue of The Bath Magazine and also in Bath Life.

BIG Thanks to:

Felicity Keefe for styling and art direction and for always making sure my shoots are " a little bit more Grace Coddington and a little less Wookey Hole sweetie", Angelica Baines and Matt Nesbeth our fantastic models, Clairelouise Bender Make Up Artist, full time babe and all round lovely person, Sarah Lillywhite, camera assistant, boat wrangler and soulmate, David Johnson, Andy Russell and Robbie Wood lighting and rigging crew and some of the best friends a chap could wish for, Candida Molyneaux at Savannah Home for the beautiful chrome globes, Rusette Auton for the always amazing outfits and props, Sarah Hardick at Bathwick Boat Hire for the oh so beautiful skiff, Gary Churchill at iMax lighting for Lighting hire, always cutting me a great deal and for lots of free advice, Nick Hobbs at Technical Hire for the loan of the lighting desk and for always supporting my endeavors, and last but not least Sally Helvey and all at Cleveland Pools trust for trusting me and letting me get this crazy image out of my head and into print.

 

Lights Camera Action.. Clothes Music Girls!

A few weeks ago I finished an amazing book by Viv Albertine, former guitarist in seminal 70's all girl punk band The Slits. The book is entitled Clothes Music Boys and details Viv's struggle to believe she could compete with the all male dominance that existed in the music biz in the 1970's. Encouraged by her then boyfriend Mick Jones of soon to be world conquering Punk heroes The Clash, she set about learning the guitar and eventually joined The Slits. The Slits ultimately signed to Rough Trade and for a time everything was perfect, until one day an interviewer caught her totally off guard by asking her if she knew what her beloved record label had just confirmed to him, that they had dropped the band ( she didn't for the record)

 

At a stroke everything she had battled to achieve was gone and to make it all the more painful, The Clash's success went through the roof, this a band that had literally planned their ascent in her kitchen. Her best friend Sid Vicious , with whom she would regularly spend days ( and nights) at a time planning how to conquer the world, went similarly stratospheric with The Sex Pistols.
Cue Viv moving back home with her mum and whiling away days by watching the washing spin round and round at her local launderette, punk rock it was not....

Eventually she pulled herself back to life and the book chronicles her remarkable struggle to regain her sense of self, whilst battling with SIXTEEN failed IVF attempts and nearly dying several times in the process. Domestic bliss not turning out to be quite what she had expected, she embarked on an extraodinary journey that just leaves you wanting to punch the air in salute by the end. It's a brutally honest book, Albertine leaves nothing to the imagination and her time spent among the likes of Vivienne Westwood and her good friend Malcolm McLaren as well as legends of the punk world such as Johnny Rotten and Johnny Thunders reads like a who's who of the New Wave scene but from the point of view of a woman, a perspective mostly lacking from of the punk history that has come down through the intervening decades.

I literally didn't want it to end and I dragged the last three chapters out for an eternity before finally coming to the end. After tweeting our Punk Poetess ( who liked my tweet I'm delighted to report) I decided to pay homage to the book by starting a new portrait series, which with startling originality is called Clothes Music Girls! ( see what I did there?)

The idea is to reference what Viv does all through the book, namely show photos of her at different ages and describe in detail the clothes she's wearing in the picture along with which boy she was currently dating or obsessing about. Albertine loves clothes and saved up her money to buy whatever small items she could afford at Westwood and McLaren's shop SEX on The Kings Road. Dame Vivienne once sagely told her in blunt terms to buy a pair of boots that at the time Albertine hated.. she took the advice and they are now her favourite possessions.
In Clothes Music Girls we don't need the boys to be referenced as it's all about featuring my circle of brilliant, beautiful and funny female friends. However all of them have been forced to choose a favourite record(virtually impossible) and a favourite outfit (completely impossible!)

