Agent Provocateur – “In Praise Of My Bed”
Here is the front and back cover of a project I’ve just completed for Agent Provocateur. It’s for their first range of homeware (bedding is not a sexy word). We toyed for a while with the idea of calling it ‘beaux draps’, which, apparently, is a French phrase for sheets, literally translating as ‘beautiful drapes’, but it never stuck and so we ended up back at “Agent Provocateur – Home’.
This began sometime before last Christmas when Sarah Shotton, AP’s creative director, raised the prospect of working with me on something. Her words, “I know you could totally do something good for us.” was exactly the thing to lift my mood in the late afternoon December gloom. She said she was a fan of my lighting and the way that I photographed women, in her eyes, struck a balance of outright sexiness and dignified celebration, rather than a demeaning objectification. I was flattered that she had noticed because when I photograph a woman I try to take a picture that she will hold on to forever as a celebration of herself in a sort of peak state, literally humming with oestrogen, the defining chemical of femininity. As a husband and a father of two girls, this is the stuff that surrounds me, which I love. This aim is my way of trying to make them fall in love with me and, in a funny way, it’s possible because if you take an amazing picture of a woman there’s a little part of her that will love you forever.
Sarah, several of the other AP girls and I spent about six weeks throwing ideas back and forth at each other. What kind of mood did we want? What kind of girl? What kind of tone? Light? Or dark? Eventually we felt that an art deco vibe might be the right way to take this and, once that theme fell into place, it became a question of finding a location that would frame it. As soon as we were confronted with the formidable and glorious beauty of the art deco room at Eltham Palace in south east London we knew we had it. Originally a manor house, it was acquired by Edward 2nd in 1305 and it was also where Henry 8th spent much of his childhood. In the 1930′s the house was bought by Stephen Courtauld of the textile dynasty and he and his wife, Virginia, built the room that we shot these pictures in. Perfectly round, with a pair of symmetrical staircases, it was modelled on an ocean liner, the height of luxury motion in a pre-air travel age. Our final major discussion was on what the bed should look like and Sarah came up with the idea of the semi-circular, 8 foot high, mirrored bed head, which we had made for the shoot and which is now on display in Agent Provocateur’s New York store at 675 Madison Avenue.
As well as a full day of stills photography I had also committed to directing a short film for the AP website. As well as the kind of girl who could turn herself into a 21st century facsimile of Monica Vitti, the original script involved a trip to Rome, a cobbled street, a hotel room of the right size, a stylised Super 8 film within the actual film, a 1965 green Citroen DS and two men playing the role of French detectives. However, we would have needed about half a million pounds to make it happen so I had to scale the whole thing right back. Well, actually I had to scrap it completely and think of something else.
It was clear on the day that I had to allow the film to become a completely free form exercise in movement, texture and light and in this, the biggest contributor was the fantastic model, Natalia Z, all the way from Siberia and in London for just a week. Just like the movies, she was the last girl we saw at the end of a long, hot day of casting at the AP offices. Having seen all the girls we thought there were to see, Natalia walked in as we were all standing up to leave and as soon as we looked at her, the way she walked, the way she talked, the way she was, we all knew she was the one.
On the day of the shoot I worked in the way I feel most comfortable, which is to build the shot, step by step, creating the mood I’m trying to achieve by adding and placing one light at a time. I had wanted to light the whole thing with continuous lights – HMI’s, Kino Flos and 2K Blondes. In this way I could have easily switched from stills to film whenever I liked but we would have needed a huge generator truck to power them all. The power available at Eltham Palace wasn’t enough for 60kw of lamps and there wasn’t enough in the budget for the generator, so instead I lit the stills with about 12 flash heads and then used a combination of 3 HMI 2.5kw, some Kinos and the flash head modelling bulbs for lighting the times when I wanted to stop doing stills and shoot some motion. Fortunately, the Red camera can shoot at quite high ISO settings and with thoughtful framing and use of gels I managed to create a look for the film that compliments the stills. In this I was helped by having an incredibly talented cinematographer in Cordelia Beresford. This collaborative element was the most enjoyable part of the day. A portrait photographer ploughs a solitary furrow, so to have a partner in Cordelia was a proper little treat, like a full plate of Mr Kipling’s Bramley Apple Pies. And if you want to see for yourself then check out the film below. The voiceover you hear is a poem by Meredith Holmes and is called ‘In Praise Of My Bed’.
At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.
To see the full shoot then please check it out on my website www.chrisfloyd.com