Sophia Loren in Miami

I’ve just been alerted that an article I had photographed for Architectural Digest Magazine in 1995 is appearing again in the magazine’s online site. Here’s the link:

Architectural Digest Visits Sophia Loren in Miami

As a photographer, it’s satisfying to learn that your work of the past still holds interest for today’s readers. But that’s always and especially true when the story involves a celebrity. And this one’s not only about your average celeb but an icon in the world of film.

Back then I had received a call from the assignment editor at Architectural Digest that the actress, Sophia Loren, had an apartment in South Florida. That wasn’t news to me because I had been hired to photograph that very apartment for its interior designer, Ted Fine, and I had recently completed the shoot. Architectural Digest had seen the photos and wanted to use them in a story. As an AD Contributing Photographer, I was regularly assigned shoots in South Florida as well as at locations throughout the Caribbean. The photographs of Sophia’s apartment hadn’t been published anywhere yet and when the call came from AD, I was able to assure the magazine that it would be the first to publish them. But AD wanted more than just those interior design shots. Sophia herself had agreed to appear in the story and that’s why the magazine was now calling. She had promised the magazine to make herself available for a shoot in the apartment.

That assignment would become a memorable day for me. Sophia posed for my camera in four different areas of the apartment. She would appear styled differently for various activities which included dressed to go out, casually relaxing at home and, most interestingly, in her kitchen preparing a meal. I learned that she had authored a cookbook and was used to shopping her ingredients at Lorenzo’s Market in North Miami Beach.

Being the consummate pro, she treated me and my crew with the utmost respect and was surprisingly generous with her time, She was happy to dress and prep herself without the aid of a personal stylist and was ready-to-go for four individual scenes. She asked for nothing more than our input and approval as to her apparel for each setup. I have to thank my wife, Loretta, whose artistry and experience in the garment industry bore fruit that day. My skills are elsewhere, but Loretta boldly stepped to the plate and became the actress’s advisor for each appearance.

The most challenging setup was the scene in the kitchen where it would appear that she was preparing a meal for friends. We had learned she was quite used to doing this (knowing a local resource like Lorenzo’s for example). Loretta came up with the idea of Sophia making her own pasta and to pose her working a pasta machine. Loretta is a very experienced amateur chef, and since that kitchen had few accessories, she brought her own pasta machine from home along with an assortment pots and dough prepping materials. All that remained was the sheet of dough and the rolled pasta to come out of the machine in the shape of linguine. No, we didn’t actually make it from scratch – we purchased sheets of pasta from Lorenzo’s Market and they stood in very well. On the day of the shoot, Loretta, her star-struck emotions in check, stood with the actress helping her set up the “pasta making scene” – and we had it! In addition to the shot for the magazine, a black and white polaroid of Loretta Forer and Sophia Loren together in the kitchen is a wonderful souvenir of that day!

Loretta & Sophia Captioned 4

A Vote for Bernie?

I’ve gotta say, my mind is stressed after reading some of the comments on my Sanders/Clinton Blog. Breanna, you’re absolutely right. A vote is a very personal and precious thing. And it shouldn’t be squandered. After reading the copy you attached, it brings back vivid memories of my ultra-liberal upbringing, surrounded by like-minded family and friends; the world of progressive thought that was the milieu of New York City in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Ardent support of unions, of social equality, anti-war, anti-trust, anti-facsist, all those things that were emblems of the period that went by just before our births. We never stopped hearing about the terrible “Great Depression” that our elders referred to as having bought the country to its knees and taught it a lesson. And the wondrous years of FDR who was nearly a saint to my folks. And Pepe, you’ve been watching all this more closely than anyone I know. Your analysis and related websites lead you to the conclusion: Bernie Can Do It!

And , indeed, I think he can do some of it. At least, once in office he’ll be a constant thorn in the side of those troglodyte right-wingers who deny climate change, want control of womens’ rights, are in Wall Street’s pockets, etc., etc. We are a three branch republic however, and Bernie would need the support of a Democratic Congress to move his policies forward. Not to mention an agreeing Supreme Court to make sure progressive legislation stands. Can we guarantee him that?