Clothes Music Girls NO:1 Ellie Ekers: Actress

Clothes Music Girls NO:1 Ellie Ekers: Actress

Clothes Music Girls NO:2 Sarah Lillywhite: Run Leader/Personal Trainer/PA

Clothes Music Girls NO:2 Sarah Lillywhite: Run Leader/Personal Trainer/PA

Clothes Music Girls NO:3 Susie Glatt: Costumier/Performer

Clothes Music Girls NO:3 Susie Glatt: Costumier/Performer

Clothes Music Girls NO:4 Charlotte Rogers: Author and Artist

Clothes Music Girls NO:4 Charlotte Rogers: Author and Artist

Clothes Music Girls NO:5 Sophia Maili: Poi Dancer and Linguist

Clothes Music Girls NO:5 Sophia Maili: Poi Dancer and Linguist

Clothes Music Girls NO:6 Angelica Baines: Artist and Photographer

Clothes Music Girls NO:6 Angelica Baines: Artist and Photographer

 

So far I have photographed six people and I plan to shoot another five but it's taking on a life of it's own so it might still be going by X-Mas! The idea however is to have it completed in time for an exhibition I'm mounting at The Proud Gallery on The Strand in London in May....

Oh and possibly a book too..

have look at

https://www.facebook.com/Marc-Aitken-Photography-185886451478091/?ref=hl    

for the full details of all the people involved.

Watch this space...It's been such fun shooting all these fantastic females and a great opportunity to see some of the people from whom I've spent far too long apart.
The final aspect to this journey that has been such an enjoyable project was the e-mail I received this week from a well known singer songwriter I admire enormously, who responded to my rather cheeky request to be a part of the project with..... a yes!!
Score...
Peace Out and Happy Imbolc
Oh..and lest we forget, sweet dreams to the man who inspired me to be/do any of this ...

David Bowie. R.I.P

Marc Aitken: Photographer and David Bowie lover.

Marc Aitken: Photographer and David Bowie lover.




Under The Radar but Back!

Well... It's been a while, no scrap that it's been a ridiculously long time since I updated this blog. Head will be duly hung in some form of half mast shame position for at least thirty seconds.. scout's honour and all that.

" Hilarity" aside, a lot has been happening in Marc world of late, especially including having to find a new home, thanks to owner of " Fashion Towers Mk i" deciding they wanted to sell it.

Inconvenient much.....

So much looking later Fashion Towers Mk ii has been found and duly moved into.

Phew!....

Waking up in and walking home to Bath's Royal Crescent has much to be said for it. Beautiful views across the lawns and Autumn showing it's new leafy fashions off like some erstwhile designer intent on creating a splash. The endless peering in the windows by multiple tourists is somewhat challenging, but also has it's comedy potential, especially when you come out of the shower!

The Royal Crescent Bath. © Marc Aitken 2015

So that's home life in a nutshell so now what's been happening in the world of fashion and music snapping.

First up although not strictly chronologically accurate is London Fashion Week SS16. Once again yours truly was working with The Body Shop to photograph their latest catwalk make up looks, in the chaotic world that is Fashion Week Backstage. Safe to say that curling tongs and hairdryers and 200MM lenses do not happy bedfellows make. My partner and assistant was once again called upon to execute the impossible and try to raise a soft box above the heads of models who stand 6ft tall before they're wearing heels. tricky! but manage it she did and we managed to get some great shots.

I always tease The head of PR for The Body Shop that most people I talk to don't realise that The Body Shop does the make up for London Fashion Week, at least at Fashion Scout anyway. Their make and especially their chief make up artist Lan do an amazing job and the girls always look incredible. Ladies.. if you haven't checked out The Body Shop for make up you're missing a trick, trust me. In between covering backstage I managed to shoot a number of the shows in both the venues at Fashion Scout. The results will be up on the website soon,

Pam Hogg always draws a capacity crowd, dotted with the great and the good and the glam. It's a given that Pam's shows will always go up late, 30- 45 minutes even an hour isn't unusual. Us longer serving Fashion Week types are well used to this now and know better than to agree to shoot any shows after Pam's show has finished, but the look on the faces of the newer guys and gals when they realise they're going to have to get across London to their next show in about ohh.. 30 seconds or buy a time machine is priceless.

