We all know what makes a good holiday – excellent food, beautiful accommodation in a great location shared with beautiful people. My 5-day masterclass with Bruce Smith at the Cote D’Azur, Nice had all these ingredients, but it wasn’t a holiday.
I arrived at Nice airport at 8.30 p.m. in very good spirits helped by the bottle of Cognac I’d been drinking on my BMI flight, compliments of a very generous steward. I was very pleased to see Bruce, who was picking me and another photographer up at the airport. And in a few moments, we were headed to out Villa, where over dinner, I met the other photographers on the training. After plenty of food and wine, I headed up to my room, where I fell asleep reading a copy of ‘Loving Garbo’ by HUGO VICKERS.
Please see below a selection of photographs I took during this amazing week followed by my diary of the week. All the photographs are of KATHERINE M.
“The camera can represent flesh so superbly that, if I dared, I would never photograph a figure without asking that figure to take its clothes off”. GEORGE BENARD SHAW
“Because God created it, the human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve its splendour and its beauty”. POPE JOHH PAUL II
“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed”. WILLIAM BLAKE
“But for me, being naked out of doors and in the water is one of the best ways I have ever found to restore my sense of blissful innocence. It takes me back to that place of my almost forgotten childhood, where I got to run around undressed without anyone telling me I had to cover up or be embarrassed”. ELIZABETH ROSNER
“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful that the garment with which it is clothed?” MICHELANGELO
“Full nakedness! All my joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys”. JOHN DONNE
“I find people better looking without clothes than with clothes. You can go to a gym and go to a steam room and you see someone and think, He’s really handsome. Then he puts on his clothes. Some weird pants. A thumb ring. Some weird socks. And it’s gone!” TOM FORD
“There’s something therapeutic about nudity … Take away the Gucci or Levi’s and we’re all the same”. KEVIN BACON
And the following is my diary from the week:
Ladies and Gentlemen, This is BRUCE SMITH!
Bruce Smith began Day One with a very engaging overview of his life as a Fashion photographer, how he got his break through, how he works, why he chose the fashion genre etc. Bruce said that great fashion photography is a team effort, and that a successful shoot with magazine or portfolio quality images, requires a good creative team. He said that an effective model for great fashion photography should have the photographer and his vision at the centre of the creative process. From this centre springs the practical elements for translating this vision into fantastic photographs. These practical elements include the set, the lighting, the styling, the model all working perfectly to tell the photographer’s story. He also talked about what we should expect in the next few days before introducing us to the amazing international stylist – OLGA OLETTI.
And this is the beautiful OLGA OLETTI – Our stylist for the week. Olga used to be a catwalk model.
Olga gave us a brief talk on the importance of styling in Fashion Photography and how she translates a photographer’s vision and showed us a selection of accessories that we will be working with in the next few days. She was so delightful that I fell in love with her straight away.
At about 1.00 o’clock, we broke for lunch, which was a very casual affair, with everyone sitting outside around a big table over looking our villa’s swimming pool – Salads, cold meat, bread, wine, beer, fruit juices etc. And Bruce continued to talk about fashion photography. He reminded me of Picasso or rather how I imagine Picasso was – extremely passionate about his art, delightful with a great sense of humour. The light around us was so beautiful. I had placed my self strategically at a point where the heat from the sunlight heated my back. Ahhh! I sighed as I remembered a passage I read sometime ago by HENRI MATTISEE.
“When I realised I would see that light every morning, I could not believe my happiness… I decided never to leave Nice and remained here for almost my entire existence”.
Yes, my seduction by Nice with its beautiful light and landscape had begun. I can now see why so many prominent artists moved to Nice to create and evolve their styles. The atmosphere here is truly inspiring. I felt very alive and happy. I’ve always wanted to live in Paris, but suddenly I found Paris has a very strong competition.
‘I want to live here’, Bruce said as if he could read my thoughts. I looked at him understanding exactly what he was feeling and quietly thanked God for the experience. And then it’s time for location scouting. And we all headed up to the mountains – each of us already making little notes about which location we want for out future projects. And from scouting locations, we headed up to Nice Airport to pick up our model for the week – the Divine KATHERINE M. What can I say? I am blessed to meet all the most amazing people in the world. And KATHERINE M was another outstanding human being that I can now call my friend. She slipped into the back of the car with me like an old friend already displaying the type of sweetness and elegance in character that that I’ve only known in fairy tales. And the day ended with a sumptuous dinner in a local restaurant.
