Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Hurray for Hollywood

It's been a while since my last blog and yet somehow we are still in January!  Anyway, you'll be relieved to learn that life got a little more fun after my birthday.  Gareth's birthday is five days after mine and in stark contrast to mine, he had gorgeous clear, blue skies and wall to wall sunshine.  We enjoyed a lengthy hill walk followed by an Indian takeaway in the evening.

We also had a great night out with friends in a pub just around the corner from us. There's a great Thai restaurant occupying the rear half of the building (which we've frequented on more than one occasion), but we've somehow always overlooked the aptly named Woodman Pub.  That night it was bustling and we were greeted by a roaring fire.  We lost several hours inside there last Saturday night.  No pics I'm afraid...we were too busy catching up!

However, it's still January.  We're still in the depths of winter.  So what better time to do a little time travelling to Hollywood's Golden Age?

Not quite a Hollywood film set, but close - Portmeirion

I have in recent months created a little home studio (referenced in a previous blog).  Well let's call it my home-away-from-home studio.  I've also been raiding my personal belongings to created a mini set with plenty of props including (but not limited to) diamonds (not real sadly, but vintage costume), a bottle of Chanel No. 5, rotary dial telephone and boudoir chair.  

I purchased some fluffy mules off Vinted...

...and the day before, when it transpired that Ania, my dark haired, green-eyed model for the day, didn't have a suitable dress, I spied this beauty on the rails of my local charity shop.  Stupidly I photographed it before ironing it.  Needless to say, it was a total joy to press and it made a little more sense to me why it had found its way to a charity shop with labels still attached!

Still, it was worth it.  Lindy Bop specialise in repro 1950s dresses and this one fit the bill perfectly.  What are the chances of finding exactly what I was looking for - and in the model's size 16? 

I also picked up a fifties inspired black and white knit and neck scarf in the same shop.  Ania had the most beautiful robe on loan and her own clothes, including some pink/purple satin which evoked memories of Marilyn's Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend performance, so we were good to go.

Sonia of Sensual Passions, a vintage hair and make-up specialist I have worked with previously, had completely inhaled my mood board of images featuring Dita Von Teese and Elizabeth Taylor.  She created exquisite Hollywood waves and a stunning, luminous, lit-from-within old Hollywood makeup look.  

The big reveal!

I created a shot list in the days leading up to the shoot and tried to plan meticulously to maximise the use of our time.  Whilst I was grateful that Ania was happy to stay for as long as needed, most people tell me I work quickly.  I hate labouring over photos to the point that everyone loses the will to live and my subjects are dead behind the eyes.  I will try something, shoot in bursts and then move on.

A tantalising glimpse of the incredible robe and my boudoir chair.

A final check in the mirror.

And we're off!  

Here's Ania, chatting on the phone to the gossip columnist every star wants to keep on-side, Hedda Hopper.

I kept the studio shots brightly lit in the main, in order to showcase Sonia's handiwork and Ania's gorgeous green eyes.

Marilyn may have slept in it, but every movie star needs a little Chanel No. 5!

We channelled Elizabeth Taylor for the next shot.  

In researching the photographer responsible for this photo (Richard Avedon, 1956), I discovered that it was originally in colour and that Elizabeth was clothed.  The version I had seen was in black and white and cropped in a way to suggest that she was topless.  This is our version.  Elizabeth once said "Big girls need big diamonds" so it seemed fitting to feature the necklace in this one.

Posing is thirsty work!

For our next series of indoor portraits, I exploited the natural window light and also increased my camera ISO to let in even more light and to add a little grain for authenticity.  I also created my own backdrop, using some cute, cherry patterned vintage inspired wrapping paper.  Time for a lie down!

This one's my favourite...giving Hedy Lamarr a run for her money!

Finally, we headed outside for the final shots.  Ania's satin top was a match made in heaven for the last remaining pink camelia flowers.

Ania was also able to change into the sweater without being quite so precious over her hair.  

My inspiration for this look was the "sweater girl" fashion phenomenon of the 1940s and 1950s.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it was made popular in the aforementioned decades and was used to describe Hollywood actresses like Lana turner, Marilyn and Jayne Mansfield, who adopted the popular fashion of wearing figure hugging sweaters to emphasise their physical attributes.  

