In 1965 when I was an art student and I formed the Kingston School of Art Film Society one of the first screenings was Alphaville by Jean Luc-Goddard. I also showed films by Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal) and Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) and all the new wave directors of the day. I had always had a huge enthusiasm for cinema, even as a child. Black and white films with characters emerging from the shadows triggered my imagination somehow to emulate it in my drawings which then came out in my photographs. At Kingston however I was studying painting and graphics and looking back I can now see how cinema influenced my work as a photographer.
When I directed a video in 1983 for Frankie Goes To Hollywood for the remix of Two Tribes, that was directly influenced by the Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal. I always like casting shadows in my pictures and not just casting light, which is something that I don’t think people think about closely enough. There is always the moment of the big reveal that has the most incredible power and dynamism.
In 1970 I planned to shoot with two of the most amazing models of the day; Chandrika Casali and Maudie James for Vogue. One night when I had been parking my car to go to a dinner at the Dorchester I had walked through the tunnels underneath Hyde Park. It was eerie and thought it would be a great place to do a shoot. I found the tunnels quite sinister and forbidding, as if it was the underworld in a dystopian universe. I told Grace Coddington about the tunnels and said to her ‘Maybe we should do a Alphaville inspired shoot under Hyde Park’, there are many corridors and tunnels in Alphaville, giving an infinite dimension stretching into infinity.
My initial approaches to shoot under Hyde Park were resolutely refused, then however Vogue got involved and pulled some strings. I managed to get use of a small section of the underground tunnels for the shoot. We also managed to get some intense heat fire fighters outfits. I wanted something that looked like some kind of authoritarian underground army, with no reason behind what they did. The suits looked really futuristic (then) but now they look a bit clunky. I got my initially enthusiastic assistants togged up in them, who joyfully laughed and joked as they donned the outfits. However the excitement soon wore off when they realised how hot they were to work in. I also had to shout directions at them very loudly because they couldn’t hear me.
This added and extra stress to the shoot. I struggled to find power points and to get the flash and the lights in sync, but eventually we managed to shoot some film. Chandrika and Maudie where absolutely brilliant, my assistants however could be heard mumbling, “How long is it going to be.” We shot for a while and Grace looked at the polaroids and said, “Good this is wonderful.” Much to my assistants collective relief. We then all went off and had tea at the Dorchester (not on Vogue).
Here is a full length link to Alphaville – which even now is still and extraordinary piece of film making, I’d highly recommend,