Day Two began with a detailed demonstration of a planned, tightly-run shoot. Bruce took us through the paces of how he shoots a fashion story. In a few moments, we were each given 15 minutes to shoot a fashion story. Five brave photographers took camera in hand and gave it their best. But Bruce was with each of us during our first shoot, acting as both technical advisor and art director, hollering regularly – “Watch the light. Watch the light. You’re moving away from the light. Look for the strongest composition – No! No! Yes! Yes! That’s where the story is.” The pointers he gave each photographer were very helpful without a hint of condescension. His teaching style was very approachable, dispensing completely with any form of sugar-coating, and his advice was always cut-to-the-chase, constructive and encouraging. ‘Let me see your photographs. The composition could be better … Hmm … that’s Nice. Nice. Oh that’s nice!’ he’d say, smiling broadly. There was something vaguely operatic about him, like a grand conductor in the theatre. He spoke in a straight-up manner laced with humour, colourfully – VERY colourfully at times, but he always got immediately to the heart of things without drone.
During a break, I chatted with MARK CALL, one of the other photographers at the master class and we were checking out each other’s websites. Mark was very English – a Stephen Fry type – very dry wit, which I found very sexy. And there’s another photographer from Munich – BAPPA DEY, who wore provocative T-shirts and loved to tell jokes – some of the jokes weren’t clean, but they kept me entertained, which I am grateful for. And there’s ROBERTS VOSKANS – a photographer from Latvia. Robert was very funny. I love his approach to photography, especially his directing, which was almost comedic at times. Over the next four days, a bond was formed among some of us, forged from the one thing we all had in common – our desire to be guided through Bruce Smith’s photographic process and to learn how to communicate and translate our vision into fantastic photographs. We were not disappointed. Each of us was able to produce a body of work during this week that we were each proud of.
From left, Meet MARK CALL and BAPPA DAY – Two others photographers on the training.
And also from left meet MARTYN ELLISTON and ROBERT VOSKANS, the other two photographers on the training.
The second day ended with a Risotto Dinner prepared by Bappa and served in the villa’s main dinning room. Tonight I missed eating outside by the pool. I loved watching the beautiful sunlight fade the night before. But there was another kind of sunlight to behold – Red wine. There was plenty of red wine. It was GALILEO GALILEI that said that ‘Wine is sunlight, held together by water’. So I can say that I was never without Sunlight throughout the week.
DAY THREE AND FOUR
Day three and four followed the same format as day two, with four different shoots each day in four different locations. One of my favourite memories of Bruce on day four was having a portfolio review at 12.30 a.m. over a generous glass of Armagnac. Bruce was sozzled. At around 1.00a.m, he said that he loved one of my photographs, but would like me to explore its story further. I asked him why and he started to answer and stopped, started to answer again and stopped. Then he asked, ‘Would you like me to tell you something really profound? I answered, ‘Yes’. And he looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I’m too pissed to answer’.
Day Five included a one to one review of images from the shoot with Bruce and some training on Post-production.
The five days flew by, jam-packed with new knowledge and information that was already visible in our work. If any of us arrived with no idea of what Fashion Nude photography was all about, we now have a good understanding of what is involved in planning, executing/editing and delivering a successful fashion nude shoot. Bruce was delightful and generous with his knowledge. The group was small enough that everyone could really interact with him and ask any questions at any time. The amazing villa made me feel like I had died and gone to heaven. There were plenty of food and wine. I made many friends and like all great artists in the making who visited Nice – I fell in love with it. Will I do it again? Absolutely! And if you’re not there with me, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.
My Final word on Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith delivered an outstanding training experience in Nice. Bruce has the rare combination of passion, outstanding talent, and the desire and commitment to teaching others. He is completely committed to the growth of each of his students and will regularly push you out of your comfort zone to achieve this goal. I am very grateful for my growth so far as his student.
- Communication is everything – Learning how to communicate effectively with your subject can thrust a competent photographer into the realm of greatness.
- Watch the light, watch the lines and look for the energy. Only go for the strongest composition.
- Get the details right – The sophistication of the styling choice needs to be reflected from the top of the model’s hair to the colour on her toe nails.
- Yes! Yes! Yes! More! Ratatatatata…
- Don’t shoot shit.
I will be returning to the Cote d’Azur for more photography.
UNTIL NEXT TIME,
MonaLisa’s music inspiration while writing this blog:
01 Windmills of Your Mind [Click to listen to music]