Bennison Calendar 2009: Behind the Scenes [interview]

10 Nov , 2011   Gallery

Bennison Calendar 2009 - Jude Massie-Taylor interview

When Bennison Fabrics decided to produce a follow-up to their successful 2008 calendar, we had to come up with something special. A great deal of considered thought goes into these things: demographics, focus groups & branding just for starters. Luckily, art director Jude Massie-Taylor saw a circus photo and also bumped into a very nice circus performer, so we skipped all of that stuff and got straight on with dreaming up the images. (You can view all the photos at the bottom of the page)

Jude Massie Taylor, Bennison Fabrics, interviewed by Ken Sparkes.

Jude Massie-Taylor with umbrellas

(Jude Massie-Taylor fills Holbein Place with umbrellas)

Ken: How did it all start?

Jude: ‘The first Bennison calendar had no real theme; I just used some of our favourite images that had already been photographed. I wanted the new one to be quirky and have a sense of humour; our clients are designers and I wanted give them a creative landscape, not just swatches. It began with an image of circus tents I saw online and I thought if I could do a mock-up using one of our brightly coloured stripes and then get a dramatic sky superimposed in the background, it would be a great shot; that’s when I thought we could do ‘Circus’. And just another 11 ideas to go!’



Desiree Kongerod - Stiltwalker on the Bennison 2009 calendar

(Desiree Kongerod shows Jude & Jules how to stiltwalk)

Ken: The tent shot doesn’t appear in the final calendar. What happened?

Jude:  ‘A series of accidents. One of my friends mentioned that she knew a stilt-walker and then I spotted Kim Butteriss, always immaculately dressed in the most beautiful couture clothes wearing large wonderful hats, beautiful tiny shoes and wonderful accessories. I couldn’t miss the opportunity and managed to persuade them all to participate. So the performers became our focus, rather than the tent. I met Sophia Lovell Smith who lives right above our London shop and discovered that she was a designer for the theatre – she also made the stunning costumes for our new 2012 calendar.

Ken: So, you recruited the right people to realise the images in your head?

Jude:  ‘Yes! The juggler and the stilt walker were from Missing Links Productions. Lizzie B Houston was originally there to do the hair with Terry Wilson, but she ended up doing the make-up on some of the shots. She was great, I loved her makeup, she made the shoot look more edgy, more special. The umbrellas in our fabrics were made up by James Ince who I found on the internet. I used our Director’s daughter, Holly, for the showgirl, dancer and clown. Underneath the umbrellas are Jules and myself trying to keep everything from falling over.’

Ken: Lessons learned?

‘Without a supportive and enthusiastic team, your ideas are nothing. Everyone really worked hard, they were all generous, they all went the extra mile, they all wanted it to work.’

Ken Sparkes, photographer, interviewed by Zilin Lee at Interphoto magazine.

Bennison Calendar 2009 interview with Ken Sparkes

Interphoto: How did you start photography as a career?

Ken: ‘I began taking photos at when at University studying Biology and decided to find out more, so I began visiting people who were creating great images. Soon, some of them asked me to work with them and so my freelance career started, working with photographers, set-builders, design companies and advertising agencies in London. It was exhilarating. It was an extremely creative era in London, and I tried to learn everything so that when it was time to set up my own business, I had soaked up all the good stuff.’

Interphoto: What is the greatest joy that photography brings you?

Ken: ‘Moments when I see something special appear, like a beautiful black & white print appearing in the developer. Sometimes this happens during the shoot when you have to improvise and suddenly it is even better than expected. It can happen when I am planning a photoshoot with collaborators and some ideas come together in a new way. I get really excited!’

Interphoto: How do you collect creative inspiration during your daily life?

Ken: ‘Daily life itself is normally very inspiring. Graffiti on a wall, breaking news on Twitter, a Fellini movie, a conversation with a good friend, sunlight on a face. Mundane things can become very special when seen in a different way.’

Interphoto: In your work on the Bennison Fabrics 2009 Calendar, you put the Bennison products into the photos, not just regarding them as wallpaper or cloth, but showing them in a brilliant way. How did you develop this special creative idea?

Ken: ‘The challenge was to make the fabrics the star of these photos. Art director Jude Massie-Taylor and I created some unusual and improbable scenes from an imaginary day at a fabulous circus, then we found ways to ‘weave’ the Bennison products into the visual fabric of the scenes. It was important that the images should be cohesive and truthful, as though they actually existed, perhaps in some foreign land. I wanted to glimpse a stillness at the heart of chaos at the circus. We photographed real performers instead of models; what you see them doing in the photos is what they do in life.’

Terry Wilson does Kiki's hair & makeup for the Bennison 2009 calendar

(Terry Wilson does Kiki’s hair)

Interphoto: We see many Asian cultural elements in the Bennison work, do you have interest in Asian culture? And why did you put them into your photographs?

Ken: ‘My mother is Chinese so Asian culture is a part of my emotional landscape. My family has lived in many countries but never in Asia and therefore my perspective is distant and perhaps flavoured with nostalgia. Western imagery infused with Asian sensibilities, like good fusion cuisine, can be pretty tasty.’

Interphoto: During this photoshoot, did you come across any difficulties? And how did you solve them?

Ken: ‘We had to create a visual world which was internally truthful and did not cost too much. We devised a circus environment that was very cheap to construct. My studio lighting had to do the hard work of making all the shots come together, as if they were done on the same day in the same circus. I decided that the lighting technique should be invisible. First, I used very large soft lighting and reflectors, then some smaller directional lights, and finally many small pieces of coloured lighting gel to simulate the reflected light of the real world. Because the performers moved a lot, I had to ensure that the lighting was good over a large area.’

Interphoto: Do you have a favorite calendar image?

Ken: ‘No favourites. I am slightly disappointed with one or two but I won’t say which ones. Like sons & daughters, I cannot favour one over another.’

Interphoto: What is the one basic talent that a good commercial photographer should have?

Ken: ‘Desire. Like any well-earned career, commercial or not. Also, stamina and maybe some lessons in business studies.’

Interphoto: What is the most different between commercial photography and fine art photography?

Ken: ‘Who cares? Some photographers create images for clients, some for galleries. If you can engage people with your photos and earn a living, you’re can consider yourself pretty lucky.’

Interphoto: What else are you doing?

Ken: ‘Collaborations always interest me. I find working with people endlessly rewarding, sometimes infuriating, usually productive, occasionally life-enhancing. My collaborations include design, interiors, journalism and online projects. I published Spaces magazine for 4 years and was it’s creative director. This year I have launched, started my own blog here at and embarked on several photographic projects in London. And I love cooking!’


Photos © Ken Sparkes. Art Director/Stylist: Jude Massie-Taylor, Costume Design: Sophia Lovell Smith, Hair & Makeup: Lizzie B Houston and Terrence Wilson,  Shot at ASA Studios, Wandsworth, and at Bennison Fabrics, near Sloane Square, London. All Rights Reserved.

Update: We have been working on the 2012 calendar which just arrived from the printer and is sitting in boxes waiting to be distributed. If you liked this article about the 2009 calendar, let me know and I will do a feature on the new one. The new calendar has been photographed, designed, printed, and it looks amazing: New Year Resolution: Bennison Calendar 2012.

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