New Plymouth architectural practice BGBB was planning something special for its 40th birthday — a double-page magazine advertisement — and it needed a dynamic image to anchor it. Photographer Mark Harris, designer Jennie Aitken-Hall and two of the company partners tossed around ideas, settling on a riff on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, featuring the company’s seven directors.
Previously, Harris had photographed an environmental portrait series for BGBB which illustrated the company’s tagline of ‘happy spaces’. Rather than shooting blank, tidy interiors, he’s responsible for humanising the buildings that BGBB designs, picturing clients and architects in their favourite places.
Harris scouted a location in central New Plymouth: a pedestrian crossing on a street wide enough to space out seven people, with the BGBB-designed museum, Puke Ariki, in the background. He planned to shoot first thing in the morning, with the sun behind them, but it turned out that there was a bus stop beside the pedestrian crossing, and the street was full of commuters.
So Harris and crew returned at the end of the day. “It was summer, it was eight o’clock at night,” he says. “We had to wait for the sun to go down past the building behind me so that the light was even right up the whole street.”
The next part involved teaching seven men to cross the road in perfect synchronisation. “How do you get seven people to walk in step?” wonders Harris, laughing.
In 1969, photographer Iain MacMillan made just six frames of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, and the fifth of the set was chosen for a cover — the only shot where all four were mid-stride. Of course, they had a few advantages — they’d commandeered a policeman to redirect traffic, for instance. Harris had to keep an eye out for approaching cars.
After a few false starts, Harris devised an order for the architects to walk across the street, directing them to take just a few steps forward. Ensuring a natural-looking stride — legs straight, not bent — and a natural swing of the arms still proved a challenge, and in the end, Harris turned to post-production. “There was about nine hours’ Photoshop work in it, and you know how it’s got the old-school kind of film look and that strip up the side? That was just 20 minutes. The rest of it was getting those limbs and body parts looking right.”
Recreating a ‘film look’ meant leaving the image rougher, less sharp than Harris is accustomed to. “The end result really shows to me that they’ve all got a different type of walk and it suits them, it shows a little bit of their personalities.”
Photographer’s website: markharris.co.nz