After Art School in 1968 I worked stoking boilers at a local telephone exchange from 6am until 2pm – just so I could paint in the afternoons, those were the days. I then very fortunately got a job at Rediffusion’s Graphics studios, as someone there had seen my drawings and paintings in a graphic arts magazine.
This is where I was lucky enough to meet and work with the exceptionally talented Art Director and graphic designer Arnold Schwartzman (you can see some of our work at Rediffusion here http://rediffusion.london/a-goggle-of-graphics). Rediffusion are probably best known for the classic music show Ready, Steady, Go! that introduced The Beatles, Stones, Clapton and Hendrix to the world.
I became interested in photography then because I couldn’t find a good photographer to shoot pictures for the graphics I was making for Ready Steady Go! and other projects. I used the lighting of renaissance paintings as my guide. I had the advantage of developing in and around all the incredible amenities, the cameras, film, lights of Rediffusion were at my disposal. I was so lucky to find myself in that position looking back. That’s when I got hooked on taking and making photographs. I used to stay in the darkroom over night sometimes, just practicing. I never took a holiday because I just wanted to take pictures. It was a breakthrough moment for me. I was never a photographic assistant, I just started doing it out of necessity at Rediffusion.
One day at work Arnold said to me “Listen I’ve been speaking with some Art Directors working for Coca Cola and they want to do a really different kind of Coca Cola calendar not the usual smiling girls smiling over a bubbling glass, they want to do something more edgy do you have any ideas?” We put our heads together and I said “Why don’t we make a huge Coca Cola metal cap (in those days they were glass bottles with metal caps) and get it perfectly made by the set builder at Rediffusion?”. They did a beautiful job it was 5ft across and made of polystyrene. The idea was to photograph a girl travelling everywhere with it. In the images she would be a heroine acting in many different scenarios. In one scene she is rescued by a giant heroic Coca Cola cap coming along the railway track, or as a diver, parachutist etc. basically where ever she goes the Coca Cola cap goes with her, ever present in every scene, there is the Coca Cola ikon. The main character was a femme fatale in a way. By some miracle, we actually won the pitch.
Unfortunately, just before the shoot I injured my knee trying to sit in the double lotus position (an early attempt at being the Buddhist, I later became) a little too over enthusiastically perhaps. My knee was so bad I had to sit in a wheel chair for the entire shoot. I had no assistants at the time and I was using a hand held flash. I had to get my friends to help by putting the flash on a stick so I could get the height I wanted. I wanted the falling from above cascade of dramatic so we had to improvise. In these images the flash over whelmed the day light in the background, which is a technique I later used on the Pirelli Calendars. The flash lights the figure in the foreground and darkens the background. For a fraction of a second the flash is more powerful than the day light which is how I got the graphic look. I used the same technique for the Peter Gabriel shoot I did in the Roman Baths( exhibition Dec 2018) too.
They ran a few copies of the calendar I think and maybe used some of the images for press but generally this shoot was considered too ‘edgy’ for a mainstream Coca Cola campaign. When I look back they ended up being a set of striking images particularly considering I was not yet an officially a fully fledged photographer. I was just trying to get into the business, it was a long three days waiting for the Kodachrome film to comeback from Kodak. I was full of fear and trepidation, had I got the exposures right, there were no clip tests so it was an anxious wait. You had no way the of knowing if you’d got it right or wrong, no polaroids, no digital, just the wait the long wait for the transparencies.
It was great to work with Arnold on this, in fact he can be seen carrying the huge Coca Cola cap in some of the pictures. The whole thing was really a bunch of friends just beg, steal and borrowing whatever we could to make a low budget Coca Cola shoot come together. To get to all the different locations to work, we traveled on trains drinking dreadful coffee, and dried up sandwiches. There was no Starbucks or baristas in those days. We were on the beach for example and I’d have to shout ‘Action’ down a large old fashioned megaphone I made out of card board to get Arnold, who was holding the Coca Cola sign to move across the background. I did all this from my wheelchair till my voice started to crack. It was all very spontaneous and a bit chaotic but somehow, we managed to pull it together and have a really fab time doing it.
The model was the wonderful Charlotte Martin who was going out with Eric Clapton at the time. I went to art college with Eric (Kingston) and I remember meeting Eric again with Charlotte at his mews apartment in Mayfair for a drink. They were classic swinging sixties times. It was a great time to be young and creative. Arnold was and still is a great friend of mine. He has had the most incredible career since then and now even has an OBE. See this article here about the Peace Monument he built in South Korea for The United Nations. Though this is by no means as prestigious, I do remember that Arnold signed my first hire purchase agreement for me to get my own second hand Hasselblad and a NikonF, a moment that changed my life. Thanks Arnold!
- 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