The Complicated Birth of an Idea


On the eve of my next shoot, large in scope than all the other ones so far, I thougt it might be a good insight into the planning phases of a concept, and the difficulties in realizing it...


Mid October: I wrap up working on the final images of the last shoot, pleased with how they came out. I start to turn my attention to what’s next and decide a few things: no more cloudy skies for a while, as much as I love them – gotta keep it fresh by doing something else. I need to use a female for the next model, too many men all in a row. I want to shoot in another location: my home studio is small and limited.

Late October: After deciding on a concept, which is always slow to form and develop and in fact is still developing, I start a model search, knowing what type I am looking for. I get responses, I decide on one. Then starts the process of picking a date for the shoot. Schedules coordinated between me, the model, and the rented location. Okay, done. I decide what’s needed for the shoot in terms of props and wardrobe. I need to go period for this shoot – the 1920s, and wardrobe and props become a big headache, as you really can’t just pop into a store and buy a frock from 90 years ago.

Early November: Studio paid for, model in mind, I start looking for films and books based on the time period to inspire me. I want to look at some works by Rene Magritte, Anne Sexton, Richard Yates, Virginia Woolf. Every item I am looking for is out of print, not available for Kindle, and not in bookstores. FUCK. After a couple attempts at procuring props (I needed an umbrella and the costumes) I see the clock ticking towards the shoot, and break down and compromise and buy an umbrella from Is it accurate to the period? No. Impossible or near impossible to find an umbrella that is not modern nowadays. Compromise. I resign myself to a $100 costume rental from Boston Costume, which has a limited and slightly too fancy selection of Victorian/Edwardian women’s fashions. I reserve a costume online, but never hear back from them for confirmation.

Last Week: I decide, after some more planning and conceptualizing, that I will need a second model to make the concept work, and also, this is something I have been meaning to do for a while. Using two models gives more variety, composition options, and more interaction and potentially more story to it. I call Ed, the model I have used the most, and hurrah, he is willing and able to do it. I decide I need a costume for him too, for one of the shots, a priest costume, and again, Boston Costume has a few in stock. I decide to bite the bullet and rent one for the ONE shot I need it for. Ouch. You cannot buy priestly vestments cheaply otherwise. Believe me, I have checked. Just the shirt with the collar will cost over $60. I start modifying my planned shots to include Ed, and send both models a very long, detailed description of what is planned, what is the concept, etc.

Monday: I plan a call with my new model, to discuss the wardrobe woes and discuss options, and also to talk and break the ice. I call, get voicemail, and then don’t hear back from her. The descriptive email also does not get a reply. Damn. Oh No. I send an ultimatum email asking to please just tell me if you are still in or not. She does reply to this. Nerves frazzled at the prospect of looking for a last minute replacement, getting new sizes, looking for another costume, or worse, coming up with a new idea without her at all. But, it’s back on.

Tuesday: Still have not heard from Boston Costume. I call them. They say they are super backed up, and the best thing to do is to come in with the model. That’s not possible. I live 50 miles from this place in one direction, and the model lives 50 in the other direction. I give them the sizes and they tell me the one I chose will be too big, but there MAY BE some others that might work. I tell them I will be in on Thursday, thinking Wednesday I will be too tired to drive there after working 8 hours at my day job and driving for 3. I was right, after two days of almost no sleep, I am dead Wednesday and go home and get sleep. Shoots give me insomnia.

Yesterday (Thursday): I plan on going to the costume rental place after work, using my trusty GPS app to guide me to it, as I have no sense of direction otherwise. I leave work at 3:30 and go to my car, launch the GPS app, and it tells me my 30 days of voice guidance has expired and I need to buy more time. I do, as I always have done, but it fails to purchase. I try again and again, nothing. So I decide to forego the voice and just glance down at it now and again and deal with it. Except, without the voice, this thing is not giving me step by step directions at all. After driving several miles, I realize it is telling me nothing, and I pull off the road and try to figure this out. I have no idea where I am, even what town I am in. There is nothing to do without the GPS working, no one to call, because I can’t tell them where I am coming from, so I drive, hoping for a meaningful sign somewhere that points to something I know of. I wind up on the dreaded 95South, at rush hour, in bumper to bumper traffic, going 100% the wrong way. I call my partner and he tells me to get off anywhere and find 95North, and go back. At this point, I have been in the car for almost one and a half hours, trying to get to a costume store that is 8 miles from work. I finally navigate to this costume store – two and a half hours in the car, and get out and go get my rentals. Except no one has processed my request, and nothing is pulled, and as a bonus, it’s not available because it needs to be dry-cleaned. I tell them I need SOMETHING, and the tattooed, pierced, alterna-chick nightmare behind the counter is clearly annoyed and full of attitude, grumpily goes down to fetch the costumes that might work. Nothing is right, nothing will fit, nothing like what I wanted. I compromise on the one dress that might fit, and it’s not at all what I wanted, but I have no more time or options. $95. I ask them to pull the priest costume for me, which looked great in the photo on the website. It is a shiny, piece of shit, polyester nightmare, and even the priestly collar is fake. No good. Can’t use it. I go with nothing for my male model. I arrive home at 7:30 on a night that was supposed to be: get costumes/get additional props and materials for shoot. I have done nothing towards the second task. I am fried.

Today: the shoot is in 24 hours. Due to the need to sit in an office for 8 hours and then an appointment after work, I will not be home until 8:30pm. I then have to break down all my equipment in my home studio to get ready to move it to the location tomorrow. I want to sketch tonight, to pre-visualize what I can for tomorrow – maybe this will give me some ideas on how to solve the problems of not having enough models and props and costumes to realize my concept. Since there are still some items needed for the shoot: miscellany like black cardboard, hair product, rope, etc, I will now need to get up early and get to a store first thing in the morning, come back, load up the car, and then go off to the studio, which will only allow me to come 20 minutes before my time slot to look around, set up, et al. I will have perhaps 3 hours to get everything done I want to do. My concept has the word “eleven” in it: I need to come away with eleven shots at least, all pertaining to the theme and the sub-theme of each planned shot. If I fail to do so, the shoot’s concept will break down, and I will have an incomplete realization of something I have been planning for a month. I will have spent money on a failed project. One shot has to be a play on a family portrait. I have no family of models to do it. One has a theme of religion. I have no priest costume for it. One has a theme of a marriage: I have no wedding dress for it. I have a sense of what the place looks like, but would really love to have an hour to scout around and see it through a lens. I am using a helper for the first time to help me with lights.

I am usually faced with creating something out of virtually nothing. But once, just once, I would like to be able to plan things and have them realized as intended. It seems that I have done what money and time will allow to make that happen, yet here I am, a few hours to go, and the panic of HOW is pulsing through my head. It is for these reasons that I have come to dread the shoots a bit, and savor all the more the editing process afterwards. But, I would need something to edit, so the shoots have to happen!

I just wish they weren’t such a nightmare! In a few days, the results, good or bad, will be seen.

Thanks for reading,

A very frazzled Michael