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.

, , , , , ,

Comments are closed.