Te'Anna Williams and I had worked together on a previous shoot, but I never got the chance to physically shoot her with my own camera. I was an assistant on the set with Josh Eskridge. Since that time we passed messages back and forth wanting to shoot together and then finally with this GAGA series we had the opportunity! I offered Te'Anna the position, not only because is she a fantastic model and person, but mostly because what the song “Born This Way” represents and I knew she could pull it off. I needed confidence and and someone comfortable in their own skin.
“You’re black, white, beige, chola descent / You’re Lebanese, you’re orient / Whether life’s disabilities / Left you outcast, bullied, or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today / 'cause baby you were born this way”
From the start Micah and I threw out ideas regarding “Born This Way”. Urban queen, that's what we wanted, a subject who was confident and didn’t care what people thought. Immediately I thought of locations and props, I was positive from the start that anywhere downtown Louisville would be a suitable location. Somewhere public, but not public enough to get 100 people crowded around the the police called.
When the word queen came to mind, I also thought of a throne. Where the hell can I get a royal throne? I was clueless. Fortunately, I have a few friends in the film industry, I contacted them for ideas on prop houses and antique shops. I was directed to Joe Ley’s. A massive 4 story antique store with toys, furniture and props that can be both purchased and/or rented. I made the proper connections and soon enough I was in touch with Shelia. We texted our ideas back and forth until she found two thrones that were absolutely spectacular. After consulting with Micah I reserved the throne and it was on.
I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous on the actual physical look for this song. Micah and Te'Anna didn’t get a chance to get together before the shoot and I was unsure of what to expect, I wasn't sure how we could top “Heavy Metal Lover”.
The day before the shoot I decided to drive around downtown and scout out a few locations and at least have a plan. I decided on a couple of locations, one being a courtyard I had shot in 3 different times. I was a bit weary of shooting there, but I had never actually shot outside in the courtyard during the day. Which is exactly what I ALWAYS wanted to do, this was the perfect opportunity. I just wanted to show the grand scale of the location and how amazing it really was. I knew after this shoot though, the courtyard would be tapped and I would probably never return with my camera.
I mapped out two other spots, both being in the downtown area and I was fairly confident. With the massive throne in the back of my car I headed home to get some rest, the shoot would come early.
Saturday; things got off to a late start, but there was no pressure, because this time around people/locations weren’t depending on us to be here or there at a certain time, it was just us, the throne and downtown.
As I stated in my last post, I’ve had to put all my trust Micah as the creative director on this concept, the looks were in his court and I was on the bench until shooting time. But this time around, after the look was complete, I took a look at Te'Anna and liked it. It showed confidence, but also a lot of freedom with no rough edges. No eyebrows!? This is crazy! Then, once we decided to rip up the fishnet tights, I was in love.
We arrived at the courtyard and I really don’t think they knew what to expect, honestly Micah and Te'Anna we’re probably, understandably, a bit frightened. After loading in our gear in between the fence line, we scouted around, turned up GAGA on the iPod player and the shoot was on…except I was missing a crucial piece of gear….
The metal clip that holds my speedlight to the bracket upon which I connect my modifier, was MIA. After a 5 minute search in my car, I knew I had to improvise. So I grabbed two twigs, duct tape and a piece of plastic and rigged a horrible looking brace to hold the light. But it worked for me and a week later I found the clip buried underneath two extension cords.
I’ve worked with a lot of models in my short career, but Te'Anna is one of those models that just loves the lens and the lens loves her. There was little direction needed. Click pose, click pose, click pose. Te'Anna’s poses and expressions were outer worldly, very alien, very abstract and seemed to be naturally inspired from the video “Born This Way”.
The sets we’re fast and to the point. Even though I pretty much had my entire studio with me, I took what I learned from “Heavy Metal Lover” and just rolled with it. One light, one softbox and a reflector. I might as well left my gear in the car.
I’ve had some police “interference” at the courtyard before and even though the officer is usually pleasant, they give out threats and tactics to try and scare you into avoiding shooting there in the future. So conveniently during our last set, guess who showed up! I noticed the police car and went out to the alley to speak with the officer. After some small talk and scare tactics, like “Your car is more likely to get stolen here then anywhere in Louisville”, the conversation ended and he went on his merry way. We decided to move on, but not before we we’re approached by some questionable men who we're obviously drunk at 3 in the afternoon, brushing them off, we hopped in our cars and drove off.
Bouncing around downtown Louisville on a beautiful day, we definitely had some gawkers! Even some kids stopped by to take pictures with their phones of the photoshoot, which I didn’t mind and honestly was pretty cool.
We closed up the day by diving in headfirst and doing what I had imagined from the beginning. I was really hesitant, but we went for it. We pulled off Main Street and popped up the throne on the street corner, I setup my one SB-800 and Te'Anna ran over to the throne for a quick few poses and snapshots. The winning shot was to become one of my favorite images I have ever captured (seen below).
It was an absolute pleasure to finally work with Te'Anna and beyond the cops, crackheads and gawkers, the results out of post production were what I had imagined and more. Te'Anna truly was born a superstar.