You urge me to cast my support to the one who most closely echoes the ideals and aspirations of my very progressive generation, in fact, my own ideals. So it pains me to vote in fear. It’s a very real fear though.  The tenor of our country today, the responses of “average” folks I’ve heard newscasts, to me sounds like the sour tone of complaints and accusations accompanying the rise of hate and blame that was Germany in the 1930s. It alarms me!

Simply put, Trump, who will likely be the Republican candidate, must not be elected. And if Independents and fair-minded Republicans are to be the swing votes that decide this election, then I believe Clinton, whose stated positions are more centered than Sanders’ left- leaning policies, can garner enough support among those swing voters to beat the Trump onslaught.

 

 

 

 

 

Sanders v. Clinton

It’s been a while since my last blog and since my chosen field is architectural photography, it’s always been best for me to stick to writing about what I know and love so well. But my mind is overwhelmed by what’s going on in our political world and I feel compelled by to write down some of my thoughts.

First, as an admitted liberal (now renamed progressive), and as a recently enrolled Democrat (I switched from independent to be able to vote in Florida’s primary), I’m suffering over the choice I must make, Clinton or Sanders. For me, it would have easily been Clinton but for Sanders’ entry into the fray. Although he’s a senator from a faraway state, I’ve followed him for years whenever he’s been interviewed on a current subject and I’ve always thrilled to the consistent statements that come unadulterated from the mind and heart of this very straight-forward person. How can I not like him? I even sent $3 to his campaign, a campaign he brags is funded by “average” folks like me. But, can he win in a general election? That’s what I’m thinking these days. Wouldn’t Clinton with her far-ranging experience from her White House years as closest ear to a president, then as a New York senator, and then as Secretary of State, wouldn’t she be the sensible choice for me to make?

Ahh, sensible . . .

That’s a troubling word. But it’s a truth I feel. If Trump gains that office, we’re doomed to a world of bombast and know-nothings the likes of which the we’ve seldom seen. Just imagine Trump addressing the UN, an organization he has said he doesn’t respect. Or just being in the same room as Vladimir Putin (whom he says he’ll take down a notch), or the President of Mexico (whose citizens he’s insulted verbally). I quake to think of the damage four years with that person at the helm will do to our prestige in the world, not to mention our own land. If you think climate change is a malicious threat to the world over the coming centuries, just imagine what a Trump presidency will mean within just a few short months.

So I must act to protect my country now just as I was sworn to do so when I was an Army non-com all those years ago. I now swear allegiance to the land of my birth and promise to do no harm to it if I have the power. And today, the power I have resides in my vote. It will be a vote at its heart more against something. I’m against Donald Trump, and I’ll fight for any way to make that heard. But I so fear the dilution of our voice in the splitting of our support between Sanders and Clinton that if Sanders were to prevail and become our nominee, how do you think we’d fare in the general election? That vote eventually would become support for Trump, and that cannot be allowed to happen! I believe that Hillary Clinton should face the Trump monster in November.

And if that means ignoring what my heart may tell me about Bernie Sanders, then I must ignore it and vote for Hillary.

Olympia Theatre Graces the Cover of The Villager’s Yearbook

villager directory 2014 cover

 

The Olympia Theatre, a restored 1920s “Picture Palace” in downtown Miami, appears on the current cover of the yearbook of  THE VILLAGERS, an organization dedicated to the preservation of Miami’s historic structures.

 

3630-07 ©2002 Dan Forer

The structure, completed in 1926 by architect John Eberson, had amazed the public of the time with its stunning Moorish architecture, perfect acoustics and a simulated night sky complete with wafting clouds and twinkling stars. It’s one of the few Eberson buildings around the world still standing.

 

3630-09 ©2002 Dan Forer

It was saved in 1975 by philanthropist Maurice Gusman and thanks to early restoration work by famed architect Morris Lapidus, in 1984 it was named to the National Register of Historic Places

 

I had the honor to photograph the project for Miami architect Richard Heisenbottle, a well-known restoration specialist. He researched the archives for photographs showing the building’s original appearance.

 

3630-10 ©2002 Dan Forer

Experts drilled through decades of the wall’s paint layers to sample and reveal the original colors. It’s been an ongoing project for Heisenbottle that has, thanks to work over the years, seen the theatre’s visual charm and practical use revived. The Olympia is a glorious exemplar of Miami’s past.

