London 4am with Annie Hall

It’s become my mission in life to help every girlfriend of mine (and sometimes guy friends too) to see the beauty they have within themselves.

Since I was a kid, I have always been very aware that I have been very blessed in this life, with some truly beautiful friends. All of whom without exception, have such captivating – and forgive me for being a bit shaman in my expression – ‘auras’ about them.

I’m sure you know the kind of friends I mean… They’re the people who you cant help but smile and laugh with when you’re in their presence, and immediately as you enter the same room they’re in, you feel yourself become a happier person… a better person than the one you believe is the normal ‘you’ walking around every day. It’s automatic that when they smile you feel their joy and you watch them in awe and cant help but be floored with admiration, fascinated by their energy and in your own way, totally head over heels in love with them.

Sadly, many of these wonderful people go through life absolutely convinced that when it comes to looks, or beauty, they feel that they’re invisible, ‘average’, ‘ordinary’ or in general ‘just not special’ simply because they feel that they don’t fit into societies’ definition of what it means to be beautiful. This I believe is something we all suffer from time to time. I’ve certainly never thought of myself as beautiful… certainly not in the ‘Angelina Jolie’ Hollywoodised kind of way, (which seems to be the one thing most women try to aspire to these days). But in my view I really don’t need to be, and in the words of Billy Crystal, “Who gives a Shit?”

My pain is seeing such beautiful people that I know and love, in such a crisis of self consciousness and afraid of emerging out of their shells, unable to see themselves as the amazing people that I can see. As a friend, words can only go so far in trying to convince them otherwise. I think inherantley we are all predisposed to believe the worst in ourselves. Trying to describe my observations sounds silly to them and people (truthfully) only believe the evidence of their own eyes. Wouldn’t you? So I decided one day (after a very difficult and tear stained conversation with a friend after a break up) that it was time she saw what I could.

We met in an afternoon. I opened some wine, we started chatting and I put some jazz music on and I began taking photos. Simple ones at first, she was shy and not quite sure what to do or how to pose, every moment scared that she would look worse than she imagined herself to be but slowly as she got used to the camera, and with me behind it cracking wine soaked jokes, she began to relax and enjoy herself. We ended up with over 40 images of her gorgeous figure spread across my laptop. And we flicked through them with gusto. It was the first time she’d seen herself in that way, and it was like a light had been lit up inside her.

Ever since that first photo shoot, it’s been my practice to take as many of my friends as possible on a private portrait shoot with me. Now I can hear you saying “increasing self esteem with a Camera?!” and yes, in many ways you’d be right…. Everyone, (including me) has been afraid of being in front of a camera. If you read my last post about my brief modeling career, you’d understand why. The camera, especially a pro one, trained on you for what seems like hours, makes you feel so exposed, naked, in essence, every nightmare thought you have about yourself, you are convinced the camera will show it.

The very idea of being the sole focus of a camera, of posing in the right way so that you don’t look like a total nob-head, of making yourself look the most beautiful you can, or even scarier, just being yourself in front of a lens can be massively intimidating and incredibly off-putting. However, with the right encouragement and my main ingredient “Fun”, I have found the my shyest friends become the most relaxed, happy and most confident people in front of the camera, in no time at all.

“The camera doesn’t lie” is a favourite saying today. Everyone knows this isnt true, you just have to look at advertisements today to know that. However, I do believe the camera can be used to reveal a fundamental truth.

Such was the case with Annie.

I first met Annie when I worked in a gallery in London. I loved her immediately. She was the gentlest and most lovely person to be around, and like some of my friends, she was quite self conscious. But the one thing I noticed that was unique to her, was that she walked around with an inner peace and calm that permeated the very atmosphere around her. She had a way of making you feel safe, as if a curtain had been drawn around the rest of the world and it was just you and her together. Needless to say, we became very good friends.

Eventually, I asked if she would like to do a portrait shoot with me, and after a bit of persuading, we spent an entire afternoon shooting in my flat and outside in the natural surroundings in Richmond. The resulting images were absolutely stunning! Annie consequently decided to sign up to become a model. I couldn’t have been prouder of her.

So, when it was time for me to take a summer trip from my new home in San Diego to London, Annie asked me to help her with some new portraits. I imediately said “YES!!”. I hadn’t been in the city for over six months, and I had missed her terribly and really wanted to do another shot with her. I was also very excited to capture the city again, and to take photos of her in all her beauty against the harsh urban landscape that I knew so well.

When I suggested that we meet in Covent Garden at 4am, she was immediately excited and so was I!

We caught night buses in the dark pre dawn hours, and climbed aboard amongst late party goers who were still a little better (or worse) for the drink. The group that was on my bus sounded like they were about to declare WW3 over Google Maps! Their loud and slurred argument upstairs made me giggle.

