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A New Renaissance: Tony Drayton Finds Inspiration in Classical Italian Art

A New Renaissance: Tony Drayton Finds Inspiration in Classical Italian Art

Tasked with creating campaign images for the Poderi Crisci empire, which includes a vineyard on Waiheke island and Italian restaurant in Parnell, art director Nic Hall and fashion photographer Tony Drayton started trading images of Renaissance paintings.

They planned to reference the distinctive elements of 16th-century Italian art — side-lit faces, high contrast, formal poses, and compositions stacked with symbolic objects. The challenge was figuring out how to execute their vision without an equally lavish budget.

Drayton and Hall needed to create nine shots in two and a half days — four of them on client Antonio Crisci’s remote Waiheke vineyard in a single day, as staying overnight was out of the budget. Hiring models also proved too expensive, so the team cast friends, staff and occasionally themselves — creating an extra challenge for Drayton.

“It’s the worst possible situation, to have to shoot real people on a time constraint,” says Drayton. “And those things often are hand-in-hand. If you’re shooting celebrities, you never get the time to craft it. It takes a huge amount of trying to find that moment of stillness to make it happen.”

One of Drayton’s favourite images from the shoot depicts a wedding couple at their reception table. The bride, the stylist’s assistant, looks hopefully towards heaven while the groom gazes forlornly at the meal. “It looks like a big composite and it’s not, it’s all in camera,” said Drayton. “We were racing, it was shot in the middle of an incredibly sunny day — the worst possible time. There was no cloud, so I had to light it and screen off all the sun as well.”

(While the campaign eventually ran with a variation on this image — the bride releasing doves, the groom happy — Drayton prefers this one for its greater complexity.)

© Tony Drayton

Drayton rushed from that set-up to a shot featuring the vineyard’s cellar — a table arrayed with grapes, cheeses and bottles. It looks like an image that has been carefully styled, photographed, checked, adjusted, photographed again, items arranged just so. In reality, Antonio Crisci had set up the shot while Drayton was photographing the couple upstairs. Drayton arrived, tweaked the set, Hall posed in front of the camera, Drayton hit the shutter. Fifteen minutes later they were racing to catch the last car ferry of the day back to Auckland.

The rest of the shoot took place at Crisci’s Parnell restaurant, Non Solo Pizza, during an ordinary working day. The restaurant’s minimal interior didn’t suit the rich detail of the campaign’s overall look, but Drayton solved the problem by getting up on a ladder to capture bird’s-eye shots — which also helped him avoid capturing fellow diners in the background.

Dodging sous-chefs in the kitchen, Drayton and Hall photographed a robed Crisci with pasta draped around his neck — styled as the patron saint of Italian cuisine.

Finally, Drayton supervised retouching to add the golden light and texture of a 500-year-old painting. “That was quite a process, but it all came to life with the magic of that light.”

Photographer’s website: tonydrayton.com

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