3630-04 ©2002 Dan Forer

A Photo-Shoot in an Unusual Place

3924-18 ©2008 Dan ForerSometimes it’s just plain luck.

 

My assignment was to photograph a newly created collection of furniture pieces by designer, Adriana Hoyos. Adriana, well-known as an interior designer, is also the creator of her own line of furniture on display in her showrooms located in Miami, Ecuador, Venezuela and Chile.

 

With ad deadlines looming, it was decided that, rather than await shipment to Miami, the most efficient way to photograph the line quickly was to do it where all the new pieces were located, in Adriana’s home base, Quito.

 

But then it became a question of where to do the shoot. Adriana was against shooting in a studio. That would have been fine for a “catalog” style of furniture photography; isolated pieces against a seamless neutral background. This shoot had to be different. It was destined for a campaign using full-page ads in prominent design journals. Neutral catalog shots wouldn’t do. She felt that the venue and background for the pieces should compliment her designs though not compete or distract. The placement of the furniture in real-world home settings was an option she rejected. Adriana felt that in each ad, the piece should be isolated and rivet the viewer’s attention powerfully. They deserved to be seen as individual creations; more like works of art or as sculptures – which indeed they were.

3924-15 ©2008 Dan Forer

For a location, a fortunate convergence of events led her to visit a closed and fire damaged theatre in downtown Quito which was owned by a friend. When I arrived in Quito with my assistant fully equipped to do the shoot, she asked me to visit the site in order to help make the final technical and artistic decision on whether or not the space would work.

3924 Adriana Hoyos Theater

The area I chose on the theatre’s mezzanine was vast. The extraordinary thing was that the fire had left the walls of the space covered in a patina of mottled earth tones. And, especially useful, the entire space was flanked by a wall of high windows letting natural light stream in from one side. I felt we could depend on that light as a principal source and I could provide the needed fill and accent using my own lighting units.

 

Finally, the furniture pieces, strategically placed for the photographs, easily stood apart emphasizing the simplicity and elegance of their design.

 

3924-09 ©2008 Dan Forer

 

 

So the luck of finding that extraordinary place made all the difference, And with Adriana’s willing staff helping us transport and position the furniture pieces, we shot for two long days coming away with a collection of images that satisfied my client and made me proud to have been a part of the process.

 

3924-06 ©2008 Dan Forer

Cotton House – An 18th Century Mill Into a Caribbean Island Hotel

I was assigned to photograph three separate locations in the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Two were on the exclusive enclave on the island of Mustique. And another on a nearby island called Canouan. I allocated two weeks out of my schedule which would include travel from Miami as well as the hop between islands. In the days before digital, when we were using film, the equipment needs were greater than today. Each scene setup would have to be perfectly lit, no matter day or night. Each sheet of film (4×5) would have to be perfection itself. There was no access to Photoshop fixes in those days so the stress was on the photographer to produce completely light-adjusted images which would reproduce successfully in the magazine.

 

Since we had to transfer from the large aircraft which carried us from Miami to a much smaller one for the hop between San Juan and St. Vincent, we couldn’t carry much of our gear with us. So, in advance, I shipped our cases of lighting equipment via air-freight. This had to include several heavy transformers to convert the island’s 220 volt power source to the 110 volts our units required. And I had to estimate in advance our film (and Polaroid) needs for all three projects. I had never seen these sites prior to the shoot, so I based my estimate of film needs on the many shoots I’d done on past assignments. I have to admit, my estimate was off by a bit and I found myself calling Miami mid-shoot to ask for more film. Thankfully it arrived in time for us to complete our work.

 

One of the locations on the assignment was a small hotel on the island of Mustique called Cotton House. In the 18th Century, it was home to a processing mill which stored cotton grown on the island for export back to Europe.

 

A cool guest room looks out onto placid Caribbean waters. Built on the remains of an 18th Century cotton mill on the island of Mustique in the Grenadines.

