In my first year in art college I attempted to base some artwork on the paintings of Alphonse Mucha. But I never got past the sketch stage. Years later I decided to tackle the theme again. This time as a family portrait session with my wife and two daughters as models.
We had picked costumes over the previous few weeks, we wanted three for each, including one for the group shot. And we ordered props such as costume jewellery and flowers online. The lilies I picked up fresh locally. Some of the deliveries arrived on the morning of the shoot, there’s always some stress on a shoot like this. We had our nanny with us to amuse my youngest daughter, Pandora, while we worked. And the help of fabulously creative make up artist, Iris Wu. Luckily we have our own studio for Rembrandt Portraits so we were able to accumulate most things in the days leading up to the shoot and have them ready. With a couple of friends turning up for fun it was a full house.
A shoot like this is quite an undertaking. Especially when you’re not being paid for it. Even when everything is arranged pulling it all together on the day takes a lot of coordination. Thankfully that is one of my wife’s skills. Getting a three year old to the studio early in the morning can be stressful enough if you are a parent but if you are also the photographer you need to keep a cool head.
When Pandora was a baby we were sure she was going to be a bit of a tom boy. However somewhere along the way she discovered dresses, shoes and pink - so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that she was going to love every second of getting dressed up with her big sister and mother. She really took to the hair and make up session just like it was play time and sat patiently while getting her hair curled and eyes and cheeks made up. This made it all much easier.
Pandora insisted that we photograph her first in her Disney Rapunzel dress. Of course that was not part of my vision but you really have to make deals with small kids to get them to comply so after a couple of quick shots she changed into her first costume. Chocolate comes in very handy too. You have to be very fast with such young kids, they have a very limited attention span and if you’re lucky will do what you want... for about 10 seconds. And then run around everywhere except the the staging area. So you’d better get that shot immediately. Her first costume was just a piece of fabric wrapped around her and it went well but she really didn’t like her second dress so we had to skip that. We did successfully persuade her to wear the final dress for the group shot because she wanted to be like her sister and mother.
An odd byproduct of growing up in the smart phone era is that they are so used to and comfortable with being photographed and videoed they think it actually happens all the time automatically. Pandora often asks to see a video of some incident from earlier in the day and we have to explain to her that we didn’t film that. I’m still not sure she understands.
My eldest daughter, Ling Li, was brought up being photographed by me incessantly even before I was a professional, and even before digital cameras. In fact we produced a whole book, Propellor Girl & Other Stories, of illustrated rhymes with her acting as various characters I created from about the age of five. As she grew up and had to study more and more we shot together less and less. But as soon as she’s on a break her first request is usually ‘Daddy are we going to do a shoot?’ And I usually have something up my sleeve.
My wife, Lola, who is a wonderful volunteer and is often in front of my camera for everything from test shots to family holidays as well as conceptual photography required no push. But she is a little more demanding than the other two in finding out exactly what is behind the whole shoot so she can visualise the final result and get her costume and accessories just right.
The key elements of Mucha’s artwork, apart from the biggest bunch of lilies I have ever had to purchase, are grace, beauty and delicacy expressed through arranging the angle of the head and the positioning of the hands on the body. The dresses were long and flowing and the accessories mimicked the common circular motifs he used in his work as backgrounds.
It was a long day in the studio but fun. It’s great having your own family around all day while you’re working. I would rather have had more variety from Pandora but the fact that we captured anything at all is a small miracle. And I got the family photo of my three girls exactly the way I had imagined it. Except of course I’m so used to being behind the camera that I forgot to include myself. Being in two places at once is not easiest task to achieve anyway. Although I did shoot my own wedding at my wife’s insistence, but that’s another story.
Below is a gallery of the full shoot.