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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently shot these images for The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh’s production of Homers The Iliad. It’s Mark Thomson’s Final show as artistic director there and quite the epic to end on.
Right from the start I pictured a form of multiple exposures to show the main characters in not overly dramatic poses but also showing the chaos they create by the use of blood. I could see it in my mind but I couldn’t show it to the client in advance. Fortunately, Ben Jeffries, Director of Communications at the theatre, was trusting enough to let me try this approach. This is hugely appreciated! It highlighted to me the lack of faith I feel there can be in photographers abilities to bring their own vision to bear on a creative project that all too often can be entirely art directed in advance of any communication with the photographer themselves. There are times I feel it would be more appropriate to don a white lab coat in the exercise of ‘now copy this,’ style of uncreative art direction. The best course is a balance, bringing the ideas of the art director at the early stages of a project to the photographer to see how their creativity together can help create something greater than the sum of the parts. Often a final photograph is the best idea of a non photographer. I wouldn’t dream of telling a designer how to layout their page, it’s not my speciality. So why does it happen the other way around!
It makes such a huge difference when you have a team on a project like this. I love it when the actors turn up with a hair and makeup person as well as with just the right costume. It means I can spend my time on the lighting and feel of the shot and not be running about looking for safety pins and hairspray! And having a talented actor helps of course. Nicola had no problem getting the intensity of the character across. The students on placement seemed to enjoy standing in for Nicola too, bunch of posers!