Annie and I kept in touch over texts and she was having a similar entertaining experience.

One text I sent to her was:

“OMG that’s us normally!”

and Annie replied

“No no no… we’re much classier than that!”

The fun continued as I was dropped off at Leicester Square, and walked to Covent Garden. We met in the courtyard of the historic square, just as the sky was getting light. The night lamps reflected off the cobbled stones, and the marketplace stood deserted but for a couple of homeless people sleeping soundly under the arches. Excitedly we both got ready. I set up my equipment as Annie got changed into her ball-gown using an empty archway, and then finally ready we started shooting.

Annie running to the end of the market.

Only after a couple of shots, an irritated security guard approached. He told us that we weren’t allowed to photograph there and that we had to ask permission from the “Main Office”. I stood there incredulous, gawping at him… “It’s a public area!” I wanted to say. “Tourists photograph this place every day!” But I bit my tongue, not wanting to start an argument that might last for ages. I just turned to Annie and said “There are other places to photograph, but we’ll have to hurry.” She nodded, smiling as we packed up our bags, and with the sun rising fast, we raced from Covent Garden leaving the security guard behind in a cloud of dust.

Picture this. Its 4.30am, the streets of London are almost empty, it’s quiet and peaceful. You are perhaps a builder walking to work, sipping a take away coffee, trying to wake up to face a long day ahead. Then all of a sudden you hear the fast rhythm of running feet behind you. You turn around just in time to see two girls sprint past you giggling with insane smiles on their faces! One, a tall, blonde, scruffy looking photographer with a large bag and an open tripod running alongside a vision of beauty with long raven hair in a pale ball gown and trainers. You perhaps stop and stare, blink at this early morning vision… it’s too early for this! The Blonde swings her head around to shout out, “Good Morning!” Before they both disappear from view, racing around a corner towards the river.

Yep! That was us!

London Landscapes 2014
Orange dawn on the Thames, racing towards Westminster Bridge

We giggled as we ran along the river, and marveled at the beauty of the orange dawn and how quiet the city was, we truly had London almost entirely to ourselves. It was fabulous! “Lets go to Westminster Bridge.” I said “We can take some photos of you with Big Ben!”

We finally got to the bridge and started the shoot again with the palace of Westminster as Annie’s backdrop. She had never worn a ball-gown before, and she looked absolutely amazing! The run had added some colour to her cheeks and we both felt more awake. The sun wasn’t quite over the buildings behind us, so the bright yellow light was thrown onto the palace behind her. We clicked away experimenting with every pose we could think of and others just spontaneously.

Annie putting on her high heels, as the sun rose on the Palace of Westminster.
Dawn Glamour
Dawn Glamour 2

The bridge was mostly empty, but a couple of people stopped to watch for a bit. One especially lingered a bit longer than I felt comfortable and made an extra effort to guard our belongings. Finally, once I’d shot at least over 100 images and in desperate need of coffee, we declared the bridge ‘done’ and walked towards Trafalgar Square.

Well… ok. So it was 6am I guess, despite all the coffee shops that serve the copious needs of politicians in the area, the only place open was McDonalds! “Well,” said Annie as we tried Pret a Manger with no success, “I guess McD’s will have to do!”

We walked back and as we stepped in to the restaurant, immediately I thought we might get into some trouble. There where several people were lining up to get coffee… clearly they were early morning workers that also needed some sustenance, but it wasn’t them I was worried about. At the far end of the room, leaning heavily up against the cashier’s counter was a very scruffy and dirty looking man. His clothes stank of alcohol and he was barely conscious. His head kept dropping onto his chest as if he had fallen asleep. There was only one server and her till was open right next to the man, and she didn’t seem worried about his presence, so I lined up as Annie went to the loo. But just as I joined the line behind what looked like to be a taxi driver, he rolled his greasy head around, fixed his eyes on me and give a big yellow tooth smile.

He blinked as if he’d been staring into a bright light, squinted at me and slurred “Heeey…wwwwwhyyyyy’s your head…. so big?”

Now… having been up half the night, my own brain wasn’t particularly functioning to the sharpest of its ability at that moment, and so I was sure that I’d misheard him. “I’m sorry?” I asked,

“Luv…” he said as he raised a hand and pointed at me “Why…. Uh….” He hesitated as his eyes rolled, “why… is your head so big?”

