Dominique James, Photographer

It's all about the pictures …

A photo session with Mrs. Josie Natori in New York

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Mrs. Josie Natori photographed by Dominique James. Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. For authorized use only.BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

I’ve always admired Mrs. Josie Natori from a distance, even when I was still based in Manila. Prior to this pictorial, I’ve never met her, not in any of the numerous fashion events and functions where both of us may have most likely attended. I’ve known her only from magazine profiles and through anecdotes of some of my closest designer friends, who, naturally, spoke glowingly of her. From a distance, I’ve come to regard her with fascination. I see her as one of the very few women who possess an impeccable sense of style, grace, and elegance, which I view to be iconic. The way I see it, she is the perfect representation of the best from Asia and America. She is an amalgam, an international citizen.

As a photographer, I’ve also thought that it would be quite a thrill to get the chance to photograph her someday—to capture at least a facet, if not the total essence, of an Asian woman who’s timeless style has been much admired all over the world. In my more than 20 years of photographing fabulous women, including Mrs. Natori in my photography portfolio would be an honor and an achievement.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when I received an editorial assignment to photograph her. Within two months since I arrived in New York, and barely settled, I received a message from my editor from Manila, Joyce Fernandez, who arranged the photo session. They needed exclusive photographs that will accompany a piece to be published in two month’s time. Since the story is about Mrs. Natori’s love for classical piano, my main duty was to reflect that in the photographs.

Together with my Hungarian assistant photographer, Miklos Solyom, I met with Mr. James R.H. Booth, senior vice president of licensing, marketing and public relations of the Natori, for a brief pre-production meeting at their Madison Avenue headquarters. Details were threshed out and a date was set for a simple pictorial at her posh private quarters located at the upper east side of Manhattan.

It was a morning shoot, and it was a timed pictorial. Knowing how full her daily schedule is, and realizing that photo sessions can go on and on, I was told to keep to the clock. The phrase “in a New York minute” kept running through my head, as I packed, checked and double-checked my gears for the shoot.

I arrived at Mrs. Natori’s apartment a hour-and-a-half before the shooting was to begin. Together with my assistant photographer, Miklos, we immediately set up our equipment for the 3-outfit layout in the main living areas of her exquisitely appointed residence. Meanwhile, in the other room, Mrs. Natori’s hair and makeup artists, Nicole Potter and Dyana Nematallah, were already at work with her. From years and years of professional shooting experience, I can tell that things were moving along very well. It helped that Sierra Fromberg, senior public relations and marketing coordinating for the Natori, was there to oversee the production of the shoot.

For the first image, Mrs. Natori, in a white dress with pleated skirt, sat lightly on the back of a small sofa, between the two grand pianos in the foreground. The natural morning light streamed from a tall window that lit Mrs. Natori, while keeping the foreground and other areas dark. Despite the massive foreground, I kept sharp focus on the photo’s main subject.

In the second photo, wearing a black dress with a woven thick belt surprisingly accented by a pair of chopsticks, Mrs. Natori stood by a blank white-beige wall. With generous light streaming from one side, it was a bright picture with her elegant frame in the middle. She was showing a dimpled smile, and the picture has a down-to-earth, conversational-style to it.

Finally, for the third picture, Mrs. Natori wore an amazing black silk kimono-inspired ensemble. I love the first two clothes she wore, but this third outfit has a “cinematic” quality to it that I know would look very photogenic. For this layout, she was leaning forward, towards the black reflecting table, and in the background were solid grey panels. Instantly, I knew this was going to be my favorite layout. The monochromatic color scheme of blacks, greys and whites was just awesome. And then, in a flash of inspiration, and because I wanted to do more, Mrs. Natori agreed to an alternate layout, with the same outfit, where she sat on one side of the sill of a huge window. With morning light streaming in, she was enveloped in an ethereal glow. For this shot, I framed the entire window.

Concentrating on the shooting process, I forgot all about time. When I looked at my watch, I was surprised that we finished early. I was anxious that we might not have enough time to do everything, but I am glad that we completed the shoot way ahead of time. When shooting, I tend to work fast. When I know that I got the image I wanted, I know that that’s the time to stop. And, it always help that I was surrounded and working with professionals. It makes the work faster, easier, and lighter. And, in some cases, even fun.

Photographing Mrs. Natori turned out to be quite an experience for me. Throughout the pictorial, she was very accommodating and gracious. As one of the most-photographed women, and having been photographed through the years by many of the world’s foremost photographers, I am glad to have been given the opportunity to have a private pictorial session with her. I consider this to one of my most memorable photo assignments to date in New York.

[Note: For inquiries and for information on professional photography assignments for editorial and/or advertising purposes, as well as post-production digital image editing and enhancement, please send email to Dominique James at dominiquejames@mac.com or call 912-246-1131. Thank you.]
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  1. […] depth. Visit James’ portfolio site to view his formal portraits (a favorite is of designer Josie Natori) and campaigns but make sure to follow James on […]


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