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Commercial work

The Duchess

‘Pass the blood Ben.’ Delicate work….

Sometimes when you’re given a brief your heart just sinks. Sometimes it beats faster. This was definitely a case of the latter.

I’ve long loved shooting theatre projects and this production was no different. The brief was clear, based on an earlier pre production illustration created by Edinburgh Agency, Do, create a poster image for the Edinburgh Lyceum / Citizens Theatre co-production show showing the principal actor Kirsty Stuart as The Duchess, standing in a pool of blood that’s soaking into her dress.

There was a lot of talk about the best way to do this and I quickly decided that we had to do it for real as far as we could with a natural reflection of her in the blood. You’ll be glad to hear I drew the line at a visit to the butchers. Fortunately Allan Ramsay from the Lyceum turned up at my studio replete with 5 litres of the red stuff, so convincing it was hard to tear your eyes away from it once it spilled out onto the ground. I was relieved it just smelled of sugar, being made of no more than corn syrup and colouring. Before it was poured out I did all the lighting and composition tests so we could focus on getting the blood element right.

the final poster for The Duchess of Malfi at the Lyceum theatre Edinburgh
Photograph of Kirsty Stuart drenched in blood as The Duchess of Malfi performing at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre. Photo – Laurence Winram

It took some time to spread around, Kirsty stoically not moving an inch, so when we were finally ready we couldn’t hang about. Kirsty channeled her Duchess perfectly so it didn’t take long to capture the right image. I then just had to shoot the wider edges of the pool of blood and piece it all together.

pool of blood
for the edges

The cleanup was almost as dramatic as the shoot. I hauled the sheet covered in drying blood outside where I could clean it off into the drain. If you’ve not seen it, my car park area is surrounded by the backs of housing, literally hundreds of windows looking down at this. I half expected a visit from the men in blue.

Cleanup

The Duchess sounds pretty epic. It’s a 17th century play, although it’s a new version by Zinnie Harris after John Websterby. Check out the Lyceum info here.