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Diary: Grooming

by Penny Martin on 27 November 2003

Hair, make-up and nails: Penny Martin gets the backstage back-story of W magazine's By Arrangement shoot from Sam McKnight, Val Garland and Marian Newman.

Hair, make-up and nails: Penny Martin gets the backstage back-story of W magazine's By Arrangement shoot from Sam McKnight, Val Garland and Marian Newman.

Image from 'By Arrangement' shot by Nick Knight

29 November 2003 14:30hrs

'To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up' wrote Wilde. In doing so, he accurately summarised the challenge that a shoot such as this poses to the hair and make-up team. When Knight and Kaye requested that the models appear 'natural, as they come into the studio', rather than guaranteeing the team a day with their feet up, it required a shift in focus from embellishment to preparation. 'Most of my time is spent preparing the girls' skin' says make-up artist Val Garland. 'The object of a shoot like this, is to have as little re-touching afterwards as possible. With the photographic film Nick uses, you see everything on the skin. Every hair. It will all be there.' Nail designer Marian Newman concurs. 'It's about making these innocent young girls look like they have had no assistance. The irony is that they do require assistance. Most of them have had false nails left on and then taken off. It takes work to make them look neat, clean and healthy. It's high-maintenance, this low-maintenance'. Far from being confined to fashion photography, make-up has been a component of studio portraiture since mass imagery's very beginning. Manuals for the hordes of professional photographers starting up studios in the 1850s and '60s instructed practitioners how to apply pigment to freckles to avoid their yellow hue printing in black in the resultant portrait.

'When you put make-up on older, more experienced girls like Kate or Erin, they immediately recognise the character you are suggesting to them'

Curiously anticipating the role of the stylist by 120 years, several Victorian studios even kept a wardrobe filled with garments of a suitable hue so that the images' tonal range would not be unbalanced owing to the silver emulsion on the negative's acute sensitivity to blue light. More than smoothing over the already perfect countenances of these young mannequins, however, the whole process performs another vital act of preparation in contemporary fashion photography. As make-up is applied and hair arranged, the hair and make-up creatives ease the girls into the roles they will adopt on set and 'groom' up their performances. 'When you put make-up on older, more experienced girls like Kate or Erin, they immediately recognise the character you are suggesting to them' explains Garland. 'These young girls today haven't yet learnt what's inside them. By emphasising their purity and giving them a neutral look, you actually see them'.

It is this desire for the most perceptive character study and instinct for the most elegant final image that identifies the finest photographic team-members. The paradox is that it also demands these image-makers to make perhaps the greatest sacrifice: to conceal evidence of their range and abilities for the good of the whole. 'The pictures are not about hair' concedes hairstylist Sam McKnight, 'hair's just an organic part of the final image'. What he refers to as 'raw shampooed, "harsh" hair' ensures that girls look as individual and characterful as possible. It also eradicates any trace of McKnight's own presence. 'A few pins is all. As soon as it looks like I've been there, I change it'.

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