Ever wondered how the images in your favourite car magazine are created? On a recent shoot for The Automobile magazine, I documented the day to give you a little peep behind the curtain of a typical (for me, anyway) photo shoot.
08:27 After making our introductions and spending far too long drooling over the frankly insane amount of automotive exotica at the Classic Motor Hub (go and pay them a visit, you won’t be disappointed), we meet The Talent. She’s a 1913 Swiss-made Piccard-Pictet – Pic-Pic to her friends – and is one of only a handful left in the world.
09:13 As befits a grand dame well into her hundreds, she needs a little bit of TLC to coax her into life. But I think we can forgive this slight indulgence; I’m a fraction of her age and I can barely make it out of bed in the morning.
09:15 As a card-carrying mechanical imbecile, I can offer nothing to the fettling process. I can’t even join in the diagnostic chit-chat and chin-stroking as I have absolutely no idea what anyone is talking about. To spare myself any embarrassment, I take the opportunity to explore the car and capture some of its finer details.
09:43 We get the nod that she’s ready to go, so mugs of tea are swiftly drained and a second, modern (i.e. reliable) car is loaded up with my gear. All that then remains is to bump start the Pic-Pic into life. If you’re wondering why I wasn’t helping, I quickly discovered that pushing a car while protecting its fragile coachwork from my pendulum-like camera gear is a bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. While running.
10:02 We’re finally on the move and headed to our first location.
Eddie, our driver and mechanic for the day, hasn’t been briefed that he’ll be on camera and feels a little under-dressed. So, to give him a look more in keeping with the car, Reg (he’s writing the article that will accompany my images) lends his hat and overcoat. This seemed a good idea at the time, but unfortunately the coat was at least two sizes too big which I soon realise makes him look like the lovechild of Toulouse-Lautrec and Columbo.
10:19 We reach our first location, a row of chocolate box-perfect 14th-century cottages. I’m just starting to get my eye in when we’re over-run by a coachload of tourists. Their eyes light up with glee when they see our idyllic little scene and, understandably, every last one of them wants their photo taken with the car. I’ve never seen so many selfie sticks.
And so we politely smile and patiently wait.
10:25 And wait.
10:30 And wait some more.
Eddie is even roped in to take the photos at one point.
10:35 Even the residents poke their heads out to see what all the commotion is.
10:49 With as many shots as I can muster in the bag and another swarm of tourists imminent, we decide to move on.
As we head to our next destination, I have what I believe is known as a moment of clarity: I’m currently being chauffeured around the Cotswolds in a super-rare one-hundred-year-old limousine – life doesn’t get much better than this. I run my hand across the beautifully patinated leather seat and wonder what other privileged buttocks have travelled this way over the last century.
*Note that Eddie has now thankfully abandoned his impressionist painter/one-eyed detective fancy dress costume.
11:14 We park up on a typically Cotswoldian bridge for a few more shots. Reg and Eddie sidle off to talk about the car in more detail.
Soundtracked by the distant chirp of birdsong, it feels like the first time I’ve really had the Pic-Pic all to myself. We share a moment. She really is bloody gorgeous.
11:33 It’s time to get some tracking shots. I strap on my safety harness and secure myself into the back of the Landcruiser. Safety first, always.
This is my least favourite bit of the shoot. Admittedly, it’s quite an adrenaline rush hanging out the back of a four-by-four, but the triple whammy of being bounced around on your ribcage, showered with the dirt, stones and probably animal excrement kicked up by the tyres, and slowly poisoned by exhaust gases does tend to kill the buzz somewhat.
The glamour of an hour ago suddenly seems like a very distant memory.
12:04 The old girl has worked hard this morning and is starting to run a bit hot, so we pull over to give her a rest. I unclip myself and fall clumsily and gracelessly out of the back of the truck. At this point, I don’t care. I just want a drink of water and a respite from the pummeling.
12:07 Without warning, the clouds part, the sun comes out and the sky turns a deep shade of blue. It looks like a midsummer’s day.
It also looks like a completely different day to everything we’ve shot so far. Game over.
12:34 Rested and cooled, we decide that while we’re here we’ll give the Pic-Pic chance to hitch up its skirts with a couple of (relatively) high-speed shuttle runs for the camera.
12:51 And we’re done. I shotgun the passenger seat for the journey back to the Hub and catch sight of myself in the vanity mirror. I’m almost comically dirty, white eyes blinking through a filthy layer of crust. I start to fantasise about having a shower.
13:12 We drop the Pic-Pic home to the Hub and say our goodbyes, to each other and – silently – to the car. She’s behaved faultlessly all day; the stop-start nature of a photo shoot can be extremely demanding on a car, not least one of this age. But there have been no hissy fits or diva tantrums. She’s a true star.
I take one last look as she disappears into the workshop where she’ll wait for a new owner to be found. I’ve read about movie directors falling for their leading man/lady, and right now I can completely relate to that. On the way home, I stop off at the garage to buy a lottery ticket.
So there you have it, behind the scenes of a fairly typical photo shoot. Is it glamorous? Not particularly, it’s hard work and pretty grubby. Is it interesting? Definitely. I’ve met some fascinating people over the course of the last year or so. Is it fun? Hell yeah, it beats working.
You can see the finished images, along with Reg’s detailed history of Piccard-Pictet, in the April 2019 edition of The Automobile, out now.
Oh, and one last thing; if this article has whetted your appetite for a bit of vintage Swiss luxury, the car is currently for sale at The Classic Motor Hub. You can find more details here.