It seemed like a good idea at the time! Exploding 8 Kilograms of flour behind an artist I had never met, in a studio where I had never shot and attempting a technique I had never tried or tested! What possibly could go wrong?
MYRKUR is a solo female act from Copenhagen. In 2018 her debut album won the Golden God ‘Best Album’ accolade by Metal Hammer Magazine so it was little surprise Amalie would be asked to be on the front cover.
Being totally honest I knew very little about MYRKUR before being asked to do the shoot. My first source of research was Youtube and then some details were sent over from the record Label (Relapse Records). She lives in Copenhagen, has a new born son only 8 weeks old and her music is difficult to categorise – Sacandanavian traditional folk meets Black Metal would be a reasonable attempt. What first struck me was her angelic, ghost like calming vocals on top of a brutal Black Metal soundtrack. So the first thoughts were to try and create a portrait that captured her calmness and confidence, but with an element of chaos around her. I had long admired the beautiful Black & White images of ballet dancers with flour launched at them in mid flight. The images capture the grace of the dancer but illustrate their strength and agility. Although I didn’t want to shoot Amalie leaping around, I did think the effect would look sensational as a front cover. Hastily I put together a mood board to show the Art team at Hammer and also forwarded the idea to the Record Label, Management and Amalie. I then waited 48 hours before I received any feedback from anyone. Would a record label allow their artist to be pelted with heaps of flour and more importantly would Amalie want to be subjected to such punishment? Sometimes the silence is deafening.
The first to respond was the Art team at Hammer who really liked the idea but weren’t sure if Amalie would want to do it? Also in the back of my mind was how was I going to do it if the idea got the green light? The effect looks great but it makes a phenomenal mess and I wasn’t sure if my attempts would look anything like the mood board. Also a lot of youtube videos of ‘flour dancers’ I watched were very successful at making a mess but the final results looked poor.
I then got my reply from Amalie which meant we were committed to seeing this through. Her answer was YES, she loved the idea and was game if everyone else was? Because of maternity duties the shoot would have to happen in Copenhagen.
Although relieved we could proceed, it now meant I would have to deliver a portrait with everything I had promised. ‘The Lab’ photo studios in Copenhagen were very accommodating and helpful giving advise on shooting with Flour. A clean-up rate was also negotiated and a large room with good ventilation was chosen because of the minor fire risk with airborne powders. My usual assistant in the UK was out of the budget on this so I did a call out on Facebook for help and I recruited Bjorn to be in charge of the flour. We also had Yunah for hair & make-up and the brilliant Katherine Hogarth from 5B management to assist with bookings and to be there on the day.
The background for the shoot was a 9ft Black paper drop. I used Black reflector boards to cut-out any light bouncing around and also to reduce the spread of flour. I wanted to retain some contrast on this so used a small beauty dish with a grid to focus the light just on Amalie and used a softbox on the ground as a fill-in. Behind were 2 gridded lights aimed directly back at Amalie for some rim light and to back illuminate the flour. I purposely under-lit everything else as the flour was certain to reflect enough light without any extra help. We knew it would be an unpleasant experience being pelted with flour so I fitted a circular piece of poly board on a light stand positioned 10″ behind Amalie’s head. This meant when we launched the flour it would explode just behind her creating an airborne explosion. Well that was the plan. It turns out it isn’t easy to control the direction of flour, especially when you are launching a pound of the stuff at a time. Plastic sheeting was put over all work surfaces and all lights were bagged and covered. The first few ‘strikes’ were good but I needed Amalie looking as relaxed and still as possible. Not easy to do when you are getting literally coated in heaps of flour. The second attempt was a disaster!
The video above produced a successful capture but the flour continued on past Amalie and square into my lens. The camera was absolutely covered but it was surprisingly quick to clean off with a blower. Originally I was shooting with a 70mm but decided after a few hits and near misses to change to a 120mm to allow more distance between me and the firing line. In between takes there would be a shake down and make-up would clean things up then we would go again.
This kind of shoot was always going to be a numbers game and I needed to bag a lot of takes to produce just a few perfect frames. I have to say Amalie was so patient and brilliant throughout. I would call out 3,2,1 and Bjorn would fire the flour, Amalie would ‘stare me out’ and I would click one frame just as the flour exploded.
So it was a great team effort creating something a little different that although very messy and a little unpleasant at times was hopefully worth it! Louise at METAL HAMMER did a great job laying out the cover and inside feature. I will be cleaning flour out of my equipment for years to come as a reminder of a good day at the office!