I took a step back, worried for a moment that he might fall over, and fought to suppress an insane giggle that threatened to burst out of my mouth at any moment. His head lolled again, then his eyes returned back to what apparently was my overly large head. I straightened my face, shrugged my shoulders and said. “I’m sorry hon, I can’t answer the riddle”

He nodded, obviously supremely disappointed and said, “Well… why is everyone’s head so big?” At that point he rolled his head backwards and fixed a leering smile on the server. By the look on her face it was clear she was nothing but grateful for the counter top between them.

She turned her attention to me and asked “What can I get for you?”

“Two black coffee’s please” I said, She immediately looked from me to the ‘weirdo’ standing at the counter and cringed. He, at that moment was poking his overly large tongue out at her and licking his lips with big smacking sounds, giving her what I was sure were to him, subtle declaration of interest. “Uh for me and my friend over there” I pointed to Annie who’d just emerged from the loo in all her glory.

“Oh!” she said, nodded and thankfully turned to her task.

The room went still as Annie crossed it to a standing table, dropped our bags and waited for me and the coffee. Everyone in the place was staring at her and following her progress across the room. Everyone that is, apart from the horny begger who at that moment was still making his not to subtle invitations to romp at the server girl, the result of which was a growing puddle of dribble on the counter top. I turned to pick up the coffees and gave the girl a slight nod of thanks.

“Good luck with your quest” I told him as I turned and made my progress towards Annie.

We stood quietly drinking our coffees and discussing where we might go next. I liked the idea of getting shots of Annie in the fountains of Trafalgar Square. Annie was game so we decided to try that one next. Suddenly we became aware of a ruckus happening around the counter. An argument had kicked off between the greasy man and the manager of Mc Donalds.

The panic button was pressed, and an ear splitting alarm sounded throughout the restaurant. A large booming voice erupted over the loud speakers and a police man told the man to stay where he was, they were on the way.

This only angered him and, spotting us, he made his way towards us… or more specifically towards Annie, advancing with a large smile on his face. She backed away saying “Please don’t touch me.”

“Awww. Luv..” he slurred as he blinked to focus on her “I’m not gonna do anyfink!”

He raised his hands and stepped closer.

Thats where I intervened. I picked up our bags, and stepped between the two of them with my back to him, blocking his advance towards her. I just looked at Annie, pointed towards the door and said “Lets go”.

Thankfully, he didn’t follow us. The Alarm was still ringing and he began shouting behind us. Once we reached the door, we ran towards Trafalgar square crossing the street towards Nelson’s column. Once we were sure he hadn’t tried to follow us, we paused to finish our coffee’s.

“Yeesh!!!” I said… the weirdoes you find on a Saturday morning!

“Yea..” she said.. and gave a small shudder “Eeeeew!!!”

Street Shadows just next to Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar square was blocked off by the construction of a fair being erected. So the fountain idea was out! We decided wander through Leicester Square and see if any photo opps would present itself there…. bad idea. We were accosted by a few more ‘weirdoes’. A few desparate off licence taxi drivers, and one very tall – 7 foot – African man in particular, who followed us for a good few minutes insisting that he was from Australia.

“Good for you mate!” I said, convinced he thought we were prostitutes. We shook him loose at Piccadilly Circus, then slipped into the quiet back streets and walked up to Carnaby Street where we took our last shots.

Carnaby was very similar to Covent Garden with its cobbled stones and historic buildings. I liked the contrast between the rising summer sun, the warm red bricks and the cold grey stones with Annie’s presence softening the harsh angles and with her classic dress adding to the historic feel to the place. We spent a lot of time there messing around and enjoying the moment.

My alarm flipped on at 7am, set to Pharrell William’s song “Happy” and we both started grooving! I got a few cool shots of her dancing. Just as the clock struck 8, we decided to call it a day as the sun was well and truly up in the sky and people were starting to emerge.

So with my iphone once again blaring “Because I’m Happy!!!!”, we danced and grooved our way to Oxford Street’s underground where we shared a tube home. The early morning commuters convinced we’d come back from a looong night out… or were performing the walk of shame…

And so endeth the adventure!

Truthfully, by the time we’d finished the shoot, I had no idea what to expect from the photos, we had deviated a bit from my original ideas, but when I finally was able to take them home and look at them the resulting shots are absolutely amazing! I spent a week editing them and now they’re displayed up in the Photography section of my website for everyone to see.

Annie London1
Westminster Palace Glamour

I loved experiencing London at a time of day. It was both a surreal experience but at the same time it really made me feel alive and aware. I normally would never have ventured out that time of day, but with Annie as my inspiration, I’m so very glad I did.

I now cant wait to get back to London and do another dawn shoot. I have so many more ideas about what I’d like to capture, so next time I’m back in the UK, you’ll find me somewhere on the banks of the Thames at 4am taking shots.

So if you’re interested in doing a dawn shot with me, or know someone who would like to get involved, let me know!

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