Pam Hogg SS16 © Marc Aitken 2015

Marko Mitanovski hosts extremely elaborate shows, to describe it as facial jewelry doesn't even begin to describe it. It's very easy to shoot Marko's models backstage and assume they're finished only to look back 5 minutes later and discover some elaborate headpiece or extra facial decoration you had no idea they were due to wear and have to shoot them all over again!

Marko Mitanovski BTS SS16 © Marc Aitken 2015

CCUOCO BTS SS16 © Marc Aitken 2015  

CCUOCO BTS SS16 © Marc Aitken 2015

 

London Fashion Week eventually finished on the Tues just in time for Sarah and I to hot foot it to North London's Alexandra Palace, home of the first BBC television broadcast as well as legendary 14 hour Summer Party in the swinging psychedelic 1960's amongst hundreds of other landmark gigs and happenings. The occasion this time was a date with Florence and The Machine supported by The Staves. I shot The Staves at WOMAD festival back in the summer and their management discovered one of my photographs on Twitter and asked to see more. One thing led to another and we were offered photo passes to come and shoot at Florence's Tuesday show.

The Staves photo by Sarah Lillywhite © Marc Aitken 2015

The Staves were fab as always, although it frustrates me that the hoary old " Three Songs No Flash" rule is so embedded in the music industry these days that no one even knows why they're doing it... literally. That aside Sarah and I rushed around the photo pit like demented ninjas and managed to capture the girls in all their glory. The Staves over we turned to Miss Welch, a different vantage point this time, but that doesn't phase this old war dawg. She really is a force of nature that girl, I have to 'fess up to being one of the doubters when she replaced The Foo Fighters at Glastonbury this year, but both her performance at Glasters and at Ally Pally left firmly in the " I'm a fan" camp. A beautifully executed set with a great band and lit by the man who seems to light everyone these days Rob Sinclair, made for a night to remember.

I had one particularly serendipitous moment, after getting used to her swirling, twirling forays across the stage I raised the camera on instinct and took a series of what turned out to be rather amazing shots of Florence in full flight. Trust your gut I say.

Florence and The Machine © Marc Aitken 2015

Florence and The Machine © Marc Aitken 2015

Florence and The Machine © Marc Aitken 2015

Add to that my other fav rave of the moment Wolf Alice and it's been a fun Summer and Autumn

Wolf Alice © Marc Aitken 2015

Oh and I also stumbled across the Supernova of talent that is Lucy Rose too. Dipping my toe into my older world of concert lighting last month I was initially aggrieved to be informed by her management that she doesn't like red...DOESN'T LIKE RED???!!! Doesn't she know who I am? Apparently not!. That bombshell ingested I set about creating some equally dramatic looks avoiding the R word and even a whole bunch using just white light. ( Aitken's been kidnapped by Aliens I hear my older friends cry). The set turned out to be a total joy to light. The girl is a genius and it's up there with my favourite gigs I've ever lit. Ironically earlier in the day Lucy had rather sheepishly handed me a bag of three "Redhead" ( 800W tungsten units that are the staple of interview lighting the world over)  lights still in their wrapping. Informing me that some gigs have so few lights she had taken to carrying her own !

Lucy Rose © Marc Aitken 2015

Lucy Rose © Marc Aitken 2015

At the end of the night I was eager to catch up with her and tell her how fab I thought she was, I decided to use the " redheads" after all and put them behind her as a back light with lots of smoke ( ahh that's The Aitken we know, it's alright they've returned him) and it looked rather spiffy!. But I needn't have bothered looking for her, as she came into the auditorium after signing autographs at the merchandise stall out front and as soon as she spotted me, held out her arms and said " dude.. you totally nailed it" it followed by a high five and a big hug..

it's the little things folks..

:-)

 

Anyhoo, that's War and Peace Blog style completed, so I'll leave you with the main reason for my being in cyberspace,

The photographs....

Keep the faith Spooky Kids

Peace Out.

 

What's been going on..

