The LCEF is an organisation that was found by couriers to help out their fellow riders when injured in the line of duty. With no sick pay or insurance, an accident whilst working can really wipe you off the map when it comes to paying your bills. Since it's creation the LCEF has grown tremendously, going from strength to strength. It's many avenues of fund raising are always very successful and the annual naked calendar is no exception.
This year I was very kindly given the opportunity to shoot for it and joined the group of 8 London based photographers who would be putting their heads together to create the calendar. A general meeting was held and topics, themes, formats etc etc were discussed (and argued about) until a final decision was made.
The theme was to be 'motion' and 'community', shot in colour on location (no white studios) and in a square format.
So with that in my head and a deadline set for the next meeting, off I went to panic about coming up with a good idea.
For me, the cycle courier community is the embodiment of family and that is reflected by it's support for every family member, looking out for one another wherever they may be.
The job of the cycle courier can be a solitary and lonely one at times. Out there on the road you are alone, just you and the bike. Your only connection to others is via the radio strapped to your bag over which you can hear what everyone else is up to at the same time. In some ways you are alone and yet not so, traveling in that little bubble of radio waves and voices.
Hearing what another rider is getting up to, maybe stuck at a problem delivery or having a joke with the controller can often be just enough to bring a little grin to your face as you fly along an empty and cold road, rain lashing down and the sound of engines approaching from behind.
I wanted to capture that some how in my image, that sense of family, support, always being part of a larger presence in some way, shape or form. You are never alone!
Along with a few other ideas, the main one that jumped out at me was based around a lone rider on the road with couriers in the back ground looking over them (like guardian angels if you like) . To help carry the message I wanted a very cold and scary road, the sort where you really are on your own 100% of the time. First to mind came Lower Thames/Victoria Embankment, an icrdeibly busy duel carriageway that lets traffic flow from east to west across the city with out having to pass through the middle. It claimed the life of one of our friends many years ago and has since always instilled the fear of death in me when using it.
There was a perfect spot with a wall in the back ground for people to stand on but with the nature of that road and the layout of the section in question, getting a herd of naked couriers into position and having a rider down on the road was NOT going to happen.
The second spot that I came across, which must have slipped my mind, was Archway Road, up beneath the infamous 'suicide bridge'. It's a busy duel carriageway with concrete either side and a long way from anywhere, so I went to scout it.
The spot was perfect.
I planned to shoot from one side of the road, directly across at the opposite side where the naked couriers would be lined up. There is a raised footpath that climbs parallel to the road up to suicide bridge. This would put the people in the back ground way up above the rider and give an extra sense of watching over them. Plus the footpath had a small wall running along it at foot level that would give the naked bodies somewhere to drop their robes, not have them in shot and yet still have super easy access if they wanted to cover up.
Beautifully is how it would crop.......... as long as I could find 20 couriers to get naked. At the same time. In Archway. Very early in the morning. Easier said than done.
Why 20? Well I wanted to fill the frame side to side to create an illusion of infinity, a never ending line of couriers. They are supposed to be suggestive, not so much a physical presence but an almost spiritual presence of the courier community watching down over the lone rider.
The spot in Archway was perfect to portray this image as the raised walkway gave separation from road level and the green foliage in the background gave even more separation from the cold concrete where the rider would be. I also decided to keep the rider clothed to further create a distinction between the 'real' and the 'metaphorically' there.
The camera angle posed a problem as I wanted to shoot with the camera locked off to later enable me to make a composite of frames if needs be. A busy duel carriageway is not the sort of place that you can just ask someone to 'move a little to the right' while you get another frame. I wanted to cover my bases and mounting the camera would do this for me. Sadly I had railings, 20 cm of hight and a gutter on the pavement making any sort of tripod useless.
That is how I discovered Magic Arm's. The most amazing device ever!!!! Whack it on a super clamp and you can lock off the camera where ever you need it. After a week of theorising, it solved all the problems.
I settled on an f stop (I think we had it at f.11) that would get me enough depth to hold the rider in front and the couriers in the background and at the same time get me a decent ISO (between 400 and 640) and speed to capture a little blur, and then went away to muster up the troops.
By the skin of my teeth and the help of my fellow couriers (mainly Polish Nick) I managed to pull together the 20 faces that I needed. I lost and gained a few along the way as we desperately tried to pin down a date for shooting.
And then the day came.
6am wake up, 7am up in Archway if I recall correctly (I have since blocked it from my mind). It had to be early so as not to scare the locals, attract the local police and have too much traffic on the road for a safe shoot. Some people had not gone to bed, some people where just climbing out of theirs when we arrived at the bridge, most were still pissed or just starting to get so. Hey, what else you gonna do when someone asks you to be in Archway at the crack of dawn on a saturday morning to get naked. But slowly and surely they arrived. As did the sun.......
By 8am we had 15 people and the sun was starting to climb. My test shots had been on an overcast day and it looked perfect but with that sun raising I could see major highlights popping up on the trees further down the road. If we did not start shooting soon it was going to be a contrast nightmare. We started to ring around the missing 5 and started to collect the excuses (don't worry, you are all forgiven now). Slept through the alarm, didn't set the alarm, thought it was the next day etc etc. I realised it was either wait and loose the shot that I had had in my mind for the last few month or settle for the 16 we had and just shoot it now.
So with the sun creeping up bit by bit the couriers made their way to the other side and started to ascend the footpath, surprisingly stripping quite eagerly as they went.
With the camera tethered to the laptop for fine focus checking and everyone in place it was time to drop the robes and shoot. I had a few variation that I wanted to cover with the group. Static poses, very straight, arms by their sides for a uniform, bowler-hat-wearing suits style shot, then a more casual one, like a courier social club and a few other little tweaks.
We had two-way radios so that I didn't have to keep shouting across the road and one of couriers who is also a film maker (cheers JT) was keeping an eye on the increasing light levels from their side of the road.
The rest as they say is history. At 7fps I got all the coverage I needed of the models and the passing rider in the fore front. The people on the passing busses got a nice giggle to start their day, and the sun? well we beat it just in time before the trees in the back ground were completely washed out and the scene lost.
All in all it was a huge success, everyone had fun and in some little way appreciated the extra few hours they had that saturday that would normally have been spent sleeping.
A huge thanks to everyone that made the shot possible, everyone that offered to lend me bits of equipment, everyone that got naked and not, Steph for helping me pull in the numbers and for printing the shot with all those willies on show (the brief was no full frontal nudity).
These are my two favourite frames. They are composites using the same image of the rider but with two variations for the onlookers.
And..... The final image, cropped to a square for print.
The only thing I would change? Just a few more bodies to fill the frame, but to be honest I think it still works just as well as it is.
Now for the important bit, GO AND BUY A CALENDAR!!!!
You can get it here
and you can find the LCEF here