Ok so if you read my last post about Eastern States Penitentiary (ESP) you know I have a project shoot planned for the 19th of August. So I head back to ESP on Monday to gather more info on the dos & don’ts for the special photographer’s night. Are the locations first come first serve? Yes they are. Can I bring hair & makeup artists with me? Yes you can bring anyone as long as you pay$20 per. And if you are a “Supporting Member” you can get 20minutes with one model in cell block 14. I guess it is supposed to be some special place. I am a supporting member and I’ll get that chance.
It appears as if it is all coming together the way I would like so you know what that means? Something is sure to go not as planned. I contacted B my stylist for the shoot and she’s still a “GO.” Contacted Lisa the wardrobe designer and she say all is good. I contacted my model Reese and gave her the run down and we have our “plan B” just in case “plan A” heads south on us. What I really could use is an assistant to help with gear and holding a softbox. Also assistants are someone to place the blame when things go wrong. No, no, no… just kidding.
So I knew I was going to be at ESP on Monday it was not far from this model I had been corresponding with and I asked her if she would like to meet up and take a walk through ESP with me and she obliged. We agreed it would be a nice way to meet before we plan a shoot. Now she is not connected to my ESP project in anyway, as I had met her well after I planned the shoot. Her name is Chloe and she is a Philly based model. I did however tell her I would do a few basic headshots outside the prison after our walk through. Sort of a “micro test shoot” as I called it. I told her that ESP has very strict rules about shooting models during public hours, hence the reason for the special photographer’s night.
So the morning of our meeting there were the normal text messages flying back & forth about I’m here, I’ll be there in a minute and so on. I meet Chloe at the front gate and she’s a real charm to say the least. A rather free spirited girl and very pleasant. But it’s that “free spirit” that will make this walk through fun. I know from the word go what is going to happen. So we enter in for free because, remember I’m a supporting member. All that means is a gave a donation, so I still paid, dearly actually. We walk in and of course to me personally the real creepiness comes not because it used to be a prison but it is a place where the word “penitentiary” was conceived. You came here to serve penance in total solitude. At the time a new concept and now lost with evolution. So just to look at these decrepit old cells and door, gates and hallways and think about what once was… that is what creeps me out. Then there is the crust or patina that has over run the place and that just gives such vivid character to the whole scene that is ESP.
I wanted to go to this one particular courtyard as I wanted to see it again. I had taken a photo there on my previous trip. This is one of the courtyards that is attached to a cell and the prisoner would get his one hour of daylight there each day. I turn the corner and walk in to the courtyard a few seconds later Chloe enters the courtyard and… yup I knew it. She drops her phone and other items to the ground and like a good little Urbex model she starts climbing the courtyard wall to get into a pose (if possible) and she is giving it her all. Of course I’m shooting the whole time and knowing full well at any second we could be thrown out on our ear. This then set the pace; let’s see if we can get thrown out. So with caution we continue to find little places where I would shoot her and then move on. Was it fun? No it was not… it was a blast and I knew right then & there I found my assistant for this shoot I have planned. So I asked Chloe if she would like to come on board as my assistant. After several mental backflips… well you know what her answer was. I laid down the rule “you are assistant and not a model that day, can you do that?” You know what will happen? I could picture her pulling a Nancy Kerrigan style stunt just to get into the shoot. But seriously I will get a photo or two or ten of her that night.
So our time at ESP was coming to an end. But wait… I still had to do that micro test shoot outside with Chloe. So we walk to my car (close by) and I put on my 70-200mm and pullout the color checker get a whit balance shot and its ‘game on” for Chloe. Is she good, will she be able to pose with no warm up shots? We’re on the street in Philadelphia and all she has to work with is a big prison wall and a sidewalk. From the word go she jumps into action and starts to climb the wall. I mean climb the prison wall. She gets herself into this weird positon on this tiny outcrop of the wall and I’m shooting the whole time and saying to her please don’t fall. Now let’s just stop here for a minute and break this all down; how many times have we all seen someone who claims they can do this or that. Examples that come to mind are a musical instrument or sing. And when put on the spot they hesitate or make an excuse. Most models will just stand there till you give them direction. So as you can see dear little Chloe is “killing it” as we say. The whole shoot lasts 5 minutes and a few seconds and we’re done.
So in closing with this rather long blog post, the next step is to go over everything in my mind. Visualize and visualize again till it comes second nature as to what I’m going to do in ESP that night. After all I am not only the photographer but the director of this little project. Everybody on my team will be looking at me for direction. Let’s see if I can be as good as Chloe. I know I can, I’ll have her by my side the whole time.