Lost At Sea With The Serenely Silent Cathee Dahmen

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I worked with model Cathee Dahmen in the mid 70s, she was very softly spoken and there was a silence about her beauty. When you look at her, her face radiates  nobility, almost like a Buddhist deity, one of the the Goddesses or as they are called Dakinis.

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I said to Willy Landells the then editor and art director of Harpers; “Can I take Cathee Dahmen to do a fashion shoot with me while I am in the Bahamas.” He thought this was a great idea but unfortunately we were both devastated to discover that Cathee was not available during my trip to the Island.

So at a long boozy lunch at San Lorenzo I came up with the idea of photographing Cathee in the studio in London, making large prints of her and taking them to the Bahamas in her place. My idea for the fashion story would be that  she accidentally dropped her portfolio/bag over the side of a yacht and the contents were then washed up on the beach of Paradise Island, and were found by a young islander.

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I was going to stay with my friends (Sam & Martika who I had met on another Harpers shoot) on their estate on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.  Their property ran from,the dock side over to the other side of the island where the the island met the Caribbean Ocean. They gave me this beautiful dock house to stay in, over looking the town of Nassau and the harbour. In those days I did imbibe the occasional cold Coors Beer in the morning with my breakfast but after a couple of days I noticed , I wasn’t getting very much done and as I owed Willy these photos I was beginning to worry.

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I then met a  young man on the beach while I was out walking and asked him if he would mind being photographed for the story I was doing, I thought he would make a perfect model.  He kindly agreed and really got into the whole concept of the shoot with me. He laughed and was genuinely fascinated to do it and I don’t know if he ever saw the images in the final magazine. He really started to get the idea once I had showed him the polaroids and that helped achieve the final result. I used a make up compact mirror to reflect the light on his eye for the image below which really shows the power of this beautiful black adonis.

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I thought that maybe Willy would use one or two images but in the end Willy laid out six pages of the images in his inimitable graphic style. In the end not being able to get Cathee on the day and finding this way around it, featuring someone else entirely, turned out to be a blessed limitation that produced these memorable images.

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  • 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

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