Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

My Time as a Camera Sherpa

March 31st, 2019

My friend Becky has recently opened an interiors shop in Westport, Connecticut.

I work all the time. I never have a chance to exercise or do anything, Becky laughs. I love it. I’m totally passionate about it.

Becky says she has noticed  that she’s not alone. As we women hit our fifties, with  no kids at home and ageing parents reminding us about our own looming mortality, many women seem to be launching  2nd chapter careers where personal fulfilment ranks high on the list of requirements. One of Becky’s friends is training to be a Zen scholar, another an art historian and another a jeweller.

This got me thinking- I’ve been a journalist for thirty years. Maybe it’s time for a change, a 2nd chapter?

Who says you have to spend your life doing the same thing? As luck would have it, I was about to spend three days sampling a new possible career path, that of a photographer’s assistant – working alongside creative director Anne and photographer Jane. Photographer’s assistant today, Hiroshi Sugimoto tomorrow.

Anne, Jane and I have been hired to produce a feature about London for an international mag. I can’t say anything more on that because it’s highly confidential. In fact, forget I said London. I meant Luton.

Day One, 10am the team is off to venue number one. We are already an hour late because my two bosses need a full breakfast and many cappuccino refills to get going. Note to self: timekeeping seems more a wish than reality with this duo.

Elena, we’ve divvied up the various tasks, says Anne, and we think you’ll be really good at handling the releases.

What are releases? I ask.

Every-time we have someone in our photo, you have to ask them to sign a release form. It’s really important. We don’t want to get sued later.

Ok sure, I can handle that.

And you get to ask people to be in our photos.

You mean strangers?

Yup, it’s easy, Anne assures me.

Anne hands me a plastic folder filled with releases and pens.

Put this somewhere safe.

When we get to shoot number 1 Jane peers into her camera lens.

I need people. This looks lonely.

Elena, go ask that person to be in our picture, says Anne. The one with the cool sneakers, not so much the nerdy guy she’s with.



Excuse me, I ask the two total strangers, would you mind being in our photo. It’s for a really important American magazine.  Your breakfast looks lovely, but if you wouldn’t mind just stepping over here. It’s for a really important magazine.

They are so nice. They oblige. Only the guy thinks we want him in the photo.

Uhh excuse me, shouts Jane staring into her lens, may you two please switch places (ie so we can’t see guy in photo)

Elena – did you get the release? Anne asks.

What, oh right. I rush over and pull out my important folder with forms and a handy pen. I let the guy sign too even though I know he’ll barely be visible in the finished photo. Don’t want to hurt his feelings.

As the day progresses my job responsibilities broaden. I get to help Anne with the set.

I get to pull the photographer’s suitcase carrying all her valuable equipment,

plus airplane pillow.

And her bag… I’m glad I do Pilates for upper body strength. This assistant job is a real workout.

I also help in the prepping for the shoot.

Elena please move that salt shaker counter clockwise to 6 o’clock. Back to 4’oclock. More of an angle.  Anne please will you assist Elena.

Jane always says please but she doesn’t really sound like she means it, more like she memorized the word and knows she needs to insert it frequently. Example:

Elena may you please crawl underneath that counter and hold it down while I shoot. Hold it still. Fingers. Elena, hide them. Please

Elena out of the frame. Now. Please

Nothing is beyond these two women to get the perfect shot. Anne has taken over my job of asking total strangers to be in our picture, or worse, move out of it. She is fearless. Anne asks a customer to please move to another table.

Oh, and can you take your sleeping baby with you.

She picks up unsightly garbage.

She considers removing this ugly sign. But we don’t have any scissors.

I should mention that we are working on two stories simultaneously. The one for the mag and the one for our Instagram Story, which is quickly assuming top priority.

Excuse me, would you mind moving?, Anne asks a man sitting in a parked van. We are doing a photo shoot for an important American magazine.

In fact, the photo is  for our sexy Charlie’s Angels Instagram Story. See below.

My daughter tells me our Instagram Story feels like a miniseries on Netflix. Not sure that’s a compliment.

By Day 3 I am starting to think that I am a key member of the team. Anne and Jane seem to really rely on me.

 Elena, my coffee! Jane bellows from across the street.

Coffee (not so much food) plays a big role in our day.

Do you know a good place to get a blow dry? they ask me trustingly.

They let me drive them around in my car. They speak in photo shoot lingo, which I am beginning to grasp.

T minus 4 until blow dry, says Jane.

I like this black leather with midriff at two o’clock, Jane says, spotting a potential model for our shoot.

But the man with the midriff turns the corner before Anne can chase him down.

I like being part of a team. It beats the lonely writer’s life. We laugh a lot. Could this be my new path? I wonder.

Jane, you can shoot that breakfast scene if you can shoot it quickly, says Anne.

Jane never shoots anything quickly, I joke.

Both women look at me, not smiling. I’ve overstepped.

Typically, on a photo shoot, Elena, Jane explains to me, speaking slowly, inches from my face, shooting quickly is 8-10 shots in a day. I’ve done easily 10 times that.

I look down, bowing my head in apology. This not laughing part of team work is a little less fun. To be honest, I am kind of missing my writing. I get to sit down, eat meals at meal time and my pugs think I’m perfect.


March, 2019