Paparazzi, what a ride. Danielle Dafler was actually the first model I signed on for the GAGA series. It seemed like she came out of nowhere. A good friend Scooter Ray gave me a ring and recommended her, I immediately checked out her Facebook portfolio. I gathered Danielle had been heavily involved in the pageant circuit and had had some previous modeling experience, but nothing of the high-fashion sorts. But I was blown away by her demanding presence and almost felt intimidated by her after viewing her portfolio. Blonde, bombshell and very Marilyn Monroe. I needed a blonde right off the bat and she was it. About a week later, Danielle actually approached me. This was months before “GAGA - A Portrait Series” had even come into the light.
Some time had passed and when the concept started to gain ground I asked Danielle to be apart of the project. Her excitement and energy was exactly what “GAGA - A Portrait Series” needed. When the song “Paparazzi” was chosen for her, the ideas seem to explode.
I have never had my phone vibrate so much in my entire life! Facebook messages turned into texts turned into 2 hour phone calls. I seem to remember being photo bombed with about 40 pictures in a matter of 2 minutes chalk full of GAGA ideas and random fashion shots. It was an initiative I had never seen in any other model. Danielle is such a passionate person, when an idea like this comes along she gives it everything she’s got.
During our initial brainstorming for locations I wanted to involve a limousine and parking garage mixed with a lot of crazy lighting, but when the thought of having one location and one set came to mind, I slashed it. Around that time I really started to study Lady Gaga, her videos and all of her antics. When I watched Paparazzi for the first time, I was taken aback, I needed “Paparazzi” to be dark and de-saturated, not bright and colorful. A few days later Danielle suggested exactly what I was looking for; a dark, mysterious domain, The Samuel Culberston Mansion.
Samuel Culbertson became the president of Churchill Downs in 1928 until his death in 1948 and was a very prominent and wealthy figure in Louisville. A few days after the mansion was brought into the picture I tracked down the housekeeper Rudy and booked a room in this historic bed and breakfast.
Fast forward. The series was 2 shoots in and we came up on what was to be our most challenging weekend of the entire concept. “Paparazzi” and “Scheiße” back to back. Paparazzi wouldn't be your traditional shoot. During our trying time of scheduling hell we decided our only option was to start the shoot at 6….6PM. I knew this would be a long Saturday.
It was St. Patrick’s day. I had already assisted one session, completed a client shoot and Micah(Creative Director) had been traveling for Chanel all day. By the time we arrived at the mansion at 6pm, we were both running on fumes and things got off to a late start.
Danielle underwent a complete transformation. Micah created faux bangs and smokey eyes. Her lips looked like something out of Alice In Wonderland. It was totally GAGA. No one could have recognized Danielle after the two hours of hair/makeup preparation. I planned on taking advantage of that.
Scouting around the building, this place was creeptastic. Creaking wood and stories of specters didn’t appease any of us, but it added to the vibe of the entire shoot. I was a bit overwhelmed and slightly nervous, I didn’t want to upset any other guests staying in the mansion nor did I want to disregard interesting rooms. So I said the hell with it and decided to use every possible room available.
I was really blessed that Josh Eskridge agreed to assist on these sets. His knowledge of studio lighting really played a key role and I’m grateful for his assistance always! Lighting this place would not only test my skills, but prove to be essential in creating anything worth sharing.
Our first set began on a large antique chair setup in the corner of our suite. I wanted the all ambient light to come through and still create a dramatically lit image. Our answer? A tripod. We setup a SB-800 speedlight with a softbox camera right and a SB-600 behind the chair in the windowsill, pulled down curtain and drapes which acted as a natural diffuser. We experimented. After about 10 minutes of different techniques and camera settings, I finally reached that “it” spot. Using a remote and shooting a 3 second exposure at f/14 the results that we’re popping up on my iPad we're gorgeous. The only thing that was in my way we’re the faux bangs which created a nasty shadow over her face. So Josh stepped in and popped an Alien Bee with a diffused beauty dish from below and BOOM, we had perfected the image. Those same lighting techniques were carried on throughout the rest of that shoot.
At a 3 second exposure, the model has to remain perfectly still or the camera will create a motion blur that isn’t appealing to the eyes. Not many models can maintain like Danielle did, especially at late hours. Danielle knocked it out of the park. Once that first set was complete, I think her anxiety and nervousness had all subsided and the only thing left to do was pose. From that point on it was smooth sailing.
Set after set, time slipped away and by 1:00am we were wiped out. I could barley keep my eyes open. I knew the “Scheiße” shoot with Brianna Newman would be an even longer day, so after 6 sets, I called it a night. It was a fun, sober St. Patricks day, full of trial, error and Red Bull.
Micah and Danielle put in a lot of time and effort into this look. She dyed her hair platinum blonde, she ordered one hell of a wardrobe and even had a one on one modeling course with Micah. What Danielle lacked in high-fashion modeling experience was made up quickly by her drive and spirit to create a compelling image as a team. The images need no introduction.