Jen approached me for a highwaywoman ('Land Pirate') themed shoot a while ago. I suggested that she might like to write about the experience; Jen kindly obliged.
For the last few years I have treated myself to a photoshoot for my birthday (because I totally deserve it). I’d had boudoir style shoots done – which were fine at the time, but were very middle of the road. This year I wanted something more interesting, more dramatic and focused on being a Highway woman (my ultimate career choice)! I also really wanted to go topless – simply because I hadn’t before – but I wanted the shoot to be about power and strength, to say ‘this is me, I’m a mum, I’m nearly 40 and I’m happy’. I didn't want it to be about being topless in a naff way. So there was going to be an element of glamour – but hopefully not tackiness. That was the line I didn’t want to cross – and that Simon had to try and achieve.
I knew of Simon’s work through his photographer of circus performers and so approached him. Happily he agreed to work with me. This was the first time I'd done something collaborative and it involved a lot of thought and discussion.
Long before the shoot we had many exchanges about the costume - sharing things on Pinterest for us both to give our opinions. This part took longer than I thought as, even though we didn't feel the need to go for a particular historic angle, we both wanted it to look vaguely convincing and not fancy dress. Eventually it came together and I had several versions of an outfit to take to the shoot - although at the shoot, we further refined this and stuck to one choice.
In terms of location, Simon suggested the WindmillArt Studio at Linton. It was useful because we were able to do inside and outside shots - and I really wanted to have outdoor, woodland based shots which was more in keeping with the idea, and a nice contrast to studio-only shoots I'd done before. We also made the decision to get a make-up artist (because I know my limitations) and Simon sourced that for me too - Becky Purple.
We met in person briefly but I felt like I knew Simon really well already – and that I already trusted him implicitly. I had no qualms about getting topless in front of him – he’s a true professional & gent.
We both came with lots of ideas for the shoot itself - Simon probably had more than me. Simon booked the venue for 6 hours. I assumed that we'd probably be done 4 hours in but in fact, we were still going until the very end and could have done with another 2 hours. I was so surprised by this. Apart from the make-up being done at the start, and a 10 minute break for lunch, we worked right through. Some poses we'd decided before but others were done on the day, utilising the location or particular poses that came to mind (mainly Simon's mind).
We started the day with some headshots which I wasn't particularly interested in as they are 'fashiony' and that wasn't what I was focused on that day. But actually, I really love them - and lots of female friends like them because I look strong in them. I also think it shows you what having a good make-up artist, photographer and lighting can do! The images are very removed from me, but they still are me.
We did several different sessions in the windmill, with different types of poses. Some were all about the defiant law-breaker I'd imagined but that would have been quite dull to have throughout. I hadn't really thought beyond that though so Simon had to draw out other expressions - more vulnerable, reflective ones - and they do make for a better mix.
Then the boobs. This was tricky as, like the costume, it was difficult to get right. It was important for me to be photographed like that but neither of us wanted it to look tacky, as if I was attempting to be a glamour model. For me it was still about strength and (somehow) subtlety. Again, Simon had to get me to go beyond the mono-tough expression I'd spent weeks perfecting in the mirror. The contrast between what I represent - being above the law, independent, tough - and a vulnerable expression, whilst being topless.
Simon also took some full length shots using only natural light. It was hard to achieve a successful pose but we did manage one particularly dramatic pose. It is very different to the other topless images and very striking (I think).
Outdoors, Simon had so many ideas - some thought of before the shoot and some conceived while we were there. The sun was a bit of a challenge as it kept disappearing but even though it was a cold spring day, it did shine when we needed it - for the most part. The setting was perfect - so much more convincing than just in a studio. There were shots done in the woodland, then among the hedges. We could have utilised the setting so much more if we'd had more time.
When we were in the woodland, after some static 'Stand and deliver' poses, Simon came up with the idea of me throwing my cloak open to get an action shot. It took as a while to get a shot with my expression working with the cloak being open at the right time, but we did achieve something effective (I say we - mostly it was Simon!).
We had been working together for half a day at this point and this part of the day - when we were just playing - was the most fun. The sunlight really brought out a warmth to the colour of my hair and the costume and the shots are much more lively and full of action - and some of my character I think. For me, this is when I felt most authentic - as a fantasy Highway Woman - and also, Simon and I had got used to working with each other.
We really could have done so much more (though perhaps it would have helped if we'd had a horse-drawn coach for me to hold up). My narrow focus - a topless portrait in costume - had been massively expanded through our conversations and Simon's input on the day and the result is different sets of images, all inter-linked but each set is standalone too. And actually the being topless thing became almost irrelevant as the purpose of the shots - to be seen as strong and powerful - was achieved without that being done.
I learnt a huge amount during the shoot - mainly that you do need to come to a shoot with more than one expression! - and it was very different, and much better, to have a properly collaborative relationship. Having two perspectives meant that ideas were challenged or fought for, or adapted and altered in unexpected ways. This worked both ways too, as during the selection process afterwards (which took a long time!) I championed images that Simon had initially dismissed but appreciated at second glance. Creatively, it was a really fun and engaging process, and definitely worth the end result :)