I thought that photographing Mr. and Mrs. Houdini on the banks of the Hudson River in a freezing wind had been a difficult assignment: the shot had required a long, long exposure and the wind was from the wrong direction, and when it was right, it kept shaking the tripod. However, the sedate, elegant brief for the cover of KBV had an element to it that all photographers are told to avoid working with at all cost: animals. Luckily, the dogs we wanted to use are friends of ours, so there was a good chance that they might put up with posing, keeping quiet and leaving each other alone. But only a chance...
There had been quite a few ideas for this cover that we tried out in rough, and then abandoned. The feel of the photo was in the air around the music that was being finalised: colour and emotional pace became clear first.
Elaborate environments, such as forests, mountains, palaces, etc.--places for the Hounds to run that would suit their style--were rejected as too busy. The cover had to have a strong, full image of Kate, as it was the first for three years, and landscapes, however beautiful, tend to dwarf people. It's fine to use the big outdoors for bands because you can spread them all over it, but for a beautiful solo lady it doesn't work. So we decided on a close-up of Kate and the dogs, and a made-up background.
There was a feeling for daylight rather than studio, so we went round and discussed it with the dogs. While Kate was chatting to them in their back garden, I snapped away. But when we looked at the processed results, daylight was too cold, there wasn't enough diffusion of the shades of colour and the environment. It just didn't feel right. I had been working on a series of "body poems" in which I was writing my poems on people and then photographing them, and it seemed like a good idea, but when we tried it, apart from Kate looking like the tattooed lady from a circus, there was much too much activity in the small frame, and the eye just wandered around too much. But the dogs were wonderul, and did everything they were asked to.
It was becoming clearer. We had to do it in the studio, without the writing, and with the lights set in a delicate, pastel way. So I constructed a rough, made sure all the cables were well pinned down and anything likely to be knocked over out of the way, and then phoned up the dogs and asked them over for another tryout.
We let them explore for an hour or so, and then Kate settled down on the floor for an overhead shot.
An hour later we had managed to persuade them to lie down next to Kate. Not surprising that they took so long, as they are not trained dogs, and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. I had a minute to hoover up as much as I could before they were off again, tending to use Kate as a launching ramp for their leaps and cavorting.
After they had left, we seriously considered trying feline friends, but Cats of Love wasn't quite the same at all. But on looking at the shots we had, there was potential, and we decided we would persevere. And the best thing seemed to be to take the studio to the dogs, have another rehearsal and, if that was a shambles, think again. Also another rehearsal would mean I could try out more variations in the lighting and the set. So a week later I took my studio to the dogs and constructed a scaffolding for the overhead shot; a bed of lilac net and silks for Kate; and around her, a tent of lilac material to reflect and diffuse. And when I looked through the lens at the little room, it looked like an illustration from Dulac's Arabian Nights.
The Hounds had been taken out for a long run and then fed, because we thought that if they felt dozy long enough they would want somewhere to lie down and sleep it off. Kate did her hair in an approximation of how it would look in the final shot, and then settled down in the tent. Up came the lights, and in came the dogs--noses first--and after a few minutes of looking around, yawned and went to sleep next to her. I had all the time I wanted to explore the possibilities.
When the film was processed, it was very exciting to see how the various elements were coming together, and how close we were getting to the album cover that existed inside our heads. There were a lot of small points to iron out, but they presented no problem, and I looked forward to the big day.
When it came round, Kate asked Clayton Howard, the make-up artist, and Anthony Yacomine, the hair artist, to do their magic, so for three hours of painstaking work they added the colours and shapes that were necessary for the right atmosphere. I reconstructed the scaffolding and rebuilt the set, and after lunch we were ready to go. Kate lay down in the tent, and Howard and Anthony arranged the final touches of nuance. The materials were placed in just the right places, and I climbed up into the scaffolding. When I looked through the lens, it was fairyland underneath me.
The dogs, meanwhile, had been waiting in the wings, supposedly exhausted and dying for somewhere to put their heads down. Anthony and Clayton withdrew in a cloud of hairspray and eye-glitter, so that the dogs woulddn't be distracted by strangers, and the word was given to let them in.