"Been a long time"

To quote the words of Mr Robert Plant, whom I had the enormous pleasure of seeing last weekend.  An amazingly Zeppelin filled set BTW... Dazed & Confused, The Rain Song, Trampled Underfoot, Black Dog, The Lemon Song, Whole Lotta Love, amongst many other gems from his other work, never thought I'd hear him do half of those again!

My rocket fuel strength pre-mixed/guessed G&T ( no glass no cans "no...umbrellas"..WTF?!) combined with the aforementioned set list made this boy one very happy, if somewhat tipsy camper.

But, I digress...

I have been re visiting some of my concert shots as I realised when you shoot up to 1500 images at a gig, you tend to miss some of the better ones whilst trying to favourite so many shots.  I also experimented with cropping into some of the wide shots to bring the band members a little closer. See The shots of Chvrches below and more to come on the Facebook photography page.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marc-Aitken-Photography/185886451478091

I also went through my archive of the day I spent shooting The R&B legend that is Usher.

For those whose don't know, whilst filming him at his shows at The O2 a few years ago, I was asked by my good friend and all round video legend Mr Dick Carruthers, if I would be up for sitting in with Usher while he went around London on his day off.

yeah... go on then :-)

I expected his security guard to be sat in the back of the limo with us, but no. Just me and him for the first hour or two. We talked about our kids and what they listened to. His kids naturally listen to a lot of their Dad, but my boy tends to hear a lot of the stuff his Dad plays around the home. At that time my son ( who was 5) had been watching The Aerosmith video for Dude Looked Like A Lady... a lot! also things like Zeppelin's Black Dog and Rock & Roll, mainly because he's an inquisitive kid and we end up on long music history chats that even I can't recall the origin of after an hour.

After relaying Jamie's music video choices to Usher he pronounced.. " Man you've got yourself a ROCK kid there!! accompanied by a big grin. Judging by how many times Jamie's made me play The Foo Fighter's The Pretender video at home and their Greatest Hits CD in the car, not to mention my current Fav's The brilliant Wolf Alice lately, I'd say he was right.

Usher was a pleasure to be with. He was totally exhausted after three nights giving it his all at The O2 and even apologized for keeping me waiting in the Lobby while he slept in for a few hours. He gamely let me interview him for the upcoming DVD and chatted about all things UK including about Selfridges which it turns out is his favourite store. Gifting me the line:

" Man I would shop in that place all day, in fact forget it, If they gave me a bed I would eat there and sleep there and shop there all over again the next day and the day after that" 

Safe to say he's a fan then?..!!!

We also had the extraordinary experience of springing a surprise visit to the kids academy in Fulham that he runs. I had a brief insight into what it might have been like to be with one of the Beatles in their heyday, when the class went completely nuts as he walked through the door. Stunned faces followed by screams of disbelief giving way to sheer joy.

Memorable and then some...

Later we shot across town to a studio in North London to shoot a promo video for his single MonStar, the Thames Embankment providing an quintessentially English backdrop to the view from the famous American's window, before we finally rounded the day off with a visit to The Gagosian Gallery. His take on the work he was shown was amusing to say the least but.. modesty forbids and all that.

We parted company back where it all started at his Hotel and I headed back to home to Bath musing on what a bizarre day it had been.

Actually that wasn't quite the end, I was asked by a good friend earlier in the week if there was any chance of an autograph for her daughter who adores Usher. I initially replied that there was no chance, as at that point he was surrounded by a huge entourage of managers and security and was never alone for a minute and even filming him was hard work. However our  day tripping/Selfridge's admiring/ kids bonding experience made for a considerably easier opportunity and I walked away with one for Jaz and one for " The Rock Kid"...

Score....

Chrvches © Marc Aitken 2015.
Chrvches © Marc Aitken 2015.
Chvrches © Marc Aitken 2015.
Usher © Marc Aitken 2015.
Usher © Marc Aitken 2015.
Usher © Marc Aitken 2015.
The Snapper gets Snapped.

The Snapper gets Snapped.

The "Rock Kid" gets his soon to have girlfriend Impressing memento.

The "Rock Kid" gets his soon to have girlfriend Impressing memento.