Once upon a time there was a little girl who had date with a school history lesson that required just a little bit more from her devoted parental units than the obligatory Google search followed by a quick kiss on the cheek at the school gates.
Enter Arabella and her delightful (and bestowed of exquisite taste and much patience) Mother Nicola. It was while I was admiring Nicola’s extraordinary beautiful home ( Mum is an art dealer and her home gets the benefit of some truly stunning works of art while they are between buyers) that I caught sight of a simple but beautiful black headdress adorned with gold lace and pearls. Upon further enquiry I discovered that this fine piece of handicraft had sprung into life to accompany Arabella to school on her quest to be her Bath’s answer to that legend of Tudor history and unfortunate head/body separation notoriety.. Anne Boleyn.
PING…. Really?? .. not now brain!
Ahh… light bulb moments, they have a habit of arriving at the most inconvenient times, like when you are relaxing with a glass of wine and good company and expect to focus on nothing more taxing than if the Resident’s Association dinner will up to snuff this year, that being our ultimate destination if memory serves me correctly. Light bulb moments being no respecters of such trivialities I could feel the familiar sensation of cogs slowly starting to crank into gear and in a manner much akin to the tiny characters' in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic.. small images started to be painted on a internal canvas and shipped up to my somewhat unwilling subconscious. “ here we go..pop the headdress on the kid, add some Tudor clobber (clothes for my US friends) stick her in front of that fancy new hand painted backdrop he’s just bought and with a bit of careful positioning of his equally new fancy soft box thingy it’s Anne Boleyn the teen years… should look something like ….. hang on! hang on!…. yup.. here we go… Arabella Boleyn… BINGO!.. now get to work matey’..
I’d like to pretend that the aforementioned description of the workings of my subconscious mind were not at all like I’ve described but sadly.. it’d be a lie.
So…. here we go AGAIN.. yet another confused parent to try to persuade that for some reason I have a really strong gut feeling that their darling daughter would make a cracking model type thingy.. Fortunately I generally only have to focus my efforts on people who have at least made it to double digits and who are in some way or other demonstrating a fairly clear message to the world that fashion is their thang and all I have to do is confirm that in my professional opinion I concur..hand them my business card and wait for the inevitable Spanish Inquisition from their parental units. Handily having an actual career/professional track record/website/ a case history of actually helping get said little treasures an actual model agency signing and 14 seasons at London Fashion Week helps to distinguish yours truly from the garden variety axe murderer but.. you get the picture…
In this case parental unit Nicola was more puzzled than concerned for her daughter’s long term life expectancy when I contacted her a few days later to float the idea and as an admirer of my work happily agreed to my suggestion that we turn Arabella’s school history class debut into to something longer lasting than a hurried iPhone pic but… I could tell that privately she did think I was a little bonkers.
Parental approval obtained it was time to do what I usually do at this point…
Kevin Spacey before he sadly sabotaged his rather brilliant career recounted on a chat show a story about when he persuaded actor and all round legend Peter O’Toole to take part in a fundraising performance at London’s Old Vic Theatre when he was its creative director. Apparently Spacey was walking down the backstage corridor just before curtain up when suddenly he heard a familiar voice bellowing out the following retort through a dressing room door..
“SPACEY!!!! what the F***** have you got me into this time?!!!”
You should know that exact phrase is bandied back and forth between me, my collaborators ( and my subconscious) on just about about every shoot I ever do..
It’s all very well spotting the potential of Anne Boleyn’s mini me doppelganger but quite another to work out how to make an admittedly very fine featured young lady and a single headdress into a portrait worthy of not just a Tudor Queen but worthy of a mother who specialises in C17th portraiture and thus knows a thing or three about what makes a good picture. so…
No pressure then??…
Okay Aitken thanks for the extensive background detail but tell us about the picture!..
OK here it comes.
