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Creating a Timeless Image

There is no shortage of photographs which capture just how beautiful Mel and Kim were, but there are some pictures which stand out from the rest, and which can only be described as stunning. One such shot - the That’s The Way It Is single sleeve image - captures the girls' natural beauty in such striking clarity that it remains as fresh today as it did when it was taken, over thirty years ago. Reflecting on how he created that timeless image, photographer Mike Prior shares...

“I thought that shot was fantastic...

It was fired off really quickly - maximum 2 rolls (24 frames) - using my trusty Hasselblad, and I still remember leaning over my mezzanine floor, which was 9ft high, to get it. It made a fantastic portrait shot though, to be honest, it was very difficult to take a bad picture of Mel & Kim. Sometimes you get people who are major blinkers, but those girls weren't. I used to count them into the shot and they knew exactly what they were doing. They always responded well to my direction and they knew what angles looked best. Ultimate pros!

Obviously, I knew of Mel & Kim and had heard their music [before I shot them], but I definitely became a hardcore fan after meeting them. We did three shoots together (one was based around their record cover and the others were commissioned by magazines, such as Mizz and Number One) and the atmosphere was always up! I played music loud and proud throughout my shoots and, on the Mizz shoot, I do remember playing is Skipworth and Turner's Thinking About Your Love. It was always a laugh! The girls were having such a good time and, whatever it was they were doing, they enjoyed it to the full – and they always appreciated my jokes (laughs).

As far as styling went, what Mel & Kim wore really was their thing, so we usually decided to go with what clothes they'd turned up in on the day. Sometimes, the shoot would be tailored to the style of the magazine. For instance, the 'cash shots', for Number One, although I'm not sure where all that cash came from. (My local pub, The Ship, in Wandsworth, was also like my local bank, as they used to cash cheques for me all the time, and I do remember nipping in there for a drink with the girls). I also knew that Mizz wanted a back-to-back image for a double page spread, so I had to take a wide shot, but everything else always evolved on the day. Regardless of any brief, if I had a creative moment and wanted to try something different, then the girls would always be up for it and it just worked so well. To me, you need to be flexible. There can’t be any rigidity, you need to be able to go with the vibe, and it has to evolve organically. 

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The girls would often like to make changes throughout the shoot, sometimes very last minute - just when you thought they were ready. It was just their thing and it was never a problem for me. The two of them were so close and therefore, so in sync, which allowed them to be very honest with each other. If something didn’t look quite right then they were the ones who would change it until they both agreed. None the less, it was all worth it as every shot was a winner.

As a photographer, it was a great benefit to know that they would always be super-easy to photograph, because you had to factor in 3-4 hours in the make-up chair - not that they needed it. They just enjoyed looking good! If I was lucky, I’d get an hour and a half of shooting, before they had to leave. Actually, David Bailey shot them (for Vogue magazine) on the same day as I did, and in the same outfits! I remember, they had spent 4 hours in my studio, getting ready, and so I had only managed 3 rolls of film in the time we had left. In fact, we actually ran a bit over time and the cab had to wait for them…  anyway, off they went to David Bailey, who then did exactly the same shot - but not as good (laughs). He hadn’t photographed them before, so he hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know them, whereas I would always sit and chat with the girls whilst they were getting their hair and make-up done, and the banter was endless. Mel had an innocence about her, and she was super-friendly! She would always give everyone a big hug, and it felt like you’d known her for ages. Kim was more wary, which I put down to her being protective, as older siblings tend to be, but once she got to know you, she was relaxed and super-lovely.

 

It was always great fun”.  

Mike Prior 2021

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