The formidable and elegant British Vogue editor Beatrice Miller (black dress, pearls, gold Benson and Hedges & gold Dunhill lighter) sat behind her huge antique desk in her office in Hanover Square “Clive I want you to photograph the cover for The Vogue Beauty Book, we have Annie Schaufuss for the cover and Ingrid Boulting. We want to use natural products.” I said ” Oh, so the creams contain natural products”. “No’ she corrected me ‘I mean things that naturally occur like flowers, lemon, eggs and milk” So I went away imagining how to combine these elements. I was mystified, was Barbara Daly going to combine these things and make a mixture to apply to the models faces? Was Serge Lutens coming from Paris and making a cream from all these elements? These questions revolved in my mind.
At this time there was no photographic history of beauty photography using natural products to lean upon. The classic face mask picture, or the cucumber on the eyes was not an established visual reference for natural products, so the vista was wide open in terms of the approach that could be taken. I knew they were expecting a beautiful girl with elegant hands. In these instances you would also have to hire a hand model who would put her arms underneath the girls arms out of shot and apply make up or creams. Most of the models though very beautiful didn’t have sufficiently elegant and beautiful hands. This led to some quite comical situations at shoots with the hand artist sticking cream up the girls nose and occasionally poking her in the eye! In time I learned to get my assistants to hold a mirror up so the hand model could see the geography of the models face; thus avoiding potential make-up mishaps.
Back at my house in Kensington, after the meeting I sat on my sofa, drank a glass of flat champagne from the night before and smoked a joint. This was in the days of wine and roses, which are long since past. I have not imbibed any substances for 29 years, what a relief to escape that demanding monster. As the smoke rose to the ceiling of my lounge, which was almost as high as I was, I noticed on the shelves between the books and objet d’art a large ostrich egg. Beatrice’s words swirled in my mind, egg, flowers, lemon or something in a swirling mass of semi-forgotten ideas.
I reached for my drawing pad and drew a face on an egg, with a lemon balanced on top of it, floating in a sea of milk. Then Anne (Schaufuss) came home with a bunch of white lilies exhausted from a days modelling. “I brought you some flowers,”she laughed as she new they were my favourite. I picked up one of the lilies and while she was lying on the sofa held it up to my face with her profile emerging from the flower and said “I wonder if I can get your face to emerge from the flower for the Vogue Beauty Book”. She said, “How do you mean?” So I did a quick drawing on the pad, illustrating my plan. “Oh, that would be great” she said and I said “But how?” It came to me in a moment of inspiration that I could do it with very meticulously planned double exposures within the camera. There was no major retouching or Photoshop at Vogue at that time, photographs were sent to New York at great expense so it was not an option.
I had to create my own process, which I did. I used two Hasselblad 500c on tripods in a studio with a black background and a large piece of black velvet. I used a Polaroid back on the camera to judge the positioning of Anne’s face and that of the flower in a doubly exposed Polaroid. I used a square piece glass the same size as the back of the camera (from a glass transparency mount) and drew on it with a wax pencil the shape of the edge of the white lily, using this as a template to align the face and the flower. I realised after seeing the first Polaroid that was not at all correct but did show that the white of the lily burnt out over Anne’s profile. I eventually got a perfect Polaroid and then shot it on film. I shot Anne in profile with the lower part of her face falling into shadow. Then without winding the film on I took the back of the Hasselblad and moved it to the next set up which was the lily lit from above with a spot light flash. I used this same process for the image below of the beautiful Ingrid Boulting, with the hypnotic eyes (who later stared in the Great Gatsby opposite Robert Redford). The eyebrow pencils reminded me of the New York skyline.
For the triple exposure I had to use three Hasselblad’s, one for the Ostrich egg, one for Ingrid’s face (her hair wrapped in black velvet against a black background) and the milk and lemon in a flat flower vase. My assistants blew through two concealed tubes either side of the vase to create the bubbles in the milk and I positioned the lemon on the edge of the glass vase, all against a black background. This took all-day and there many obstacles to overcome. At the end of the day I sent my assistants out to get champagne and tequila lemon and limes to celebrate the Polaroid’s. I held my breath waiting for the first clip tests to come from the Vogue labs. In the middle of our celebrations Beatrice Miller came in and we all attempted to appear sober. I showed her the Polaroid’s on the table and whist drawing on her cigarette and slowly exhaling the smoke she said, ” Yes, they are interesting. I think they may look very good. But if it doesn’t work out, then you will have to shoot the feature all again”. With that she swept out of the studio, cigarette in one had and gold lighter and box in the other, the door slamming behind her.
I was so angry with her for being so dismissive after all our long hard work and being slightly drunk at this point. I said to my assistants ‘Make me a crucifix out of those two pieces of wood” I then asked the stylist to make me a robe from the dust sheet in the corner and commanded the make up artist to paint blood on my forehead. The assistants made me a crown of thorns from wire found around the studio. Then I poured all the yoghurts left over from the lunch into a plastic bucket and dressed as a faux Jesus. My assistants placed the improvised cross on my shoulders and helped me down from the top studio down to Beatrice Millers office, where she was conducting a meeting with a dignitary from the National Portrait gallery. Spurred on by tequila I burst into the office, one foot in the bucket of pink yoghurt, which splashed across the newly carpeted floor; whilst intoning in my best Fagin accent “Why does’t though persecuteth me? Why does’t though persecuteth me?” Beatrice and guest sat mouths agape as I drunkenly and loudly staggered around her office and then disappeared back up to the studio, to the hilarious laughter of the models and crew. Naturally enough I was banned from Vogue House for six months but ultimately they loved the pictures and these images have been widely recognised as some of the best I have ever produced. This image was actually chosen as a cover for a recent edition of the prestigious Royal Photographic Society Magazine – The Journal, which really shows that it stood the test of time!