Within seconds, Kate's delicate arrangements were in tatters and a paw in the mouth didn't help make-up. One dog would settle down and start snoring while the other one turned her back on us all by the door and wouldn't budge. As soon as she had been persuaded to stop being a prima donna and come alongside Kate, the other one smelled Anthony and Clayton, and was off to meet them. We tried for half an hour before we realised we were wasting our time, so while Kate was being repaired, I went outside with the Hounds and had a serious talk with them.
I could see their point of view, but it didn't help in getting this expensive, time-consuming session off the ground. While they hurtled off to chase non-existent cats that I suggested were lurking at the end of the garden in the hope of tiring them out even more, I received the signal that Kate was ready to go again. Apparently seeing reason, the dogs returned, and we signed the deal with some chocolate digestives: if they behaved themselves and gave me the photo I wanted, there was a McDonald's with milk shake and apple pie in it for each of them.
We went back in, but it was the same thing. Looning and sulking. Then suddenly they lay down next to Kate, and we were away. Half an hour later I had enough photos, and could have gone on to take more, but everyone was becoming too sleepy in the heat from the lights and the softness of the set, so it seemed pointless.
Choosing the final photo, deciding how best to present it on the cover and what sort of typeface to use for titles is yet another story.
This was in many ways much simpler to organise, but a lot harder to take. Because it relates very specifically in image to The Ninth Wave, Kate had to be in water. To be comfortable in the right clothes--in this case a Victorian nightgown--the water had to be warm. To get the feeling of night, sea, the proximity of a large ship, etc., studio lighting was essential. We found some big tanks used in the film business, but they weren't right visually--and they would pose the problem of filling them with a couple of hundred gallons of warm water and then getting rid of it.
We eventually located a large but shallow paddling-pool, and adapted this so as to minimise the quantity of water we would have to deal with while allowing enough to suggest deep sea and cold night around Kate. Because of the large amount of electricity being used in the lights, leaks of water or big splashes could have been dangerous, and someone was standing by the mains throughout the session. I threw some pond weed into the now steaming water and added the flowers to hint at the debris from a shipwreck. The logistics involved in setting up and blending with Kate's work in the studio had left no time for rehearsals, so Kate went straight in and I hovered around, first on a ladder, then on the ground, looking for the right angle. And it's in these cases that polaroid is so useful: I was able to take polaroids and show them to Kate, and in this way we decided that I had to get in the water too in order to get the best angle.
It was while I was printing up the best shots that I noticed that the viewer's perception of the scene changed dramatically when I altered the natural horizon by printing the photo slightly out of true. So actually, in the original negative, she is obviously lying on her back in water, but in the final print she appears to be standing or floating or running or flying. Also, this change of perspective made the "sea" into a very surreal backcloth, so that you wonder is she part of it, is she in it or what?
Because of Kate's keen interest in archery, combining an archer with the images in the song seemed a strong way of presenting a portrait of Kate. Perhaps the arrow is a message; perhaps it is Cupid's arrow; perhaps it's going straight to the point of the relationship; perhaps...but really it's just a photograph that makes its own statement, and you can fit anything you like to it.
The photo was taken in the studio with a background that I had painted the night before, all thunder and sun and threatening clouds. The glove Kate is wearing is one used in Kyudo (Japanese archery), and it is included for its visual contrast with Kate and for its subtle colours; but the bow is being drawn longbow style. The arrow is a Ya, used in Kyudo, and was selected over a European one because of its length and beauty.
Again, making this photograph was a team effort. The pooling of ideas and the inclusion of the make-up, hair, costume and technical people in the final image made my role very much one part of a whole. By a patient searching of the situation and an isolating of what seems best, the team produced the result. And in the front and back of the single bag it was very easy to find angles that worked.
The inside artwork was more complicated. After the archer shots were completed, we headed for an outdoor location, because we wanted to use a particular doorway that we knew of. It was two in the morning, and after we had set up lights and the smoke machine, I wrote the lyrics from the song onto Kate's back--and realised as I was doing it that the cold night air was going to cause problems with the skin texture. But as it happened, by staying in the warm until the last moment, this did not become a problem.
The final black-and-white photos I tinted by using Selenium toner (which I would not recommend that anyone try unless they have a very well-aired and -ventilated darkroom, as the fumes from the toner are poisonous). This gives them a brown-purple cast that I find very pleasing.
J. C. B.
©1990 Andy Marvick