You can tell if someone is good. They’re gifted with a sense of style, a sense of composition and a sense of sense. Its instinctive, all the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice things. In fact it just gets in the way. The most important thing is to be able to see. Elliot Erwitt
Not all artists need a muse in order to create but there are certainly moments when someone enters your life and they inspire you in such a profound way that you feel that person is almost exactly what you have needed to spur your further. As if that person is the catalyst you have been searching for. The catalyst that allows you to create something that you have had in your mind for some time but simply been without the right stimulus. For sure the relationship between an artist and muse can offer inspiration and allow the artist to truly express whatever it is they feel within them. I’ve often pondered the relationship between artists and muses and how such connection came about and more to the point the impact that muse has had on the artist and the work they create. There is a long history of such relationships and throughout all art disciplines from film to dance to painting and of course photography.
In his late years as Matisse was frail and bed bound he took on a nurse to care for him. Only 19 years old at the time Denise Arokas is described as striking, with big blue eyes and elegance, pose and style. Matisse took to sketching and painting Arokas and the role of muse began and flourished.
In the sixties Alfred Hitchcock met fashion model Tippi Hedren and soon placed her under personal contract. With his creative mind in overflow he must have seen something immediately in Tippi Hedren that not only gave him the inspiration he needed to help formulate the character she played in The Birds but I am sure brought something to the part that took the story and film on a new direction triggered by her own personality and the stormy relationship she endured with the obsessive director.
I regularly read about the history of photography and study great photographers and wonder about how certain models have impacted their lives on a creative level and the role of muse in giving the photographer that much needed inspiration, the vehicle to take their work to a new level and allow them to shoot and release from their imagination all the ideas and visual fantasies. There is Richard Avedon and Dovima, Steven Meisel and Linda Evangelista and Irving Penn and Lisa Fonssagrives to name a few. It is utterly fascinating to contemplate the creative impact someone can have on an artist. The notion that the artist has stored in their mind countless ideas that need liberating. But the images remain there as they struggle to find the right person to bring such creative visions to reality. I have dated models and enjoyed the wonderful energy shared as countless photographic opportunities arise throughout the relationship. Relaxed intimate holidays snaps reveal moments that are so beautiful and simply real. A look in her eyes, an emotion, a private sensitivity that she may only share with her partner, a trust and comforting connection that is private and revealing. My holiday pictures and test shots of a previous model I dated were regularly used on her model cards as they had an honest intimacy about them. She became my muse and inspiration and countless activities over the years became opportunities for creative endeavors. I recall throughout the 90’s I was on good terms with many designers and would simply pop round and borrow an item for our shoots. I would borrow a hat form Philip Treacy or shoes from Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik or a dress from Vivienne Westwood or Galliano.
A few months ago I attended my cousins daughters engagement party. I stood drink in hand catching up with my extended family. At some point some children ran past me laughing and playing. I saw Bailey in the middle of the scrum and in that single fleeting moment I knew that I would photograph her. It was as if all the creative vision mood boards in my head just needed the right person. The right face, the right eyes, the right attitude and personal energy. There in the most unlikely place was the most amazing little person who is clearly completely unaware of her natural and unique beauty. I am fascinated at how at a model casting you can have hundreds of girls sit and show you their book and despite their beauty there is no spark or connections and then suddenly one has such a powerful and unique energy and beauty she stands so far apart. I have photographed Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Kate Moss, Ines Sastre, Naomi Campbell and other top models. There is clearly something so different about these women that helps explain their incredible success and appeal to so many stylists, photographers and designers. Why are they muses to so many talented and creative people? It’s as if at a glance you want to play dress up and make believe. Linda Evangelista for sure is the chameleon in the supermodel pack. An incredible talent to carry off so many characters and embody the mind and body of whatever character the fashion team have created (Google Linda Evangelista as Katherine Hepburn). With a truly great model you keep seeing something new in them. Just when you think its over and you have captured all you feel there is, they reveal something new and different. A pose, an angle, an expression, just anything that brings you back to wanting to keep shooting and trying to capture that moment. It’s also something natural and I feel perhaps something that can’t be taught. It can appear effortless and transcends mere beauty or prettiness. Like a great actor who embodies the character and makes you absolutely believe in them in that role, a great model appears relaxed and comfortable in the role. The clothes do not take over but she lives that character and you believe in her. Bailey, despite her youth certainly has a sprit about her and an endearing personality and her own mind. Bailey certainly has a unique look and the more I photographed her the more I could see elements of other great models. In some shots she reminds me of Christy Turlington, in some images her eyes remind me of the famous Afghan girl portrait by Steve McCurry. She also reminds me of Natasha Kinski and Ines Sastre, the ability to look sophisticated and elegant but with real character. She also embodies a similar cool London girl vibe like Kate Moss.
