– Video by Julius Adarna and myself. Hear Nicole talk about the day in her own words – one of my favorite videos to date
In September, my agent Suzy Johnston received an unexpected email from a lovely lady by the name of Nicole. She had a request: To have a creative photoshoot done of her before the 21st of September.
After reading her email, I felt intrigued. What type of image did she want to create? Could I possibly fit the shoot into my schedule with only 2 weeks before going to speak at CreativeLive? Could I say no to such a request?
After having a quick chat with my agent, I squeezed in a quick phone call between meetings to talk directly with Nicole and see how I could help her out. A warm shining and excited voice replied on the other end ringing with excitement at getting a call from me. Turns out she was a huge fan of my work and wasn’t even expecting a call back! I laid out my schedule for her, told her that things were going to be extremely tight but if this was something she wanted… I’d make it happen. She said yes.
We met the next day for coffee for the first time and I was faced with an excited, bright eyed individual full of life and energy, red curls bouncing around as she told me about her life: she was a writer, shy, naive, Scottish, passionate, a dreamer, intelligent, a hermit, a nature-lover… I took it all in, images forming in my mind, trying to translate a stranger’s life into an intimate personal image. We sat there, and prattled on, exchanging stories as minutes turned into hours and strangers became friends. I sketched out concepts, ideas, prepared a list of things that had to be done: clothing, makeup, hair, location, props…
Whimsical clothes, a lone tree on a hill, stormy skies, a piece of parchment, books, bookshelves, lanterns, writing desk, more books… the list went on and on. It had to be personal, it had to be fantastical, it had to be epic.
Over the next week, Nicole and I connected almost every day, refining the concepts and figuring out logistics – we would need books and bookshelves, could we use hers? No, she said. her books were too precious, the Salvation army perhaps? Done. We would need a U-haul to carry things. Done. Hair? Malina Tang. Makeup? Tamsen Rae. Done. The one thing that we just couldn’t fine though was a lone tree on a hill. I embarked on a quest to make sure that we found a tree, taking to facebook, reaching out to the vonwonglings for help and help they did – from Israel, to Africa, lone trees on hills came in left and right but none close to Montreal.
Finally just one week before the photoshoot, I took Nicole out for a quick spin across Montreal so that we could lock down a location. Though not quite the lone tree on a hill we had in mind, we found the perfect tree, in the perfect location, just on the water front. It had all the elements she was looking for – whimsical, wild, next to the water, complete with rocks and grass. I sketched something out, making sure that we were on the right track. We were.
With all the elements slowly settling into place, Nicole was getting more and more excited. What had seemed like the vaguest of emails just a couple weeks back was actually transforming into a full blown photoshoot – no holds barred! Suddenly the day was upon her and the entire crew of 10 people trampled over into Nicole’s house. The pampering began – Tamsen and Malina tossed her up into a chair as Peter and Julius filmed while Chantra, Claude and Sohrab and I began to load up the U-haul with books, props and items that were special to Nicole. Once hair and makeup finished, we scrambled off to our first location to rendez-vous with a couple additional assistants Jess and Ray and began setting up Nicole’s world.
Though we were still in September, the weather was freezing and we did our best to keep Nicole warm by layering her in blankets and sheltering her inside the car despite her numerous offers to help to set things up. “Sit down! Stay warm! We’ll take care of it! This is what we do!” we would tell her, despite her protests. Slowly but surely, the set grew and grew, and finally it was up to Nicole to pose. Giggling self consciously, she modelled for the first time ever as Tamsen hid behind her tossing her dress out into the freezing wind. Click, walk a little, click, hands lower a bit, click, more to the left, click, a little more serious, click… and so it went… as Nicole desperately tried to keep up with my direction certain that she looked foolish.
And then the moment of truth.
I showed her the images of herself for the first time on my iPad, tethered through a CamRanger, and studied her as she flicked through the images. “Oh my gosh, is that really me!” she exclaimed, as she saw the world we had created together come to life. I breathed a sigh of relief. Success! Now just a couple more to go. From drowning her in a pile of books with stories coming to life… to having her climb a tree surrounded by books. Everything was going to plan, and together we were making a dream into a reality.
“I’ll try to have these edited as soon as possible”, I told her as I hugged her goodbye, not knowing if I was going to get to see her again with months of touring and travelling ahead.
“The shots don’t matter so much anymore” she replied. “I got to work with you, have a crazy day out, see the magic happen all around me… and that’s what I really wanted. Not just the photos… but the experience”
Reflecting back, I guess it makes sense. The reason I create images that are epic and fantastical is to share my dreams … the reason I share the process is to take you with me on the adventure… and the reason I share my thoughts and emotions is to show you that I’m human, just like you. And though these images that she ended up loving, were created to bring Nicole’s dreams to life, I’ve never felt more alive… because doing something that matters makes all the difference.
Special Gear used:
- Nikon D800E: B&H | Amazon
- Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8
- Pocketwizard Flex TT5
- Elinchrom Ranger Quadra
- LumoPro LP180
- Rampant Design Tools
See what else is in my camera bag when I travel!