es­cape

Learn­ing to shoot like an iconic pho­tog­ra­pher.

Elle (Canada) - - Contents - By Sarah Laing

’m sure there are many ver­sions of a trip to Ve­gas that in­volve biki­nis, swanky pool ca­banas and high-end cam­eras, but mine, I as­sure you, is the kind of tale that is less “what hap­pens here, stays here” and more “this could turn into the most beau­ti­ful cof­fee-ta­ble book.”

In fact, lush, glossy spreads of peo­ple liv­ing la dolce vita are the en­tire rea­son I’m here, Leica cam­era in hand, crouched in front of a model who’s shiv­er­ing a lit­tle on an un­sea­son­ably cold Ne­vada morn­ing, her face shaded by a wide­brimmed sun hat.

“I would an­gle that re­flec­tor a lit­tle higher so you can get some light into her eyes,” ad­vises a voice be­hind me.

“How about this pot­ted plant for the ta­ble next to her?” says another voice. “This is just like when I was grab­bing props for Dad!”

These two (help­ful and en­cour­ag­ing) voices are a con­stant sound­track to my three days spent “shoot­ing like Slim,” an im­mer­sive, in­tenseas-you-make-it va­ca­tion work­shop of­fered by Ex­clu­sive Re­sorts. The first voice be­longs to Tom A. Smith, a pho­tog­ra­pher and in­struc­tor from the Leica Akademie, the teach­ing arm of the Ger­man cam­era brand, and the other is that of Mary Aarons, daugh­ter of (and one-time as­sis­tant to) leg­endary snap­per Slim Aarons.

This mini-break—part of a grow­ing trend of “learn­ing” hol­i­days, in which your time is spent, say, tak­ing surf­ing lessons or im­prov­ing your guitar or pho­tog­ra­phy skills—feels a lot like what go­ing on an ac­tual shoot with Aarons might have been like, back when the late pho­tog was shoot­ing the glam­orous, the wealthy and the aris­to­cratic of Europe and Amer­ica in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

Aarons made his name do­ing what he de­scribed as snap­ping “at­trac­tive peo­ple do­ing h

at­trac­tive things in at­trac­tive places.” (Think Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart laugh­ing to­gether or tanned white-clad so­ci­ety hav­ing drinks on a ter­race.) To­day’s les­son—work­ing with a pro­fes­sional model by the pool at the ritzy Vdara Ho­tel to recre­ate the set-up of Aarons’ most fa­mous pic­ture, Pool­side Gos­sip— feels like it more than ful­fills that brief. The iconic im­age, a clas­sic that shows two el­e­gant so­ci­ety ladies by the pool, their chairs fac­ing each other in per­fect sym­me­try against the back­drop of a mod­ernist home in Palm Springs, is cel­e­brat­ing its 45th an­niver­sary this year.

Like so much of Aarons’ work, there’s an ef­fort­less ease to the im­age—as if he’d been loung­ing on a re­cliner be­hind them, picked up his point-and­shoot and ca­su­ally snapped them un­awares. As I learn from Mary and Tom, how­ever, this was never the case.

“Dad would send me on prop-find­ing mis­sions when I as­sisted him,” says Mary, who now works in book pub­lish­ing and lives in Mas­sachusetts, adding that he hated can­dids. Ev­ery Slim “set-up” was metic­u­lously planned, right down to the hair on his sub­jects’ heads.

“Dad de­tested cen­tre parts on women,” re­calls Mary. “He would al­ways make them change to a side part—even me!” (Side note: Tom adds that if you want to find peo­ple’s “good side,” it’s usu­ally the side they part their hair on.)

That level of care and at­ten­tion—al­ways tak­ing the time to frame the shot and get it right—is prob­a­bly my big­gest take­away from the course, much to the ex­as­per­a­tion of the friends I tested it out dur­ing a re­cent trip to New York. It was ac­tu­ally in try­ing out my new skills on real peo­ple (who, un­der­stand­ably, tensed up when I started stage-man­ag­ing them at Shake Shack) that I ap­pre­ci­ated the real magic of Slim Aarons. When I ask Mary how her dad made ev­ery­one look so chill, she ex­plains that there was no ten­sion be­cause he would of­ten ar­rive solo or maybe with one as­sis­tant. “It wasn’t a road show,” she says. “While work­ing on the mise en scène, he would chat away and swap tales. Ev­ery­one was hav­ing fun, which re­sulted in very happy and nat­u­ral pho­to­graphs.”

I have to ad­mit that there is a tiny bit of ten­sion on this set, thanks to an un­co­op­er­a­tive and gusty desert wind, which has blown the model’s scar­let hat off her head and into the pool— just as I press the shut­ter. About to call the shot a dis­as­ter, I take a peek at the dis­play screen of my cam­era and see that in that im­age—the model’s sur­prised laugh, her arm flung back over her head—I have fi­nally man­aged to cap­ture the spark of a clas­sic re­laxed and happy Slim photo. Suc­cess!

The best part? That pool­side shot (once edited, cropped and re­touched, as we learned to do later in the day) is some­thing I’ll keep for­ever...which is more than I can say for the hand­ful of dol­lar bills I lost play­ing the penny slots at the Cos­mopoli­tan later that day. n

Slim Aarons’ fa­mous Pool­side

Gos­sip (far left); two of the Aaron­sin­spired photos the writer took by the Vdara Ho­tel pool in Las Ve­gas (left and be­low left)

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