Marilyn, by Alfred Eisenstaedt

The sweater girl trend was not confined to Hollywood and was viewed with alarm by some.  In 1949 a Pittsburgh police superintendent, Harvey J. Scott, singled out the trend as a symptom of the moral decline of post war youth.

"Women walk the streets, their curves accentuated by their dresses.  But our real problem is with bobby soxers.  They are the sweater girls - just kids showing off their curves and apparently liking it.  What kind of mothers and wives are they going to be?"

Well, shush Harvey!  We've heard enough from you!

Isn't the sweater just perfect for Ania?  It worked beautifully with my high contrast Hollywood edits.

And that's a wrap!  I took around 100 images on this shoot, but I hope you enjoyed this insight to a fabulously fun shoot and my celebration of Hollywood and femininity!

Model:  Ania Cummins
Hair and Makeup:  Sensual Passions

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Let There Be Light

January is a strange month...a gaping chasm between the joy and sparkle of the festive period and the early promise of spring.  

Forget Blue Monday, I have christened my birthday this year as Blue Sunday.  Sunday January 14th was one to forget.  Given the weather that day, I'll take a rain check on celebrations - pardon the pun.  It was quite possibly, the most miserable day I can recall for a long time.  Even nature failed to lift our spirits and after 30 minutes of walking into a bitingly cold wind, gazing at a waterlogged landscape, we cut short our walk.  If you think I'm exaggerating, see for yourselves.

Bleak huh?  The photos above were shot with a stocking covered 35mm lens, a practise run for me to create a more retro aesthetic.  Believe me when I say that even without the stocking, the results were almost as bleak.  And brown.   My fingerless gloves have been working over time - inside and outside of the house!  

But what a difference a day makes!  This Monday morning, officially christened Blue Monday (supposedly the most depressing day of the year), there was light!

We awoke to a dusting of snow, an exquisite blue winter sky with fluffy clouds and shafts of sunlight landing photogenically.  The daily walk was much more pleasant.

So rewinding a little, last week, I took my Mom to Halfpenny Green Vineyards for a coffee and a look at the local delicacies.  But for a cat botherer like me, the draw was actually the local feral feline population.  It was dinner time and I managed to capture a few of them scoffing. 

They're happy, rotundly healthy and almost identical looking, but prefer to keep people at a safe distance.  I can't say I blame them.  There are 17 cats in total and between them, the independent business owners operating from the prefab buildings next to the vineyards, look after them with regular food donations and also try to ensure they are neutered.  

This one was adopted as a kitten by one of the business owners.  Isn't she beautiful?  Who wouldn't love to while away January in a cosy bed like that?

Our week was brightened by a visit from our old trading friend Baz.  Baz is a fireman who lives miles away from us with his wife Issy, in a converted double decker bus in the wilds of Staffordshire, but dropped by as he was in the area.  If you visit us, chances are you're going to be force fed and photographed and Baz was no exception!

Another day, another Baz.  This one's my father-in-law and he loves the smell of creosote.  He literally cannot pass a telegraph pole without having a sniff.  This is possibly one of my stranger portraits but hey, you take your pleasures where you find them!

Since Christmas, I've made a few charity shop purchases...some wardrobe staple Breton tops and a Monsoon duo in the shape of a faux fur gillet and Fairisle style jumper that really keeps the cold out.  It was worth the awkward encounter with a fellow shopper who insisted on loudly and proudly showing me her bargain purchase - a pack of incontinence pads!

I've also made a couple of considered new purchases.  I picked up a pair of jeans in the Zara sale.  I wanted to create a more elegant, flattering and retro silhouette and couldn't be happier with these high waisted, raw hem jeans that just skim and hang elegantly from the thighs and are cropped a little so are great for my pit pony legs.  I love the double front pockets too.

Oh and for the longest time, I've been searching for a pair of classic loafers.  They have evaded me, until now.  I spotted these gorgeous metallic ones in the Boden sale.  Quality and comfort.  

