“You have two days to photograph more than 100 satin bunnies with fluffy white tails in a total of 18 famous landmarks in and around central London. I was all ears”. One of the joys of our profession is not knowing what’s next; the unpredictability, unexpected, the absence of routine, the ever-present feeling of not knowing what’s just around the next corner. Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) is a Swedish retail clothing company, known for its fast-fashion clothing for men, women, teenagers and children. Established in 1947, H&M has grown into a multi-billion dollar global fashion brand with more than 2,000 stores in 38 markets on four continents, and in excess of 80,000 employees. The bunnies’ role was to create awareness of the launch of H&M’s new London Home store in Oxford Street. The brief was simple: photograph them at various London landmarks using unusual angles, depth of field and abstraction to give hints as to their location. These pictures were to be published in the fashion press and posted on the H&M Facebook page for members of the public to try and figure out their whereabouts, then rush to find a bunny, complete with silk bow and £20 H&M Home voucher.
One of the joys of our profession is not knowing what’s next; the unpredictability, unexpected, the absence of routine, the ever-present feeling of not knowing what’s just around the next corner.
Our initial reaction was concern as to the sheer number of locations and tightness of time involved in which to deliver quality pictures. These concerns were very quickly dispelled by Anna Whiting of Gainsbury & Whiting. Anna and Sam Gainsbury represent Ruth Hogben, Nick Knight, Steven Klein and Sam Taylor-Wood, whose creative production portfolio includes, among others, Alexander McQueen, Louis Vuitton, Kate Moss for Top Shop, Emporio Armani and Lancôme. The call sheet reads like a Who’s Who of British fashion, film and drama, including Sam Gainsbury, Emmy award-winning and Bafta nominated production designer Joseph Bennett and location manager Richard Blackburn (Death at a Funeral and The Comic Strip Presents among others). Our team numbered 13 in total – four production, two art department, one location manager, two unit drivers, two runners, myself and my assistant Roger Richards. Having never shot bunnies before I’d deliberately kept the equipment as manageable as possible: one Canon EOS-1Ds MkIII and an EOS-1DMkIV complete with 14mm f/2.8, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 135mm f/2L USM and, unusually for me, a 70-200mm f/2.8 L series telephoto zoom.
Thursday 21 October 2010: the light was great; hazy sun, not too bright and quite diffused. I couldn’t have wished for better. With all this collective experience I chose to jump in and just react to the locations and make very quick choices as to where the light would be most interesting while still giving the environmental and architectural clues required to help identify the locations. Trusting this job to instinct I was drawing on my years as a graphic designer/art director first and photographer second. It took exactly 20 minutes to shoot the first two bunnies at the London Eye, hand in hand as the early morning sun warmed Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel and symbol of modern Britain. With the first bunnies in the bag (so to speak) we moved onto the Royal Festival Hall. Not my favourite location but there wasn’t time to spend contemplating the finer points of this 1951 Grade I listed modernist structure, juxtaposed with black satin post-modernist bunnies with fluffy white tails. Waterloo Bridge opened up the shoot to slightly quirkier and, in some ways, more sinister bunnies; a row all in shadow seen from the ascending stairway under the gaze of a security camera. Then tragedy struck as first one bunny, then another, jumped from the bridge. Whether they actually jumped or simply hopped off is still open to speculation, but I like to think that there’s now a thriving community of black satin bunnies out there somewhere in the London boroughs – or should that be the London ‘burrows’?
The South Bank and the Tate Modern offered opportunities for impromptu bunnies relaxing in pairs on the Millennium Bridge and soaking up the sun, then lining up for group shots in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. Two sat outside the Tate and queued to see the Gauguin: Maker of Myth exhibition. It’s possible that they may have mistaken this display of work for that of Gauguin’s friend Vincent van Gogh, and were eager to see his notable work Field with Two Rabbits – presumably members of the contemporary art, thought and discussion community artrabbit.com. They must have been Tate Modern regulars as no one batted an eyelid at their presence in the queue. Still on foot we headed to HMS Belfast, but as guns and bunnies don’t mix we didn’t linger, but kept going until we reached the south embankment walk leading to Tower Bridge. Here we met our first major obstacle in the form of a dark suit, horn-rimmed glasses and a security pass. I have met many such obstacles while shooting in London but thanks to Gainsbury and Whiting, this time we had an antidote in the form of location manager Richard Blackburn. Richard’s encyclopaedic brain contains knowledge of all the places where a photographer or film maker can and can’t shoot in and around the capital – and quite possibly the rest of the world. For every question he had an answer. He was like the location finder’s equivalent of a TomTom, fully loaded with HDTraffic, local Google search and speed camera alerts. The minutiae of Richard’s knowledge was astounding – “You can shoot on that blade of grass over there but not this paving slab here.”A fairy godmother in a fleece with only a Moleskine to defend himself, he was our David to the Goliath of this suited institutional impediment. Our path now clear we moved onto capture probably one of the most spectacular moments of the two days as more than 50 bunnies took to the air – not towards the Thames this time but skyward, with the aid of the entire crew and the 10 frames per second motor drive of the Canon EOS-1DMkIV. Shooting bursts of nearly 30 frames at a time I recorded the black, white and sky blue display as the bunnies reached incredible heights; all the time making sure that recognisable landmarks were still in frame.
Cards full, we headed to the production and art department vehicle. This long wheelbase Mercedes, complete with wardrobe room, privacy glass, lots of comfortable seats, a table and a mysticalWi-Fi connection, was like some kind of Harry Potter-style office that was always around the next corner, or wherever you were whenever you needed it. With the laptop ever on and Adobe Lightroom ready to gobble up the cards, I could edit and perform simple post-production with the help of the Wacom Intuos4 tablet and pen and upload my images, via web Gallerys, straight back to Gainsbury and Whiting – and in turn to H&M. Back on the street, and after hordes of our long-eared visitors had been photographed making a silent vigil outside the Love and Vogue magazine offices – and following a pleasant interlude with a bemused drunk in Soho Square – we headed to Hyde Park Corner. Twenty-five two-foot tourists lined up to watch the sun set on Marble Arch, looking like a still from some future Doctor Who episode, The Order of the Lagomorpha maybe?
Day one finished at Piccadilly Circus, where three weary bunnies were photographed sitting on the steps of the Shaftesbury memorial fountain – in close-up, with only the abstracted bright colours of the neon signs in the background to give the necessary clue as to their location. After 12 coffees and 50 carrot juices, day two started outside the National Gallery where tens of bunnies sat and patiently watched over Trafalgar Square while commuters walked among them. As I shot with an 85mm lens at f/1.2 with an angle finder at foot level, the commuters and bunnies seemed to merge into each other with the barely recognisable form of Big Ben in the distance. If day one had seen the bunnies adopt certain human characteristics, day two witnessed their complete transformation, as Joseph Bennet – a modern-day Geppetto – and his assistant Sam Wise breathed not only life but personality into the long-eared, satin-clad, furry-tailed home gifts. They had become bookworms at the British Museum, canoodled in Covent Garden, taken taxis to Notting Hill, perused the Portobello Road and chatted on the Chelsea Embankment. Back on the magic bus I uploaded the final gallery and we pored over the laptop smiling at the results from our fun-filled bunny bonanza.