'Behind every great man there’s a woman rolling her eyes', according to one old adage. There are lots of different variations on that particular saying, most on a scale from abysmal to just about acceptable. But if we applied the same formula to wintery blog shoots, it would go something like this: “Behind every great set of images, there’s a whole load of coats, boots, bags and gloves hidden just out of sight.” The picture only stretches as far as the reach of the lens, leaving out all the ephemera that joined us. Our tramp across a muddy field in wellies will be concealed in the instance of me pulling heels from a carrier bag. I’ll fling away all the practical bits and balance on the grass in my newly precarious footwear – trying to make the entire thing look effortless.
It's something my parents and I have sometimes remarked on while setting up shots: the amusing disparity between the image of me, looking all serene in short sleeves or wispy layers, and the reality, which is a little more grumpy and sweary. For every snap where I’m posing naturally in a leather mini-skirt, there’s probably a minute’s worth of me hissing “I’m really bloody cold, can you hurry up?!”
That’s also before we get to the jaunts requiring a full change – a quick shimmy from HUGE jumper to sixties shift dress, somewhere, anywhere (but usually in the middle of nowhere). I’ve ducked behind bushes, hidden in cars, and brazenly stripped down and re-dressed on hill-sides – all the while hoping that no hikers stumble across me as I’m half-way into some ball-gown that’s proving tricky to get on. I’ve also grown adept at the art of hidden layers – of thick tights and thin vests that stave off some of the chill (any wonder I’ve shot so many polo necks recently?) All in pursuit of tacking on to an otherwise straightforward outing the just-in-case possibility of a few images I can use for the blog.
Fashion photography is artifice. This is how it is. The removal of anything practical or warm is just one element of that. Whether it’s in a studio or out on a countryside road, there’s an element of assembling something fictional or fantastical. It’s an exercise in imagination. Maybe I’m more aware of this with my forays into fairytale characters and whimsical get-ups; but the blogger in her skinny jeans casually stepping from a pavement is engaging in the same game. We frame, select, enlarge, conceal, reveal, and make myriad other choices over which pictures end up online. Doesn’t mean that they’re not ‘real’ – but rather that they are, inevitably, limited.
Maybe there’s some kind of distinction to be drawn between self-conscious invention/ illusion/ flight of fancy, and the semblance of a ‘gal about town just hanging out.’ Or maybe we’re just better at recognizing the former as make-believe.
At least the ‘coats, boots and gloves’ issue is beginning to ease as temperatures slowly creep up and the number of cardigans I have on diminishes. But it remains a humorous round of pragmatism versus appearance. What you see is a literal crop – or rather an idealized image in which, for a suspended second, all looks good. It’s a type of imagery I love playing with. There’s so much to explore and imagine there.
This particular combination (above) of second hand jumper, my dad’s maaaaaassive jacket, a vintage Kangol faux-fur hat, woolly tights and my trusty men’s Russell & Bromley boots (from a charity shop) was the practical outfit I wore on the day we did this shoot - which took place on a family day out. The polo neck and ball-gown were pulled on, and everything else removed bar tights and boots. The rest of our afternoon was spent rambling around, gawking at my dad having a dip in a freezing Welsh stream, then driving up a mountain road full of hairpin twists and bends to see this extraordinary view laid out below. And I tell you what – I felt like I could properly enjoy looking at the landscape when I wasn’t shivering in it.