Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Winter Cold.

It is virtually impossible to live in London, travel on public transport AND avoid catching a cold or flu bug at this time of year. As soon as the temperature drops and the displays in chemists windows change from sun cream and lip salve to tissues and nasal sprays, you know illness is imminent.

There are two approaches to the winter cold. The Preventatives will start taking echinacea as soon as the leaves have left the trees, eat a diet of kale and oranges for the entire winter period, wash their hands whenever they hear a sneeze, and apply antibacterial hand gel at ever opportunity. They are the ones that get on the tube with their gloves still on, not touching anything and holding a newspaper firmly in front of their faces as a germ barrier, whilst the rest of the carriage coughs and splutters around them. Then there are the Inevitables. These people are realists, they know that no matter what they do, they are going to catch something. It's just a matter of time.

As I sat on the tube last week, on my busy commute to work, I would hazard a guess that 1 in 3 people had a cold of some sort. You have the Hackers, who look completely ok on the outside and may happily sit there for a few minutes showing no signs of distress, before suddenly exploding into a wet, rasping dog bark, deeply gutteral and disgusting. I know this one intimately because I have been in possession of such a revolting whoop for the past 2 weeks. Those in the vicinity of such a cough, look completely startled as it erupts from nowhere, then stare or tut in total horror whilst trying to move away into the few millimetres of unoccupied space. You have the Snotters, who sit there for minutes at a time, blowing never-ending streams of mucous into wet soggy tissues. If you're very unlucky, you may be sitting next to or opposite one of these people and be in possession of an unfortunately high gag reflex. Nothing makes me heave more than someone looking into their tissue after blowing, or hearing the squelch of snot escaping hankie. Oh God, here I go again just thinking about it.

As well as these two major groups, there are also much less offensive characters. The Dabbers are the ones with the inflamed red nostrils, who, having taken a strong decongestant before breakfast, now have to contend with a gentle flow of water-like substance, dribbling out continuously. Everyone's thinking the same thing... where the hell does it all come from? Then there are the Ticklers with their persistent throat clearing and embarrassed little 'ahems'which are not only incredibly irritating but make you want to shout, "For God's sake, cough properly!" There are the Deaths Doors, suffering with internal symptoms of headaches and aching bones, who sit there pale and pathetic, letting out the occasional mild groan as they slowly sink down into their seats, wishing the world would end. And finally there are the Sniffers, who for some reason, have not realised they have a runny nose, not brought a bloody tissue with them and therefore have to sniff for the entire journey. The Sniffers are the most annoying people in the world because they also seem to be the ones that wear headphones, so they have absolutely no idea how loud they are sniffing, as they listen to their music at bone shaking volume, inches from your head. The combination of loud snorts with the 'tsk tsk' from headphones is enough to make me leave the tube, seriously. Sniffing is my nemesis.

Last week it came to a head, when a man standing next to me began to sniff loudly, accompanied by the wiping of his nose on the back of his hand. Disgusting. He also had earphones in and seemed to be listening to YMCA, from what I could discern from the distortion. I took and instant dislike to him. As more and more people got on the tube, and compressed us into 'lambada-like' positions, I was trapped somewhere under his armpit, whilst sharing his terrible choice in music. He suddenly gave a really loud revolting throat sniff, followed by a wipe on the hand, another sniff and a thumb and forefinger to the nostrils. Without thinking I let out an, “Ugh”, followed by a, “That's disgusting”. Oops. A couple of people sniggered, but of course, Mr. Sniffer hadn't heard what I'd said, he'd only seen my lips move. He looked at me, which wasn't difficult as his eyeballs were only a few millimetres away from mine, and raised his eyebrows quizzically. I looked down and noticed his shoes, which were really nice brown brogues, and pretended I was invisible. He then took out his earphones and said, “Sorry, did you say something?”, in a deliciously deep husky voice. I looked back up and met his, really rather beautiful, blue eyes. Oh no, be strong Juliet. “Um...um, I just wondered if you needed a...”, I said, quickly grappling in my coat pocket for a tissue. Unfortunately, I produced a well-used crusted piece of kitchen towel, rather than the pristine tissue I had put in earlier. He looked down at my hand, pulled a face, and turning slightly, jammed his earphones firmly back in, giving another sniff for good measure. Just as I was remembering I used to rather like 'The Village People'.  

