Lena Mae Asylum Shoot

An great idea can be an incredible annoyance. If you’re anything like me, some concept might slowly develop in the blurry boundary between your concious and your subconscious until you find that you, almost without trying, have a grandiose plan you feel compelled to pursue – regardless of how unrealistic you realise it may be. See, a total pain in the backside since you know some ideas need perusing no matter how mad.

In this instance, the idea involved quite a number of stupidly unrealistic components. Quite a few difficulties that would be tricky to deal with or might prevent the shoot happening at all.

The plan was essentially quite simple – photography of a model in an abandoned lunatic asylum. Sounds straightforward (if a little odd), right? Well…for starters, if it’s going to be an asylum shoot then there is one in particular it has to be – and that is at the other end of the country …and I don’t drive. Also, the asylum is patrolled by security who do not take kindly to visitors, never mind an impromptu photo studio being set up in their property. Then there is the lighting – after all, what is the point of bringing in a model if you’re not also going to bring in off-camera lighting…and a variety of lighting attachments, stands etc? Did I mention the asylum in question if surrounded by 2 layers of huge fences, one with extremely nasty spikes all along the top to keep people such as myself out? And, that I would have to get myself, all the equipment, the model (in fact, what the hell, make that two models), their outfits, make-up, hair whatsits and other modely bits, inside safely and without been seen by aforementioned security patrols, nosey locals, workmen on the surrounding building site… Not quite so simple any more!


Our studio for the afternoon – Photo by Lena Mae

So, yes, simple idea in concept, absolute organisational nightmare in terms of orchestration. But, looking back, was it worth it? Short answer: Hell Yes!

So, going back a couple of months, I was contacted out of the blue by model and burlesque dancer Lena Mae, who I knew from years ago. We got talking about the possibility of doing a model shoot in this asylum and I really did not take much convincing at all. Incidentally, you can see more of her at www.lenamae.com.

Setting off from Newcastle at 1:30am, I had never been happier to be sitting on a Newcastle to London Megabus. Following that there was another train journey and then a much needed full English breakfast in the Asda cafe while I waited to meet Lena and her friend Lili (I will post her images at a later date once all are finished). We faced some challenges getting ourselves inside the beautiful Edwardian lunatic asylum but, once inside we split our time between exploring and setting up shots, only occasionally getting ourselves lost in the never-ending maze of corridors and stairways.


Not your typical urban explore – Photo by Lena Mae

If I had to sum up what is important to me as a photographer, I can honestly say that the image at the top of this article (Lena next to the rusty bed) expresses it pretty much perfectly. Not rusty beds per se although, if I see one set up like this you can bet I’m going to be taking the lens cap off. It is really about the interest you get when you mix unusual contrasting elements together in a piece and, though it does not always work, when it does the results are exactly what I want to be shooting. That was actually the first image we shot and the one I am by far the happiest with. I am still working to develop – my style, my signature as a photographer. Maybe people never stop that process of defining what there look or voice is and that is probably a post in it’s own right but, at this moment, I can’t think of another image that does a better job of getting across what I consider myself to be about as a photographer …and that’s quite a satisfying thing to achieve.















Thanks for reading and also, thanks must go out to my fearless and patient models, Lena Mae and also Lili la Scala (whose images will follow soon).



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