After much agonizing and searching of Google for Tudor girl’s dresses and all forms of Queen like fancy dress in general for many days ( read that browser history and weep!) I came to the alarming conclusion that they were all rubbish! I even contacted my go to source of all things film and fancy dress Rusette Auton at the much beloved Bath Theatrical Costume Hire but despite her valiantly searching through her enormous collection of dresses and outfits she had nothing small enough to fit Arabella.
Really starting to panic now…
However I should have known that as Arabella’s Annie B debut had to go ahead with or without The Royal Crescent’s answer to Tim Walker/Annie Liebowitz / some bloke who spots people in Waitrose and talks them into becoming a model, that her mum would have found her a perfectly respectable dress online and succeeded where I failed. Seems when it comes to my photography I’m girly but not quite girly enough, probably a good thing..
The last part of the puzzle and one that I yet again agonized over was the all important Anne Boleyn “ B” necklace. Another bout of Googling revealed that the interweb is awash with such trinkets but most of them would be unlikely to last long enough for Arabella to get into character let alone last through the shoot. Not having a small fortune to expend on a more robust version I finally settled on one that looked like it just might do the job.
Fast forward ( well.. not on this blog obviously) and we finally arrive at the shoot day. As ever my beloved little monster/son and all round good sort Jamie was my lighting stand in and despite looking nothing like she of the aforementioned head/body separation incident ( thank Gawd.. as that could make for a challenging path through secondary school?!) I was fairly confident I had a backdrop/lighting scenario that would work.
I had decided to buy some roses for the shoot and I think one of us had decided to use an old looking book of mine for Arabella to hold as well. Amusingly with us being neighbours Arabella arrived fully Queened up and after she donned the necklace the transformation was complete and uncanny it was too. Being a parental unit myself I have the advantage that coupled with my refusal to grow up in anything even resembling an appropriate manner ( growing old is compulsory.. growing up is optional as the bumper sticker rightly says) I’m more than happy to play the court jester in order to get the young-uns to feel at ease and get the laughter flowing. Any number of inappropriate references to parting Arabella’s slender neck from her shoulders with an imaginary sword seemed to do the trick and Bath’s answer to the second most famous Tudor Royal was working the shoot like a natural in no time.
Getting kids to feel at ease and chuckling away isn’t that hard if you genuinely like them and don’t mind sending yourself up a fair bit.. it’s getting them to turn on the serious looks that can be the hard part , but in this case I achieved it with a chance phrase that is now repeated in Arabella’s household whenever I go to visit..
“ Arabella?… Queen Of The World!”…
Ta Da !!
And with that simple phrase, a perfectly positioned rose and a look that could stop time and in the very last shot of the day ( I kid you not) Arabella Boleyn absolutely nailed it.
The next day after a few tweaks to make it look suitably Tudor portrait-esque,..nothing much ..just a few colour edits and a tiny bit of film grain added to make it look a little more like a painting I decided to pop to a well known high street photo retailer, as being a Sunday my usual printer was closed. I was a tad anxious about going “ high street” but I really wanted to pop into Arabella’s Mum and Dad’s and surprise them with a large A2 print.
I have to say, said high st chain did an amazing job and when I pulled it out of its envelope at a restaurant with my son and some friends and parents prior to presenting to Arabella’s Mum and Dad the reaction was exactly what I’d hoped for. An hour or so later Jamie and I were in Arabella’s kitchen and it was time for the big reveal.. The best thing I can say apart from the fact that our little Anne Boleyn seemed to genuinely love it is that Nicola paid me the best compliment a few days later when she told me “ I just can’t stop looking at it!” Dad was suitably amazed as was big sister who both asked the same question “ how on earth did you get Arabella to do that look?”
It’s simple I replied you just have to say the magic words…
“ Arabella?… Queen Of The World!”
I hope you like it and if you have a little Anne or Henry ( well maybe not THAT Henry) waiting to be immortalized in portrait form or simply feel it’s time for you and or your better half to show the world your best side just say the magic words “ how do I book a session” and I’ll be happy help!