A cool guest room looks out onto placid Caribbean waters. Built on the remains of an 18th Century cotton mill on the island of Mustique in the Grenadines, the hotel offers a secluded and private environment on an island known for its famous residents. I never know in advance whether any of my images will be cover material, so it’s always exciting to see that one’s been chosen for a cover!

 

2 Cotton House pp270-271

A view from a nearby hill looks down upon Cotton House with the island of St. Vincent in the distance. And beauty salon opens its doors to the beach.

 

3 cotton House pp272-273

An indoor lounge with open doorways all around bringing in the freshness of the ever-present trade winds. A place to escape to when tropical showers pass by. And a view of the dining area at dusk, open on all sides to the night air.

4 Cotton House pp274-275

A remnant of the original cotton mill, the conical windmill tower – a familiar shape on many Caribbean islands. And a guest bedroom whose private porch faces the sea.

 

 

 

 

Cotton House pp276-277

The hotel’s private pool and outdoor lounge which faces east taking advantage of the prevailing breeze.

 

 

 

 

On the Island of Anguilla – An Architect’s Treasured Creations

 

Four solitary villas stand like sentries on a pristine stretch of Anguillan beach. Their positioning and architecture was engineered to ventilate them by capturing the constant easterly flow of the trade winds. A trademark principle of their renown designer, Myron Goldfinger, whose attention to nature's forces has made him a leading practitioner in the world of energy efficient design. My assistant and I lifted the outboard engines off these fishermen's boats. I wanted the scene to appear are "pure" as I could.  I styled the oars, ropes and anchors to help that effect. Notice the position  of the oars which move the eye from foreground to mid-gound to the background villas (which themselves are the stars of the shot).  And - yes, we did put the outboards back and hopefully the fishermen would not notice anything when they returned the next morning to retrieve their catches!

Four solitary villas stand like sentries on a pristine stretch of Anguillan beach. Their positioning and architecture was engineered to ventilate by capturing the constant easterly flow of the trade winds. A trademark principle of their renown designer, Myron Goldfinger. His attention to nature’s forces has made him a leading practitioner in the world of energy efficient design. For this shot, my assistant and I lifted the outboard engines off the boats conveniently left on the beach by local fishermen. I wanted the scene to appear as “pure” as I could. So I positioned the oars, ropes and anchors to help in that effect. I believed that the placement of the oars helped direct the viewer’s eye from foreground to mid-gound to  background, to the villas (which were the stars of the shot). And – yes, we did put the outboards back so the fishermen would not notice anything amiss when they returned the next morning.

 

 

The cover of Architectural Digest - my first of many. The Hammock. An elegantly simple scene taking advantage of visual layering . Structure - to foliage - to beach - to water - to islands - to sky. A one-point perspective.  A favored point-of-view, preferred by architects.

The cover of Architectural Digest – my first of many. The Hammock. An elegantly simple scene taking advantage of visual layering. Architectural structure framing the foreground, leading the eye through beach, sea and sky to the distant island in the background. This is a one-point perspective: a favored point-of-view preferred by architects. Interestingly, when we returned to shoot a few years later, the line of foliage on the beach had grown in height. I could no longer get this composition to work – the taller foliage now obscured the view from this low camera angle. But that growth had been foreseen and planned by the architect. The villa was now visually shielded from passers-by. A resident could parade around in any (or no) attire and feel entirely at ease!

 

 

Like a lone sentry, it structure stands watch, capturing the constant trade winds. The island of St. Marten occupies the horizon five miles away.

Like a lone sentry, the structure stands watch – its louvered upper scoops gathering the constant trade winds and passing them down through the building to exit below toward the water. Nature’s cooling effect. The island of Dutch/French St. Marten lies on the horizon five miles away.

 

 

Covecastles Pre Dusk ©Dan Forer

Sand everywhere underfoot. No concrete paths. No stone pavers. The structure sits firmly on the sand berm surrounded by it and with recently planted young palms promising to grow in the coming years. The adjustable wooden louvers on the windward side of the building control the ever-present trade-winds which will ventilate the interiors without dependence on electricity for cooling.

 

 

Covecastles Dusk ©Dan Forer

How lovely to wait with camera set until the sun is down and the sky assumed that deep purple glow. We had placed lights in the louvered upper openings and used accent lights outside which were aimed to reveal the curves in the structure. Public electricity on the island was unpredictable at that time. We were advised to be ready with a generator just in case. And so it was that this setup was made possible – we did use a generator which cranked noisily behind the shrubbery.

