Geschi Fengler – The Beautiful Valkyrie

I was photographing Geschi for Harpers and I thought; Wow this is one powerful German woman, a force like a Valkyrie. I asked her in the same context of mythical thinking (deep in the peace-love-dove era). “What sign are you?” I was shooting from the floor up at her on a podium, which made her look even more imposing and she looked down at me, with disdain and said “Aries” proudly. I burst out laughing “Oh, yeah so am I”. She shrugged casually unmoved by our astrological affinity, so I asked again “What day were you born”. “April the 2nd” she replied flatly, at which point I collapsed sideways behind the camera and laughed, “Somebody must have told you to say that, because it’s my birthday too.” “Nobody has told me anything about YOU!” she said even more disdainfully in her thick German accent. This felt like the moment in Shakespeare’s Richard the III (my favourite play) where Richard tries to seduce the widowed Queen and she rejects him and he turns over his shoulder to the audience and says “I shall have her”. I proceeded with little hope in my mind of anything ever happening and I chided myself for being a romantic fool who was way out of her league.

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Over the next few months we worked together and once I’d shared the results and how beautiful I had made her look that helped! It’s a real thing when a photographer and model work together and have that chemistry, that’s always been a mystery to me how exactly that works, but I know it does.  After repeated requests from me she eventually agreed to have dinner with me at San Lorenzo, where I asked her to do a shoot with me in Ireland. We went on location for the British Wool Council to the Mountains of Mourne. I had arrived a couple of days prior to Geschi’s arrival with the styling team. My assistant Peter and myself arrived in our stinky Afghan coats looking like two guys from Haight-Ashbury. We were met by the Woolmark Executive who was really such a sweet man and who in contrast to us was very impeccably dressed. We discussed the campaign over many Bush Mill’s whiskies followed by ice cold Guinness. I wanted to shoot a very surrealistic scene of Geschi floating on a river, attired in fantastic woollen clothes on an equally fabulous carpet with the Mountains of Mourne as the backdrop. We spent many days securing and creating the set, building a platform to put the carpet and house interior scene on in the middle of this babbling scenic brook.

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Vogue-Geshi-1969.jpgGeschi arrived with the hair and make up team. By this time our Woolmark Executive host had started to pick up some of our Haight-Ashbury vernacular. It took a few days but he would emerge from the hotel to the location with trays of coffee and sandwiches, declaring in the broadest of Irish accents. “Hey Man, I brought you some coffee” or as we built the set and started styling things he’d say ‘Man that looks cool” which was a source of great amusement for the entire team. This was not in any way to denigrate him, it was just he was so enthused by the shoot that he really made every effort to join in with who we all were and our mode of speech. He took me to the side and said of Geschi “Your girlfriend is the most beautiful glamorous woman I have ever seen, can you dig it man”

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The shoot built up to a crescendo and we finally situated Geschi in the carefully constructed set. The night before it had rained really heavily and cascades of water where shooting of the edges carpeted set. Geschi quite reasonably said, “Is this going to be okay”, having spent the last week securing the set to some rocks I reassured her that it would all be fine. Geschi sat at the table, looking fantastic in a floor length white wool coat holding a glass of champagne, a beautiful sky behind her, the entire team stood behind the camera on the river bank in anticipation of a fantastic afternoons shooting.  I started shooting and got some great images and then I noticed that the set was starting to move from side to side and float away, Geschi  put her champagne down and was gripping the sides of her chair. “Liebchen, Liebchen, she yelled and we all noticed in terrified shock that the set including Geschi was starting to float away.

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I dashed into the knee deep water and she got out of the chair and across the sodden set and flung herself at me nearly knocking us both into the fast flowing stream that now had changed into a torrent. Peter grabbed my hand and pulled Geschi and me onto the bank. While the client looked on in dismay as the set floated down stream (it was found the next day moored on a fallen tree, the expensive carpet ruined). At this point my Afghan coat was soaked from the watery debacle and was giving of the odour of a wet dog. Geschi and I who at this point were an item walked arm in arm, back to the Hotel engulfed in the stench of my coat, she whispered gently into my ear “Your coat smells terrible”, I thought she was going to say “Thank you for rescuing me”. I do not know what happened to the pictures, which were sent to the client, I never saw them again, apparently they loved them but they are lost in the sands of time. The images featured here are from later shoots.

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After that Geschi and I returned to London and shot these images for Vogue with the amazing hairdresser Leonard. Leonard cruised into the Vogue Hanover Square studio with Afro wigs on mannequin heads. “Clivling, Dear Boy” he exclaimed, “It’s the Afro Look. After you gave me the Sly album, I couldn’t stop playing it and I thought, why don’t we do an Afro shoot”? In 1969 the Afro images of Geschi in Vogue caused an absolute sensation. This was at a time when hardly any, if any black models were used by Vogue and it was incredible to do an Afro story even with a white model. Sly and The Family Stone were a huge influence and that album was truly ground-breaking in getting people to listen to psychedelic soul with tracks like ‘Everyday People” and “It’s A Family Affair” (which I loved so much that I wore the record out) and summed up the hippy expansive and optimistic feel of the time. It wasn’t till later when I shot Pat Cleveland, Chandrika (one of the first Asian models to appear in Vogue) and the racially mixed shoots for Kansai Yamamoto that things actually started to change for the better. These images are very much of their time and I share them for what they were.

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I also shot Geschi for Vogue wearing Zandra Rhodes incredible innovative clothes that have always been made so beautifully. I loved her designs and working with the incredible Zandra. Coincidentally while I was writing this she called me to tell me she is doing a book saying “I want to use the best pictures, which are yours” I said ‘Oh Zandra I bet you say that to all the boys.”

  • Clive Arrowsmith is 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. SEE OUR  *Kickstarter Campaign for LIMITED EDITION PETER GABRIEL REFLECTIONS EXHIBITION CATALOGUE – HERE – 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 hereand Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here

 

 

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