For those that are new to all things tennis and Olympics, or just Olympic tennis, the ITF began a tradition in 2008 of publishing their own Olympic book, a celebration of all things Olympics and tennis, a place that could showcase our sport’s biggest names, that would illustrate the value that the players put on the Olympics, and that would have a well-deserved place on your shelf at home and in the hands of sporting heavyweights.
The project is notoriously challenging, but the end product always makes it equally as satisfying. For example, for the Beijing edition, the ITF had players dress up as other athletes in random shoots all across the world, with mad-dash assistance from various sports companies and clothing suppliers. The result was stunning and seamless, without any hint of the hard work involved.
So when the 2012 project began, the idea that players would be photographed in their own clothes, holding their own childhood picture, and in a studio, seemed a breeze in comparison. China was to be the shoot location for two weeks (one week Beijing, one week Shanghai) – again, no flying hither and thither, east and west – and photographers Paul (German, has a tendency to fall asleep) and Corinne (French, likes to corrupt the English language) were to be the sprinkle of fairy dust over the whole operation. As the pilot, I was armed with my mental rulebook on how to work on professional photoshoots. And having come out the other side, well, here it is:
1. Show up camera-ready:
While this may generally be something that applies to the model – you know...clean face, no birds nesting in your hair, odd shoes, or forgetting your own name - one would never expect one’s photographer to arrive....wait for it....empty-handed. It’s a fact widely known among intrepid travellers such as news crews or even your bog-standard cultural enthusiast, that having the right customs forms to enter China is no laughing matter. Cue, Paul. Our trip to China would be Paul’s umpteenth – in fact, he had been and gone to the Beijing Olympic Tennis Event in a blink of an eye and without a scratch of a lens – but when a miscommunication on arrival at Peking airport resulted in his equipment being held back, the locals weren’t the only ones speaking an entirely foreign dialect. Several gadgets down for a week, but we still got by, and it was entirely worth it for this:
Clearly, no one was taking a blind bit of notice of the frenetic German man, assuming that this was no doubt his first trip out of Stuttgart and the concept that your luggage gets dropped off and picked up 5,000 miles later was purely fictional. (On the right, in fact, that could have been our driver pretending not to know who we were).
So infamous was Paul’s plight, that the news spread far and wide across Beijing (well, from the Shangri-La hotel to the stadium, and also the local market - I swear I caught him haggling for a disposable camera). Drama over, it fuelled many a laugh and an ingratiating tale at the shoots. And luckily we had everything else intact – white backdrop, lights, childhood photos, flipcam, batteries, stands, ipod speakers, sense of humour....
Overall, Paul would prove to be the only person to contravene Rule No. 1 - discounting Max Mirnyi who arrived for his shoot in Melbourne straight off-court and (tut tut) in his sweaty sportskit (but totally forgiven) – and prizes for the best camera-ready contestants would go to the Christian Louboutin-ed Agniezska Radwanska, and the suited-and-booted Novak Djokovic and Jo Tsonga.
2. Don't add elements to your picture, it will complicate things
Ah. Slight problem here. The childhood picture, the big elephant in the room, the key to the shoot, the essence of the book. You can imagine that trying to get all the players, who are NEVER at home, to browse at leisure through their family photo archives, scan in their favourites (at 300dpi no less), and email in to the ITF was a huge ask. We managed it, well 75% to start with. There were times when some of the guys were bemused having to hold up a photo of a child in a dress (“that is not me when I was younger.......is it?!?), and also times when we completely forgot about the childhood picture (“beautiful photos Corinne, another 20 like that..........oh, bugger, where’s the picture?”).
Here's a couple of photos of the goings ons.....Bob and Mike Bryan with their really cute photo, wrapping up Paul in practice for Rafa, Corinne modelling with the real young Dominika Cibulkova, and testing the light for the Mardy Fish shoot (spot his baby photo)....
3. Take advantage of your local environment
When you’ve got a list of around 40 players to shoot within one theme, it came as no surprise that our imagination was going to be tested. And things reached crisis point.
Now there’s only so many ways you can ask a player to hold his own picture....face the camera please, turn a little to the left, to the right, look over your shoulder....before your inner voice is screaming out “fly in the air!” “do a magic trick!” “I know, actually appear inside your picture!” So we started to explore using different props. This presented two problems:
a) Shopping in China for specific photographic equipment requires an understanding of the Chinese alphabet and/or some knowledge of the language
b) Shopping in China with no understanding of the language, nor the alphabet (and hence all maps), in an unfamiliar city and with a blank list is retail suicide
On top of everything, the Chinese hypermarket looked like this:
While we had a handful of ideas, we didn’t necessarily know what we wanted until we saw it. We needed inspiration. We’d been to B&Q, to Ikea, to the local market, to the art district......(we did actually work as well)......and in addition to some unique props, one foremost idea was that we needed an office fan. If not for something to counteract the SKIN-CRINKLING force of the studio lights, but to bring a bit of a Pantène-moment into the girls’ shoots.
Now I had hunted high and low for a fan.... hotel lobbies, street corners.....but they just didn’t seem to exist. It wasn’t until Day 3 of fan-hunting that Paul and I happened upon one sad-looking fan all battered and bruised and cast into the corner of the electronics section of the supermarket. It was perfect! As I tried to load it into the shopping trolley, it prompted some incessant finger-wagging from the shop assistant and with the language barrier it was becoming increasingly frustrating to understand what was going on. All I wanted was a fan, why wouldn’t she let me have my fan!!
When the assistant wasn’t looking, I scarpered with the trolley and the fan directly to the checkout. Paul was meanwhile foraging in the arts and crafts section, and my heart was racing that there was going to be some problem at checkout, a kerfuffle would ensue, I wouldn’t be able to explain in Chinese, and the fan would be taken off me. I was worried for nothing. Smoothly through, out into the open air, and back we raced to the hotel equipped with fan, mirror, wire and various other paraphernalia. I couldn’t wait to proudly announce our fan success to Corinne, amidst the challenges of a foreign country it was like discovering gold. I dropped it off, disappeared to book the next round of shoots, and when I returned it had appeared to be unpacked but then re-packed. Shame it was a heater.
The offending article is below (and that’s Paul hammering the point home):
NEXT TIME - Make sure you know exactly what you're meant to be doing