 

Covecastles 35mm

On our second trip, a new cluster of attached residences has been built and can be seen from the balcony of one of the original villas.

 

 

"Pass me the water bottle , please". My photo-assistant and my wife, Loretta, pose as visitors to Covecastles. I've been engaged to photograph the project for the owner/architect Myron Goldfinger. Its' for a brochure which will introduce it to the vacationing public. Still, there are no paved roads, no concrete paths or stone pavers anywhere in the project. The structures sit on sand and are surrounded by it. And the project, after some years,  is beginning to mature. The foliage and trees have grown and now show signs of what they'll be like in the near future.

“Pass me the water bottle, please”.  My photo-assistant and my wife pose as visitors to “Covecastles”. I’ve been engaged to photograph for the owner/architect Myron Goldfinger. It’s for a brochure which will introduce the project to the vacationing public. Still, there are no paved roads, no concrete paths or stone pavers anywhere. The structures sit on sand and are surrounded by it. And the project is beginning to mature. The foliage and trees have grown and now show signs of what they’ll be in the future.

 

 

Covecastles Sunset Beach Couple ©Dan Forer

Sunset at “Covecastles” with my volunteers on the beach, once again posing as a vacationers.

 

 

 

Near a Mountain Brook – Photographing a Rustic Retreat

Our van descended the steep incline to the entry of the designer’s home in the mountains near Highlands, North Carolina. The home, aptly named “Falling Water”, is inviting and comforting in the way it embraces its surroundings and invites them in though spectacular views of forest and water. My photographic assistants and I had driven over from a shoot some miles away and met up with my wife, Loretta, the stylist on the shoot who had driven up from Miami to meet us. We were prepared for several days of a concentrated effort. I was charged with the task of photographing the home for its designer/owner and for a future of magazine articles about it. The home was a challenge through a variety of unpredictable weather conditions – sunny, rainy, foggy – all that summertime in the mountains has to offer up. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to photograph.

 

 

Water Cascades over Falls - Home in the Distance

Water Cascades Noisily over a Series of Small Falls – The Mountain Home in the Distance

 

From the rear balcony, you can hear the sounds of the water pouring over the small falls.

From the rear balcony, you can hear the sounds of the water pouring over the falls.

 

Living Room Table with Panoramic View Forest and Steam

Living Room Table with Panoramic View Forest and Steam

 

 

Small Gathering Spot Takes Advantage of the Forest View

Small Gathering Spot Takes Advantage of the Forest View

 

 

The Kitchen with Mountain Fog Beyond

The Kitchen with Foggy View Beyond

 

 

Bonnie Muxo Residence, NC

The Dining Table with Kitchen Beyond

 

 

Master Bedroom

The Master Bedroom – traditional style, warm and comforting with a rustic fireplace and adjoining balcony overlooking the stream and forest.

 

 

Bonnie Muxo Residence, NC

Each bathroom is warmed by a fireplace

 

 

Bonnie Muxo Residence, NC

The liberal use of native river-stones in the bathroom brings the outside world into contact with the interior one.

 

Dining in the Foreground with Living Room Beyond

This multi-purpose space serves an active family as dining room, game room and living room.

 

Across a Small Bridge to the Home's Back Yard

Across a Small Bridge to the Home’s Back Yard

A Study in Style – Cher’s Vision in Miami Beach

It’s been my mission through the years I’ve spent photographing residential interior design to interpret the work of the artist-designers who’ve trusted me to record their creations. From the crisp, clean modernism of today to the revival of a style from the past, these homes all have a common theme: that the homeowner wishes to live surrounded by beauty as he or she personally sees it. They each and all are special.

When the assignment came from Architectural Digest Magazine to photograph Cher’s home in Miami Beach, I found myself in a place rooted in the past. Although modern in most functional respects, the mood of the home was a combination of Middle Ages meets Renaissance meets North Africa. With much of the furniture and accessories of her own design, Cher had created a warm and romantic feeling. Sheltered in an architecture of arches, columns, mysterious hallways and winding stairs, the home is an example of a very personal vision, one all her own.

