Mystery Shoot #1: Among the Stones - Pre-Production


Recently I began my self set, Mystery Shoot Challenge. For those not already familiar with the project the MSC involves the random selection of photographic restrictions or requirements from three seperate categories. The categories that are selected from are Camera / Film Type, Location and Wardrobe / Theme.

For the first combination, the results of the selection were thus:

35mm Film (Black and White)
Full Nudity with Flowers

Pre-Production Breakdown

Immediately upon drawing the three requirements my mind was abuzz. On their own none of the cards posed any particular difficulty. Together, however, they posed one of the most difficult briefs I have ever worked with for a myriad of reasons.

First and foremost is the sensitivity issue. Cemeteries are places of love, loss and religion, with each one of these elements already a waiting bed of tinder for an emotional reaction. Shooting in such a location, and shooting someone nude nonetheless, was immediately going to be a concern. Not simply for the safety and privacy of our team, but also in order to avoid disturbing or traumatizing other visitors to the location, whilst respecting their loss and beliefs.

The second immediate issue that sprang to mind was the potential difficulty in casting a model. Both for the concerns outlined above, but also in the required level of confidence, not only to pose nude in a semi-public area but also to brave the possibility of public backlash. I knew immediately that I needed to cast a model that was not only experienced and professional, but someone who would be conscious of the sensitivity inherent in the location, and approach the project and location with the professionalism and respect that it warranted.

I initially put out a casting call within a few of the creative groups I belong to, however I had difficulty finding someone who i felt would both fit the creative aesthetic I was building in my mind, as well as exhibit and possess, the levels of confidence and professionalism the brief required. In the end I reached out the a model with whom I had worked with briefly several years prior, and who, despite being outside my initial casting parameters, was someone I felt (and correctly so) would possess both the skill set and attitude required by the shoot. After a lengthy discussion of the style and manner in which the shoot would be conducted, she agreed to pose for me.

The third concern I had upon revealing the location card was in selecting which cemetery would be the most feasible in which to create something artistic, without drawing attention. I needed somewhere large, with lots of quiet spaces that secluded us from the public eye.

The first thing I had to do was to scout out my options. After looking at several different sites I finally settled on my chosen location.

Day 72 4th March.jpg
Day 71 3rd March.jpg

What drew me to the pictured location was the vast array of grave types, the age of the cemetery itself and the huge difference between each section of the location. Every time you turned a corner the place was just a little different than before, a fraction older, more over-grown or modern. It changed every time you turned a corner. I knew at once that this would give us the most options as well as allowing us to move shooting locations easily depending on conditions.

With the location and model set the only things left, where to gather the rest of my creative team, source my flowers, and decide on the particular brand of black and white film that I would use for the shoot. As an avid collector and shooter of film stills, the first step was to dig through the overflowing drawers of 35mm and medium format film that I keep on hand. While they contained plenty of Polaroid, Color and 120 film reels, I possessed a marked lack of black and white 35mm film. All i had was 3 rolls of Ilford Delta, all at different ISO's (50, 100 and 3200 respectively). For this project what I really wanted to do was to shoot one brand of film and keep my film type and ISO (or light sensitivity for the non-camera crowd) at a consistent level in order to have a more cohesive final product.

With uncertain weather conditions pending I decided I wanted a film with middling ISO and something that I could reliably push or pull in the development stage, if conditions on the day of shooting forced me to shoot either over or under. Taking a trip down to Camera Electronics in the heart of Perth I dug through their fresh film stocks and came back with 2 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 Black and White. Being known for a characteristic grain, contrast and flexibility (in-post) I felt confident that Tri-X would be a perfect choice, even if this would be my first time using it personally.

With film chosen, I needed to source my Makeup Artist. I'm a big believer in investing in your fellow creatives, both personally and professionally. I am always more likely to go back time after time to models, makeup artists and stylists that I feel have invested in myself (either on projects or personally) than to chase the latest industry 'favorites'. I like to be able to bring my best projects to those I feel will both help me to achieve the desired results but also those who will benefit from the project themselves (either through a financial budget or increased depth/ experience in their portfolio, or both).

As such the Hair & Makeup Artist I settled upon was Charlotte from Tangled Beauty. The last time I worked with Charlotte she was a part of the nude modelling crowd herself, as such I knew that she would be the perfect person to ensure we had exactly the hair and makeup perfection that we needed.

The last team member I needed to recruit was an assistant. My friend Caitlyn (from CM.Makeup) volunteered for the position after I explained what I was looking to create. I considered having an assistant to be vital as not only did it give me an extra pair of hands for reflectors and gear but also an additional set of eyes for look-out duty.

With the creative team, location and brief set I felt very confident that all would go according to plan and that I would be able to achieve very closely what I had envisioned. All that was left now, was the shoot itself.

Keep following this blog to see the finished shoot once our negatives come back from the lab.