Initially asked to document the costume department, the London-based photographer ended up getting on-set access and even a brief cameo in the film. As her book of the project, The Women of Woodstock, is launched, BJP finds out more
“It was like stepping into the past,” says Laura Hynd of her first venture on set of the Oscar-nominated film, Phantom Thread. Set in 1950s London, Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie chronicles the life of fashion couturier Reynolds Woodcock [played by Daniel Day Lewis] and the women that surround him. Hynd’s unique access was granted after Sophie de Rakoff, a friend of Anderson’s, asked if she could document the workings of the costume department.
“I have to admit, I considered not doing it at first,” says Hynd – although it soon became clear that the job would expand far beyond the initial brief. Her adventure started when she was asked, last-minute, to go to the Cotswolds to photograph Woodcock’s country house. On arrival, she was instantly won over. “It was amazing to be on set,” she says. “The detail and beauty were astonishing. I spent quite a lot of time photographing his atelier, as the cast and crew were shooting elsewhere.”
Hynd was initially only allowed on set when no one was around but, unable to resist during a wedding scene filmed at Sheraton Park Lane, she snuck out onto the balcony. Ducking behind pillars so she wouldn’t be spotted, she used her camera to “bottle the magic” of the atmospheric scene. She soon won the team over and got full access – even permission to shoot during filming. She just had to do it in full period costume, in case she was caught on camera.
Even so, it was a tough gig. Swerving and ducking through the crowds of actors and crew, she primarily shot on medium format film, in lighting set for high-speed movie-camera film (as Anderson also uses film). “The most difficult shoot was probably at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where I realised very quickly that I couldn’t use the tripod because the ballroom dance floor moved,” Hynd tells BJP.
The costume department helped out by crafting a shoulder strap for her camera, styled to fit with the period. For the day, Hynd also carried a 35mm camera – “housed in an old leather case for authenticity” – to allow her to shoot at faster film speeds. “I was terrified none of my photographs would turn out, or that they would all have camera shake,” she says. “I am still amazed the photographs worked!”
An unexpected twist came when Hynd was asked to portray a Hasselblad-wielding photographer in the film. “Paul told me that he wanted me and my assistant Clare to go to costume and get measured up,” she says. “It seems naïve, but at this point we still weren’t sure of what was going on. Then there was the suggestion that perhaps we were going to be filmed, which seemed completely unrealistic! But that’s what happened.”
Hynd was asked to enter a scene with Day Lewis, playing a photographer’s assistant on a supposed photoshoot with Nick Ashley. The filming eventually moved to a vast room styled as a 1950s fashion photoshoot. “Reynolds [Daniel] introduced himself to me and sat on a chair next to where I was set up with my camera. Then we started shooting Alma [Vicky Krieps],” says Hynd.
“I was so engrossed in what I was doing that the filming of it was all a bit of a blur. I do need to say at this juncture, that it is my back that appears in the film momentarily. I am not a cast member, by any means, although you do hear me mumble a couple of things about changing the film.”
In addition to her brief cameo Hynd has produced a book, The Women of Woodstock, which takes the viewer behind the scenes and into costume fittings, sets, epic crowd scenes, and classic portrait shots. Capturing the thrilling atmosphere in which fact and fiction converge, it’s an object lesson in getting results on the fly. With this kind of ever-expanding brief, you have to “just let the ball roll and be open to new experiences,” says Hynd, “no matter how daunting they might be”.
The Women of Woodstock is published by August Editions www.august-editions.com. More of Hynd’s photography can be seen on her website www.laurahynd.com