 

The Entry Foyer flanked by stairways leading to the home’s private areas

The Entry Foyer flanked by stairways leading to the home’s private areas

 

In the foyer the mystery begins. I felt the best time of day to shoot this space would be at dusk when the subtle tones of low kelvin interior lighting and candlelight would predominate. Actually, the shot was set up at night and we waited for the blue light of dawn outside to light up the windows and doorway. This blue effect outside helped emphasize and contrast the warmth inside. I attempted to make the interior surfaces appear as though they had been lit by existing built-in sources. In reality, these real sources weren’t enough to convey the effect I wanted, so I had to provide my own lighting. My goal when doing this is to make it seem as though I’ve added nothing; the effect being a natural part of the scene.

 

The Master Bedroom

The Master Bedroom

 

Although the Master Bedroom could have been photographed to great advantage at night, just like the Foyer, I felt that, in this case I could take advantage of the sunlight flooding in during the day.  In this way I would provide some contrast for the art director designing the layout;  moving away from the mystery and drama of the night look and contrasting it with a “natural” day lit scene. Of course, the word “natural” is only what seems to be. As usual, I bring in my own lighting to make the image work. But the effect in the scene’s light is again, natural.

 

The Living Room at dusk looks out to the nearby waterway

The Living Room at dusk looks out to the nearby waterway

 

Cher’s collection of objects represented many different styles. But the overall effect was of a world traveler who collected as she roamed. So it was important for me to focus on and illustrate the artifacts and artworks which adorned the home. I did this in the main Living Room area as well as in her Bedroom and Study.

 

Personal treasured objects and artworks detailed in the Living Room

Personal treasured objects and artworks detailed in the Living Room

 

I was intrigued by the mysterious entry and hallway leading to the Master Bedroom. The arched door and ceiling gave further emphasis to the Renaissance period mood. Looking though the door towards a far sunlit window past sconces and dramatic single sculpture drew me in. Shooting a one-point perspective further dramatized that feeling.

 

Arched doorway leading to the Master Bedroom

Arched doorway leading to the Master Bedroom

 

Columns everywhere; plain ones and fluted ones with ornate capitols, wonderful to use as frames to the compositions of many shots. Here in the Dining Room was an incredible table setting, overflowing with objects.

 

An ornate Dining Room flanked by columns

An ornate Dining Room flanked by columns

 

I needed to do a closeup so that the details of the settings could be better understood. look at the tiny blossoms and rose petals dropped everywhere!

 

A Dining Room place setting adorned with rose petals

A Dining Room place setting adorned with rose petals

 

The courtyard to the home ensured a measure of privacy for a celebrity whose fans were curious about her lifestyle. But, in the end it couldn’t ensure it absolutely. Tourist boats plying the waterway behind the home would come in close, loudspeakers blaring, announcing the star’s presence. That may have been the straw that broke. She sold the house some years after this shoot.

 

Privacy insured by a walled Entry Courtyard

Privacy insured by a walled Entry Courtyard

 

 

 

Richard Branson’s Island Paradise

3033 Bali High 04

Bali High

The trip to Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands starts off with some very difficult obstacles. As the photographer with an assignment from Architectural Digest Magazine to shoot Sir Richard Branson’s private island, I’m faced with the responsibility of getting myself, my crew and all my gear to the site. This was in the day before digital photography when shooting on film required more equipment than today

3033-08 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

First of all, there’s no landing strip at Necker; it can only be reached by boat. Second, the island to which you do fly has, to say the least, a rather short runway. Did I mention the mountain at the end of it? No?

Well, it’s there and that means that only certain aircraft fly in; smaller aircraft can, with less room for cargo. And all this means that I’ve got to keep my equipment needs under control; minimize them so that I’ll be accommodated on the airline I choose.

