Updated: Dec 29, 2020
It was 10pm on Thursday, December 17th and my test shoot with a local New York City modeling agency had been cancelled because the city skyline was dazzling with precious white snowfall. I couldn't believe it - could they not see the creative potential of capturing something brilliant and timeless amidst a New York City blanketed in soft white flakes of powdery snow?
My mind was running. As I searched the web for reference images and inspiration of vintage New York City snow-covered fashion shoots, I realized there really haven't been any...
How could this be? Of all the great photographers who called this city home - Avadon, Penn, Meisel, Watson, and all the other master's of photography who graced this city with their iconic images - how could I not find a single timeless fashion photograph in a New York City sheeted snowfield?
I wanted to be one of the firsts, but there was one problem...
I had no model.
I put in call after call to every girl in New York I've known, worked with, or that I thought had even a touch of style. I couldn't let this opportunity pass, but I was out of options.
Luck is an Understatement
As I sunk into my couch defeated, I pulled up instagram only to find that a close friend and absolutely perfect model for this shoot had just flown into town. Her name is Xhesika Berberi, the former Miss Albania who is not only a Dior muse, but is the essence of 1950s glamour. So I put in the message:
Whats your plan tomorrow?
I have a shoot I want to do in a snow covered Central Park.
Tell me your down!?
She responded with a single word:
I was off my rocker. How did I get this lucky? I've found that most models generally do not like to shoot for fun. And I get it. Getting photographed is a model's job, and unless something has been negotiated with an agent, it is unlikely to do a spur of the moment shoot even if its with a close friend. Xhesika, though, retired recently from modeling to work on a new beverage brand she is starting, and she thought it would be just an absolute blast to go out and try to capture something timeless.
Shoot Prep: The Outfit and The Moodboard
Once she said yes, we started going back and forth on ideas. She FaceTimed me and showed me one stunning Dior ensemble - a tight black turtleneck, black pants that would be tucked into long black leather heels that rode up above her knee cap, a perfect dark blue beret with little berry-like ornaments that lined the brim, and the centerpiece of the outfit - a vintage pink Dior fur coat. How fitting.
I spent the next couple hours pulling every reference image I could find: they were a combination of 1950s New York City outdoor Glamour photos accompanied by location shots of a snowy Central Park. Here's the pinterest board I created for the shoot.
Now to tighten the ideas for the look, I needed to loop in my closest fashion advisor, my Mom. If you've read any of my other posts here, you know that my Mother - Julianne Stark - is the owner of the New York based women's luxury boutique Julianne who I shoot stuff for all the time (see collaborations here with Next Models, Sacai + The Row + Rick Owens, and this social media advert). She's been designing and curating since she dropped out of high school at 16 when Bergdorf Goodman put in an order for 100 of her hand-knit sweaters. So, needless to say, she's an integral part of everything I create. When we hopped on the phone to discuss, she suggested we went with a very classic low chignon hairstyle, pink matte lipstick, and simple diamond studs. Everything about 1950s fashion photography was very structured and she made a point that we would need to follow suit.
After a restless night, I packed up my Hasselblad 500CM, four rolls of portra 400 kodak film, my Beaulieu 4008zmii super 8 camera that I got from my grandfather with two rolls of Kodak 50D super 8 film (see reference videos: The Give, The Take; The City Vouyer; The Austrian Love Affair; I'd Never Have You Again), and my sekonic I-358 light meter. Then I hailed a cab and headed to Xhesika's apartment which is right off the park.
Once I got there, we shot the shit, as old friends do, while she got the final touches of her ensemble ready. In the meantime, I scouted a long-shot of the park that I wanted to capture of her from the apartment window on video.
At this point, we were ready to get this shoot on the road. We road down the elevator and walked straight out into a central park, which was blanketed in snow. Xhesika was wearing these spectacular heels, which, as you can imagine, weren't exactly made for these types of weather conditions. We walked arm and arm through the park - each passerby, each parent and child with their snow jackets and sleds staring evermore intently at her radiance. I think the whole park felt that we were going to capture something special.
We scouted as we went along until we finally found this perfect little field of barely touched snow behind the chains lining the walkway that was backdropped by pre-war New York apartment buildings. This is where we shot our first roll.
Needless to say, Xhesika is a pro. I didn't have to give her any direction - she knew the exact mood she was there to create. Here's what we captured:
Can somebody say STUNNING?!
We continued with another shot at the top of one of the sledding hills where a father and a daughter took turns bobbing down a perfectly carved out path. We asked if they would mind if we captured a few things in between their adventures, to which they said of course not! Here is where we shot our second roll which was meant to be slightly more playful and fun.
Nothing like a fashion icon tossing snow in a pink fur coat!
For our last set of images, I tried to capture Xhesika on the famous Greyshot Arch - a bridge in the park just off 61st and Central Park West. I threw on my 150mm CF T* Zeiss lens and tried to snipe this one out, to no avail. Unfortunately she was just slightly too far to get the iconic image I was looking for. Regardless, below is the shot (which is completely unedited) for you to see what we were trying to create.
That's a wrap.
And that is that for the image section of this shoot. The super 8 film that we shot will be updated in this post at a later date, and I CANNOT WAIT to show it you all. But in terms of the photography, this is the extent of the images we captured which I couldn't be more excited about. There is nothing like seeing a visual image run through your mind and executing on it exactly as planned.
Until the next wondrous snow-day, you magnificent New York you...