by Hulyss Bowman
A photographic adventure
In the summer of 2012, a local rock band, The Claspers, contacted me, they were looking for their first visual for a CD cover. It was a complete improvisation as I didn’t know the guys, the location or the model. We worked quickly; it only took a couple of hours from first contact to producing the shot. My immediate thought was to put the model in a bathtub filled with paint or something similar, on location I found a beautiful house with an unusual bathtub, filling it with paint was out so instead I grabbed kilometers of old videotape I had in the studio, the Leica S2 with the 70mm and created the shot.
The idea of a new visual:
For the next year I followed the band, all young lads aged between 16 and 17, we developed a friendship and I felt it was important to give them some time and attention. When they asked me if I was hot for a new visual, I of course said yes and this is where the story begins. Having watched the band develop and witnessed the evolution of their music, I came up with a brilliant, if slightly silly idea, “Why not reproduce a spaceship crash landing in a field, like a Superman capsule??” They said a big YES! At this point I was a long way from fully understanding just how enormous a task producing this visual would be. It was April 2013 and in my mind the idea was simple, dig a big hole in the ground, build a spaceship, set fire to the field, position the model and shoot! The obvious issue’s were 1, this was my first crashed spaceship and 2, my budget was $0.
Scouting the location:
I started to roam the fields around my town to find a suitable location. Many places can’t be reached by car so I did a lot of walking in that two weeks. By pure luck I found a field with the sea behind and immediately thought, “this is it!” It was a farmer’s field, filled with cows so I went to meet the farmer. I explained my plan, he was a little surprised and more than a little amused, especially when I explained the need for a large hole in the ground! At first he didn’t think I was serious but he was ok with the idea and showed me a big field at the end of his property. He said, “I don’t know how you will dig it but here, this is rock solid boy!” He lent me the field but asked that we were finished by the 15th of August, it was now the 1st of June.
The hole, hard work under the sun:
And so it started, early June I went to the site armed with gloves, pick and shovel and got to work on one of the hardest parts of creating the image. At first I wanted to dig the crash hole and then work back across the field 100 yards or so, creating the illusion of the capsule bumping along the ground at speed before finally coming to a halt. You can imagine my face when I started to dig and found nothing but rocks! But I didn’t give up, I worked hard day after day, the farmer bought me some water and his smile soon faded as he saw my determination to get the hole dug. I had a small problem with cows when they one day entered the field and managed to destroy my first 2 weeks work within a couple of hours! It didn’t take long to put things right and after 2 days I was back on track. After a full month of digging, I brought the camera to the location and quickly discovered that the marks across the field wouldn’t be necessary (lucky as I was knackered!) The next problem was with the soil removed from the hole, it took so long to dig that the soil dried out and started to blow away on the wind, I was forced to bring gallons of water every day to keep it from disappearing completely. The next problem to solve was that a spacecraft crashing in to the ground would surely scorch the earth and so I tried many ways to burn the ground without success, I decided to worry about it later.
My idea for the capsule was simple, I’d build a large wooden structure and cover it with cardboard, but as with every other part of this project so far, I faced a problem. This time it wasn’t rocks or cows, it was the wind! The field was exposed and the wind was so strong that it was impossible to build something light so I needed a new plan. I thought about cutting down some trees but that wouldn’t do it, then whilst cleaning the tools off in the farmer’s yard I spotted an old steel tank that had been turned in to a feeder for the cows. In my mind it looked like a freaking awesome Russian space module! The next morning I spoke to the farmer about my problems with building the capsule and asked him about his feeder, he was not that keen at first but I persuaded him. He told me I could use it but that I’d have to move it myself, as all his tractors were busy.
Ok then, so how hard can it be to move a freaking awesome Russian space module from a farmers yard to a hole in a field? The answer, surprisingly hard! The thing weighed almost a ton but I didn’t let it beat me, using bricks and a lever I slowly managed to get it turned on to its side and it took me all morning to roll it across the fields to the hole. I started to paint it silver and then black to reproduce the steel burnt during its journey through the earth’s atmosphere. The singer of the band helped me to push it in to the hole, I was too tired to do it alone. By this time it was the middle of June and I’d lost more than 10kg’s of body weight!
Once in the hole, things started to go a little easier. I finished the paintwork and added some old gutters I found around the field. Ok, so it doesn’t exactly look like the Superman capsule but I was happy with the result, as were the band. With the rest of the black paint I found the solution for the burnt ground.
The model, the costume, and the shoot:
The model I had chosen for this visual, Lucille, was on holiday until the 10th of August but she was perfect for the shoot. Johanna de Rangot, my costume maker, worked blindly at home in secret, even I was unaware of what kind of costume it would be so I trusted her and wasn’t disappointed. I wanted something retro, not too modern, in the style of old films from the 70’s and she did it perfectly. So on the afternoon of August the 14th, the day of the shoot, everything came together just a day before the farmer needed his field back!
The whole team was in place to celebrate with a few beers and it was time for me to do my job, photography. At first the model was too clean, we tore her costume and we worked on the makeup but still it wasn’t quite right. I wanted a woman surviving a crash, not a model for a cosmetic shoot so I took her for a run around the field, trust me, it was a big field! By the time we made it back she was tired and sweaty, I got the face I wanted, some pain and seriousness in the eyes.
I grabbed some heavy-duty smoke grenades to put in the capsule and started shooting. For this I used the trusty D700 and the 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor. At 1.2 it would give me the hazy look I wanted for the shot. The sky was not really as I needed it but we got lucky just as the sun disappeared below the horizon, giving me the perfect light.
Some of you may be thinking that it was a huge amount of work for 1/6400 of a second and of course you’d be right. But it was one of the most exciting shoots I have undertaken so far and just as important, a really great way to lose weight! I learned that it is impossible to realize your vision without a great team around you, having such wonderful people to trust in you during the hard days is mandatory and I owe them all a great deal of thanks, they know who they are. As you can see, luck was a major factor in making this shoot successful but it is also true that the harder you work the luckier you get!
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before” a field in France!
Hulyss Bowman – www.hulyssbowman.com
The Claspers – www.facebook.com/theclaspers