a man who is concerned with his clothes and appearance in an affected and excessive way; a dandy.
It all started Valentine's day 2009. I was hired by the Belmont Burlesque Revue to set up a photobooth for patrons, and also to photograph the show. This was a special show titled "Broken Hearts Burlesque Ball" and was held at the Abbey Pub here in Chicago. For those of you not familiar with the Abbey, it's a larger venue than the BBR normally plays, making this show more of a rock concert than a vaudeville theater experience. Burlesque performers from around the city came to perform. Chris, who usually plays Second Cousin Joe in the show, wanted to do something different since this was a "Ball." He wanted to come in as a fancy gentleman. Top hat, tux with tails, cane, etc. But when he went to Chicago Costume, the owners son had a very different definition of "Fancy Gentleman."
Chris made his grand entrance as Lord Toppenbottom. A mask wearing fop, prepared for decadent fun. He was an instant hit as he walked around the floor playing with the crowd. It was the ultimate in audience participation, patrons would walk over and spank Lord Toppenbottem. Ask to have pictures taken with him. He would cap any encounter with a laugh straight out of Amadeus. It was a HUGE hit with the crowd. Chris really owned his character and made a big impression on all of us.
Ever since that night I had been thinking of ways to capture the Toppenbottom experience. But what would I do? Period shoot? Burlesque shoot? What tells the story? I decided that the only way to tackle this was to charge in and hope the dice sing (D&D expression). The initial thought I would riff on was "Party like its 1710 in 2010." I'd need a fop and modern girls dressed like they were going out clubbing.
I talked to Chris about models and gave him the ultimate decision who he wanted to work with. He came to me with Natanya and Elise. Both of whom I hadn't worked with, but have known for a long time. Chris explained the basic concept to them, they'd need clubbing dresses, and that we might strip down to bra and panties.
I arranged to meet with Chris at Chicago Costumes. I arrived before Chris and really had no idea what I was looking for. It was close to closing time and we were having some trouble finding Chris' costume based on my rough description. After about 20 minutes of me pulling pirate costumes that could work, Chris came in, walked right over to the rack and pulled the exact same costume he had for the Abbey show. Chris regaled the clerk and I with stories from the year before, being made to look like a fop by the owners son. Everything came together when the clerk found the poofy horn wig that ties the whole outfit together.
Chris and I left with our rental and met up with my girlfriend, Shauna, for pizza. I tried to explain what I was going for in the shoot. A few basic ideas, but nothing fleshed out in the slightest. I could see Chris getting a little nervous that maybe this wasn't such a great idea getting involved in this... what would I make him look like?
That night I put some more thought into the shoot. A few more ideas to riff with. My new take on things was "One of these things is not like the other." Lord Toppenbottom, in all his decadent glory, would be mirroring what the girls did and exaggerating what the girls were doing.
We shot everything on a white background, with the lights close to the subjects to gray it out. I shot mostly with an 85mm 1.8 lens on my Canon 5D MKII. This shoot was an absolute blast to work on. I recommend Natanya, Elise, and Chris as excellant models. Shauna was an excellant assistant and DJ. I can't wait to work with this crew again.
As always, I'd love to hear your feedback.
EXTRA TIDBIT - The following photo is not safe for work, but I'd feel awful to not post it. It was one of the last set ups we shot and was Shauna's idea. If you were wondering what Lord Toppenbottom has in common with Mine That Bird...
Not at work? Click for larger version.