The Mystery of The Girl With No Face or Shooting Through The Night For Fortnum & Masons (2008)


I spent the night and Fortnum & Masons (by Royal Appointment) . Unusually I was awake throughout. I was asked to do the shoot after meeting the art director for lunch there.  After a gorgeous macchiato at the store it was decided that we would have to shoot all through the night  when the store was empty.  Fortnum’s  would have to arrange additional security, it was quite an undertaking arranging the shoot, choosing the model and team as you can imagine, as the store is situated in the centre of London on Piccadilly so there were many logistical issues to contend with.


My crew, the art director, model, stylist, hairdresser, makeup artist and assitants arrived dutyfully at the back entrance at 7pm one evening. They where immediately taken up to the top floor to set up the dressing rooms. Just as as I got there the model agency called me saying they wanted more money for the model. They had reconsidered their position as it was for  Fortnum & Masons. This was a total nightmare as I had already agreed the budget. I said to the agency I would have to call them back. I was really perturbed that they  called me just as the shoot was beginning and all the crew were booked.  I discussed it with the art director, we decided that either the model agency agrees to the original fee or we call it off and they incur all the cancellation fees.


I called the model agency back and told them that we would have to cancel the shoot and that they would have to cover the cancellation costs.  I also suggested that if we didn’t show the models face would they agree to the original fee. There was some muffled talk at the other end of the phone and then they told me that they would agree to that compromise. It was a very stressful start to the shoot which is part of what happens when you are working at this level. Something always comes along and creates a challenge.


Later when the pictures came out, one of their senior model agents came back to me and said, ‘Why didn’t you show her beautiful face” at which point I felt amazed at their shortness of memory since they had insisted I didn’t show her face on the day of the shoot. However the limitations of that day created a very unique and mysterious proposition as so many people love these pictures because you cannot see the models face and comment, that it was brilliant to shoot the model with her face turned away from the camera as the images are intriguing. That always makes me smile, if only people new the true story behind these pictures.

The shoot itself was very technically challenging as the store was so big, we had six flash packs with us, and on seeing the store without its customers I realised how vast the space was and how much light we would need. It was 9pm at night and all the lighting hire studios were closed. I came up with a plan that we would light the back end of the store in each shot and come forward in layers, taking a shot and lighting each layer, moving the lights each time, until we shot and lit the model on the last set up of the layering. We then combined all the layers in the computer. The camera was of course locked off so that all the layers fitted together perfectly. We repeated the same process over and over in each set up.


When setting up the ice-cream shot I called my assistants over, to bring the ice-cream to the model that had been left out for us to use.When I looked at the bowl  I said “Half of it’s gone” and looked at the assistant sternly at which point he guilty blurted out that they had ‘tested’ it for the model first. ‘That’s very kind of you”, I said looking at the considerably forlorn plate of top quality organic Fortnum & Mason strawberry ice-cream. ‘Did it taste good” I ventured, clearly it had given the cavernous missing scoops made by the taste test.


It was a fraught and adventurous shoot, it has to be said.  I risked life and limb by hanging over the edge of the top of the spiral staircase, with my assistants holding my legs and jeans belt so I didn’t come to an untimely end. Meanwhile the other assistants hung lights over the edge on booms to light the different sections of the staircase while I barked instructions from my perilous position above them. I thought of the joke better to be knocked over by a Rolls Royce than a Ford, or in this case better to plummet to my death in Fortnum & Masons than Lidl. However I survived the shoot and am particularly proud of these enduring images as were Fortnum & Masons.

  • Clive Arrowsmith is still  shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries  (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available here and Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here


1 Comment

  1. Often, less is more.
    What a heroic effort by all to meet the challenges.
    By the way, Lidl do quite a good strawberry ice cream!

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