They work well with turned up, slouchy jeans, A line and mini skirts, shorts and certain maxi dresses.  My latest mission is therefore to showcase them to their full potential.  For the purposes of this post however, I thought I'd don the majority of recent purchases all at once! 

Gareth's also carried out a successful and ingenious repair to my sad and neglected vintage necklace, which unfortunately shed one of its "carnelian" stones on its very first outing with me.  The trick?  Epoxy resin combined with smoked paprika.  In case you're wondering, it's the bottom stone he's replaced.  I think it looks better than the original!

I picked up a few books from Enville Church when we were passing through the village.  Am I a terrible sinner, never going to church other than to check out the donated books?  We left our donation in the honesty box and came away with three immaculate hardback books.  I failed to photograph them before loaning two of them, but picked up a copy of Behind Closed Doors, the untold story of the Duchess of Windsor... 

...Phillipa Gregory's The Taming of the Queen and also this beautiful copy of Dawnlands (although I have yet to read Dark Tides, the second of the trilogy).

In TV land, we've been glued to the second season of  The Tourist - this time set in Ireland.  It's arguably weaker than the first series, but I love the humour and Ireland looks so pretty.

Kin has also captivated us.  It's about rival gangland families in Dublin and an event that causes their feud to spiral out of control.  So gripping!

We're also hopelessly addicted to The Traitors.  Having watched and loved the first series, we were sceptical as to how there could be a second.  But the rules are ever changing, there are some clever twists and it's intriguing to see human nature played out so obviously on a TV show where back stabbing and betrayal are the only ways to win.  The Banquishing Table, where players take a stab in the dark to name who they think is a traitor, is a masterclass in herd mentality.

I'm also obsessing over presenter Claudia Winkleman's chic wardrobe, each outfit put together by fashion stylist Sinead McKeefry and just oozing quality.  I am in love with this Vampire's Wife mini dress..

...and her ruffle shirts/quirky knits and tweed coats are to die for.

It has not gone unnoticed that she's taken her cue from me and invested in more than one pair of fingerless gloves which has become part of the signature "Traitors-core" look.  I won't hold it against her though. She still trumps me on shiny hair.  

Speaking of which, I believe I have found a hair care system that fights the frizz.  Periodically I bang on about my somewhat frizzy hair, for which I can only thank the gene pool from which I emerged.  My mother has poker straight, fine hair.  My Dad had slightly wavy hair, inherited from his mother, who had hair like corrugated iron.   I have a weird fusion; not quite straight but there are sections of hair at the base of my scalp that do take on that crinkly look when wet.  Hairdressers like to tell me:  "You have fine hair, but lots of it."  For ages, I assumed that my hair just wasn't in good condition.  Greys and humidity only worsen the appearance of the surface frizz that plagued me.  I've tried all sorts of shampoos - nourishing, moisturising, natural hair soaps, co-washing (washing in conditioner), brushing, but nothing really made any dramatic impact.  Until now.

My current secret (and I'm only a couple of washes into the new regime) is to oil the hair with Jojoba oil (a natural frizz buster) the night before washing.  I tie it back to go to bed,  wash and condition as usual the following morning and add a few pumps of styling cream when it's damp.  This one seems to help.  Here are my hair heroes.

The difference has been incredible and more importantly, the results have been lasting.  It's held its own against humidity, has retained that moisture, feels softer and hangs better.  It seems to improve with every treatment.  Let's hear it for Jojoba!

For me, January seems to be my creative month.  I've entered the London Camera Exchange Competition.  I don't believe I'm in with a chance, but it's a good exercise, keeps me sharp and I can take inspiration from my fellow entrants.  You have to be in it to win it as the saying goes.  Here's a glimpse of a few of the photos I entered.

I've also been approached by a Brummy photographer/musician/artist to collaborate on something this year and have been pushing myself to create something different, focusing on the four elements.  I'm sure art critics would have a field day, but I do what pleases me and find it very fulfilling.

I hope you're all fine and dandy. What helps you through the winter months?


It's been a curious week of unexpected connections, conversations, sights and sounds, underpinned in some shape or form by panic. I was ...