When I saw Bailey playing with her friends in that party it was as if my mind was a flickering gallery wall of memorable fashion shoots from Vogue Bambino, Vogue Italia, Bruce Weber shoots and more. Whilst everyone else was catching up as relatives do, all I could see was Bailey dressed as a East End urchin/ Oliver Twist character selling stolen watches or dressed in couture posing in a park or poised and elegant at a riding stables.
Incredibly all these mad moments of creative imagination came true and all in one single day. I am continually amazed at what young children can achieve despite their youth and limited life experience. I never imagined that we would manage to shoot four different fashion ideas in one day with someone so young who has never modeled before. We met weeks previous to the shoot to go through all the clothes, locations and styling ideas and I kept stressing that I will be content if we achieve a third of my ambitious shoot plan. I imagined that at some point my new petite muse would simply have had enough of my directions and the make up/hair stylists meddling. The demands on any model are both mental and physical and the need to chase the light and try such a multitude of looks and outfits meant this was an incredibly intense shoot. But I was proven wrong and right up to the last shoot of the day Bailey not only delivered admirably but embodied a whole new character dressed as a beautiful, scruffy Victorian thief getting drunk from a hip flask and flogging stolen watches. Not only this but incredibly during the first shoot of the day at the riding stables Bailey suffered an accident that would have most models storming off set in tears. Whilst photographing Bailey riding early in the day, a tractor backfired spooking the horse. The team watched in horror as this enormous, powerful horse threw tiny Bailey over his head. There was a moment when it appeared to actually head butt her. Bailey somersaulted over the horse’s head and hit the ground. Look at the size of the horse, that’s a long way to fall. Incredibly she immediately bounced up declaring she was fine. Ten minutes later she was poised and calm working through different expressions and poses sat in the stables getting on with the job of modeling. Incredible! Bailey is too cool for school to let any of this bother her and carried on as if it was no big deal. I on the other hand was wondering if my employee’s liability insurance was up to date!
Anyone that knows me well will be aware that the last year and a half has been personally very challenging. Without doubt meeting Bailey, undertaking this shoot and working with someone so inspiring and incredible has been the creative, self esteem, good feel boost that I’ve needed. It was a combination of so many factors least of all the belief in myself to see something in a person and have the will, ability and drive to create these images. To allow myself the freedom to express what I see and feel inside and see the worth in that. It is not often you meet someone with Bailey’s unique look or ability but if I have on the rare occasion in the past I’ve not pursued it. On this occasion I did pursue it and I’m also delighted I did. I’ve discussed in a previous blog the power of art as therapy. The healing power both in the creation of art and in the enjoyment of living amongst art. Helping to lift spirits, feel alive, inspired and the consumption of and enjoyment of beauty in all its shapes and forms. Bailey has for sure lifted my spirits, given me a creative boost and strengthen my own self esteem and belief in my abilities. All I needed was a beautiful 10 year old with big eyes, a cheeky cool attitude and some beautiful clothes.
A massive thank you to Bailey’s parents for their trust in me and allowing me to spend a day dressing up their daughter, styling her, directing her, making her work for nearly 12 hours and even get her thrown off a horse just so that I can express my creative desires. A big thank you too to my talented make up and hair stylist who I could not have done this without. Stephanie Lui was professional, creative and gave Bailey that sisterly support when she had simply enough of me staring at her quizzically complaining that the light isn’t right or the usual ‘Just one more shot, just one more shot!’ The photograph of Bailey looking up at me pretty much sums up how she felt at the end.
I could happily shoot Bailey again and again and a day spent doing this reminds me of why I love being a photographer and there is nothing else that comes close to giving me the joy and satisfaction that this incredible artistic medium does or there is nothing else in life that I feel so utterly suited to. I am also pleased to say that on the strength of these images Bailey has just been accepted onto the books of London’s top child model agency; Kids London. What a great outcome and story. She is not the first person I’ve discovered and helped get into an agency.