Behind The Scenes : Fashion Consciousness


If you take a look in the Stories section of Kage, you will find an essay by me called Fashion Consciousness. That project came about in a rather unusual way, so I thought I would use Chronicle to give a little behind the scenes look into how I ended up shooting backstage at a fashion show.

Every couple of weeks I meet with two photographer friends (both called John) to put the world right and talk about photography—mainly because our other halves don't listen to us (!). John 1 asked if we'd be interested to shoot some pictures for the fashion department of one of the big colleges in Glasgow. There was no budget, but the deal was that we could shoot it any way we wanted with no outside interference. John 2 and I both saw it as an interesting opportunity, so we jumped in with both feet. Gaining access is the key to all documentary projects, so for me this was a way in to who knew what.

The first visit involved shooting models wearing clothes the fashion students had designed. These students are on their way to a career in the fashion industry, so the standard is pretty high. I would point out here that I'm no fashion guru, but we each chose a model and wandered off to wherever location we found interesting in the building, with the idea that we would come back together at some point and switch models (I think we were working with five girls that day). 

The college building was fairly new and the architecture was modern with lots of glass and wood. I used the frosted glass of the front entrance revolving doors to frame the shot above, moving higher or lower to get more or less of the model in shot. I had brought lights, softboxes and umbrellas, but was lucky enough to actually get decent natural light. There were a few areas that had floor to ceiling windows that were a couple of floors high: combine this with white walls and you get the type of soft beautiful light that you see in the photo below; no need for a softbox or reflectors.

We shot for two days at the college, not only covering the models, but also the details too. On the second day we were asked if we would like to shoot the upcoming fashion show that the college puts on every year, to which they invite members of the fashion world looking for new talent. This was exactly what I was hoping for. Unfortunately the Two Johns had other jobs booked and wouldn't be available on the date of the show, so it was down to me... And I got full access.

I showed up on the night of the show with my small Fuji kit of two cameras and three lenses and went straight to work. Backstage was hectic and no one could care less that I was there with a camera, which is perfect for a documentary photographer. The two dressing rooms were quite a distance apart. One should have been for the guys and one for the girls, but there seemed to always be girls in both. I moved between each dressing room, not speaking too much, just observing and getting what I felt would be useful. Every now and then there would be a flurry of excitement as one group of girls came off stage and had to do a quick change to be ready for the next catwalk. I cursed the backstage lighting which was mostly fluorescent tubes, but hey, you just have to get on with it and get the job done with whatever you're given. 

I also moved out to the front of house to shoot some of the catwalk, but to be honest, my heart was backstage amongst all the hustle and bustle, the panic and safetypins and anticipation. The atmosphere in the corridor where the models stood in line, waiting for their cue to pull back the curtain and strut out into the lights was electric. It was fairly dark, but there was a shaft of light coming from another room and each girl had to walk through it to get to the catwalk, almost as though they were having the final touch applied as they moved through the beam. A bit of glow. A bit of power. 

A few words about the picture above because it always manages to raise a smile. The girl was helping put the finishing touches to the guys' clothes and one of them asked her what was on her finger: she said that she had got a tattoo while on holiday. When they asked her what it was, she just raised a finger under her nose to reveal a moustache tattoo. I grabbed two shots in quick succession. This is the second one, and although both were ok, it was this that seemed to show the humour best. The moment was over in a flash—they always are—but I was happy to have captured it.

I love how documentary photography takes us on a journey, not just for the viewer, but also the photographer. We need to have our eyes and ears open at all times, ready to pluck the slightest thing out of the air that could possibly be a story. I'm constantly scanning everything to see if it could result in a documentary shoot. I could have looked at this with my business head on and dismissed it because there wasn't a budget for photography, but I looked at it in the longer term and it paid off.

My aim with this story was to show the hectic backstage pressure cooker of a fashion show. There is no room for modesty and there is no time to be self conscious. Everybody needs to pull together or the event won't work. I hope this won't be the last time I shoot behind the scenes at a fashion event, as I feel I have just scratched the surface. I have an idea how I can move this into another phase, but I need to do some research first. Stay tuned.

Derek Clark

Documentary photographer based in Scotland, UK. Winner of UK professional Photographer of the Year 2012 in the News category and member of The Kage Collective.