I recently had the rare honor of spending time at the studio of one of my favorite photographers and philanthropists, Russell James. I have followed his work ever since I got into photographing people. For anyone unfamiliar, he's the photographer who shoots all those iconic Victoria's Secret images we've come to know and love, as well as countless magazine covers and the whole lot. Here and there over the past few years he's seen and sometimes evaluated my own work online through his photo contests as well as engaged in conversations regarding charitable efforts. It was he that inspired me to actively participate in whatever way I could find myself useful toward helping organizations that help others.
I was at the studio one day and met him passing by. Expecting a normal friendly hello, I was surprised by his marked enthusiasm. I greeted him with, "Hey Russell, I'm Matt Timmons, it's an honor to finally meet you." His face lit up with a big surprised smile once recognizing me and his response was, "The honor is mine! Do you have a few minutes? Can you come into the studio and take a few photos with me?". Again, I was blown away by his kindness and generosity. He and the team were shooting the 2012 Victoria's Secret Valentine's Day ad campaign (yes, six months in advance) and he was inviting me in to take a few pictures as well as meet the folks that make all that beauty so perfect.
I saw a couple of familiar faces that I had met before, and met a few new ones. Alex, his first assistant, is one of the first people I met upon moving to New York and is always ready with a genuine huge smile and sincerity in his handshake. I was soon surrounded by crew members all shaking my hand and gathering around for pictures. His digital tech Andrea was there. She's so sweet and so very skilled at managing thousands of those all-important photos that in a few months will be gracing the catalog covers and huge store displays around the world. I also got to meet and have my picture taken by the legendary Muz, the Aussie assistant who operates those uber-expensive Briese lighting systems as well as handles countless other responsibilities. I have to admit, it was incredibly cool to have my picture taken on the same set with the same lighting and the same camera that was being used for the shots with professional model and VS Angel, Lais. Although I somehow don't think that my shots are going to turn out as good as hers, but we'll see in February. ;-) These folks are all so nice and they love talking to anyone who appreciates their work, plus they all get along so well. Alex described them as, "We are all just like a family." We chatted for a little bit about photography as well as Russell's personal project Nomad Two Worlds, and then Russell had to shoot the next look with VS Angel Miranda Kerr. He invited me to hang out and leave when I was ready.
I can attest to the level of responsibility that it takes to work in this environment by observing the crew first hand. Russell will tell you himself that he's only one factor in the equation of these shoots, and after observing these folks at work you can really understand why. When it's time to shoot they are busy in an instant. The sets are pre-readied, the lighting is perfected, everything is metered and ready to rock. When the model steps onto the set, there's no waiting around- she walks onto her mark and the show starts. These folks are and have to be so on top of what they are doing because millions of dollars are being invested to get the results of these shots. They have to have their job done right, slack delays can cost tens of thousands of dollars per hour. The studio is enormous, more like a movie sound stage. The sets are constructed specifically for each campaign with multiple sets made for all kinds of different shots. The being the Valentine's Day campaign, there were lots of giant red hearts, huge fluffy 'lip' shaped couches, and general 'love' themed sets. The crew works long hours, and can work over 25 days in a row with no days off. However, the environment is conducive for long days with gourmet catered meals, lots of relaxation areas and a frequent amounts of down time to catch a break. All in all there's about 25 people performing specific tasks each day. It was eye-opening to see such professionalism, and I'm thankful to have been asked in. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, yes the models are absolutely gorgeous in person. Tall, in perfect shape and of course look incredible in those bras and panties. I think everyone would agree that their part is the easiest to set up- they just put on the garments, a little hair and makeup and voila, they're perfect.
That's the typical scene in the Victoria's Secret studio. It's comprised of some great artful set construction and some of the most skilled and professional people you can ever meet, as well as being so welcoming. My warmest thanks to the entire crew for being so nice, to Andrea for taking the time to send me these pictures, Alex for all his helpfulness and advice, and of course to Russell who's kindness and generosity (as well as quick humor) is known by so many and now known by yet another. It was a great day and I'm thankful for the hospitality.