Once I’ve figured all this out, the trip goes as follows:

I, my assistants and my stylist and all my gear fly out of Miami to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, the one with the mountain at the end of the runway. There I’ve contracted a smaller, twin-engine propeller-type aircraft into which I transfer us and our gear. Now it’s a short hop to the British Virgin Island of Tortola. Not really Tortolla but tiny Beef Island which abuts Tortolla’s east end. Land there and unload the stuff into a VW van and a cart. The van drives and we push the cart several hundred yards to a nearby dock where our last transport is waiting, an open 40 ft. fishing boat. After once again transferring the gear onto the stern of that boast, it’s off across the turquoise waters of Sir Francis Drake Channel and on to 74 acre Necker Island. It’s situated a few miles off the shore of Virgin Gorda, which is visible on the horizon.

3033-07 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

Once docked at Necker Island, we unload the boat and lug the gear (did I mention it’s 16 cases plus personal luggage) up a challenging set of stairs to the platform of the thatch-roofed main house. I and my tired crew have reached Sir Richard Branson’s island paradise.

3033-04 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

But I’ve been here before. Actually several months before the trip above I travelled to Necker to familiarize myself with the place and to meet and photograph Sir Richard for the upcoming story. The visit was his idea and he covered our expenses for that trip. I traveled with my assistant and we were put up in one of Necker Island’s most beautiful structures, a tall pagoda-styled building overlooking the sea called Bali High (remember Bloody Mary singing about it in “South Pacific”?).

3033-08 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

What a wonderful few days that was. Much of it was spent exploring the island through a network of trails, which led to its eastern tip. There the constant trade winds blow so hard that the sea birds hung aloft above our heads with their wings absolutely still maintaining lift solely from the power of that unceasing wind. We were encouraged to experience it as the birds did. We stood, feet apart and still, leaning into it, trusting that it wouldn’t let us down. I mean “down” literally since we were on a cliff-top with nothing but the sea at our feet some fifty feet below. We did, and it didn’t fail us.

3033-14 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer
Back at the main house (the large thatched roofed structure), Sir Richard was taking a holiday break with his wife and kids. The kids had been encouraged to invite some of their friends from back in England and the whole, raucous assemblage were entertaining themselves with all the water sports the island had to offer. My assistant and I were simply one of the crowd and were made to feel entirely at home in Sir Richard’s world.

3033-16 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

 

I was directed in my assignment to get a shot of Sir Richard somewhere on the island and I found the perfect place near a hammock hung between two wood columns on a balcony overlooking the sea with the mountainous profile of Virgin Gorda in the distance. It was a quick setup without the inconvenience of needing extra lighting (which I hadn’t brought anyway). With Sir Richard and his two kids posed naturally and comfortably in and around the hammock, I snapped a few frames and it was over. They needed no encouragement from me to look absolutely happy with where they were and what they were doing. A very happy family snapshot!

Richard Branson & Kids at Necker

Once that was done, Sir Richard, acceding to his kids’ request, asked if I would shoot them and their mates all piled around the hammock for a personal souvenir. Of course I did that shot for them. Some months later I received a personal note from him thanking me for that extra effort. From my experience of those few days, I’ve thought of Richard Branson as one of the most welcoming, down-to-earth people I’ve met on assignment.

3033 Hammock Photo by Dan Forer

The next day while I continued working on my future shot list, the families of all Sir Richard’s Necker employees were ferried over from Virgin Gorda to join the Bransons for a day of fun in the pool and on the beaches with a picnic thrown in. Branson himself was in the pool giving swimming lessons to a bunch of his employee’s kids.

3033-06 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer

 

Back to the actual shoot trip; we waited until that summer’s hurricane season had passed and returned with all our gear for the principal photography. But Necker had paid a price that summer. We found the island had been hit in July by Bertha, one of that Summer’s hurricanes. I had to design my shots to avoid areas where repair was taking place such as the roof which was being re-thatched. Along the shoreline, the leaves of trees that had been attacked by the storm tide had mostly turned brown or had fallen off entirely.

3033 Bali High 06 Photo by Dan Forer

 

The rest of the shoot, however, went off without a hitch. I especially remember Loretta, my wife and the stylist for the shoot, patiently setting the dinner scene with perfect napkin folds for each of the twenty-one place settings. Every accessory, every floral element, every object that makes each shot look natural; these she controlled. The stylist is the unsung hero of the shoot whose imagination paints the perfect picture that we see.

 

3033-09 Necker Isl  Photo by Dan Forer