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Photo Shoot.

Many people assume that being a graphic designer is quite a glamorous job, especially when I say I'm dashing off to a photo shoot or something. They might imagine me surrounded by champagne-sipping supermodels, rock music blaring in the background whilst a handsomely brooding photographer alternates between taking pictures and shagging everything that moves. I too would like to imagine that scenario, but believe me, the reality of my job is anything but glamorous. I do not art direct humans or anything vaguely alive. In fact, I make my living shooting very deceased meat and fish fillets under glaring hot lights, the air thick with pungent aromas you would rather not be smelling at 9:30 in the morning, whilst the harassed client 'ums' and 'ahs' in the background, unable to make the simplest decision about which chicken breast is more attractive.

Wait… let's go back a step. Picture yourself in the supermarket, browsing the aisles for something easy to bung in the oven for a hassle-free supper. Of course, you usually cook everything from scratch, buy organic and spend the weekends browsing farmers markets for local produce (of course you do). You also can't wait to get home from a long and hideous day at work to spend the next 4 hours creating a masterpiece of gastronomic delight that maybe only you or your partner are going to eat (of course you do). But sometimes, on very very rare occasions, all you want to do is pour a massive glass of wine and wait for the delightful sound of a ping or buzzzz. That is where I come in. Welcome to the enchanting world of food packaging. 

Now I would love to tell you that I only design the high-end bistro products that adorn the shelves of Waitrose or M&S. The luxury ready meals for two, that cost the same as feeding a family of four from scratch, for a week. The sort of food shown in TV ads, oozing and melting in glorious close-up, while the sexy voiceover describes every ingredient and process in intimate detail, making your mouth water and your eyelids grow heavy with desire… food porn basically! I would be so proud to tell you that is the sort of brand I work on… but again, the reality of how I make my money is not high end food pornography, but more a cheap quickie down a dark alley in Soho. However, even though the brand may not be luxury, the food inside the packet is pretty much the same as it's posh cousin, just with cheaper clothing. And when you are on a photoshoot, the product has celebrity status no matter what box it comes in. It is the star… primped and preened for hours, longer than any actress in hair and makeup, and as with any star, it has an entourage.

Firstly, we have the photographer, the amazing genius photographer who can make a lettuce leaf look sexy from the right angle and with the right lighting; then there's the photographers assistant, who not only has to set up all the equipment, but also has to make delicious coffee and be able to keep up morale when we are shooting the same piece of limp fish for the 30th time. We have the stylist, or rather the magician, who, armed with airbrush, superglue, tweezers, scalpel, paintbrush, food colouring and vaseline, is capable of turning a rather pale, ugly bland piece of protein into a plump, juicy, mouthwatering morsel of manna from heaven. Then there is me, the art director. My job is to stand behind the photographer, the assistant and the stylist saying incredibly important things like, "could you glue another crumb to the right hand side of that bigger crumb" or "the flakes are looking a teensy bit dry, could we spritz it please?". It's very very very demanding! And when everything looks just perfect, the client is beckoned, they say 'yay' or 'nay', and we shoot. 

This process, from the time the product comes out of it's box, to the first click of the shutter, can take anywhere from 2-6 hours. I know, utter madness! But it's all about the preparation you see. The cooking instructions on the back of the box may simply say, 'Pre-heat oven to 200ÂșC. Place fillets on baking tray in the middle of oven for 14 minutes, turning occasionally', but that is not what we actually do. Oh no. We may boil, microwave or deep fry the product to get the look we want. We might not cook it at all but simply thaw it, so it retains its shape. We can garnish and add tasty accompaniments but we do have to use what's in the box, and as one photographer said to me recently, "we can't always polish a turd, but we can roll it in glitter". Lovely. But once all this prep is done, suddenly everything happens at lightning speed. We may have only an hours' window to take all the photographs we need, before the product begins to change... slowly melting and sweating under the intense heat, or drying out completely! Even an airbrush-weilding stylist can't make an hour old, dry flaky piece of cod look appetising!! 

I know what you're thinking... you can't believe it takes 5 people, 8 hours to photograph a bit of fish! You're also probably realising why it never looks like it does on the package, when you cook it at home. Sorry about that. Well next time you're in the supermarket, taking a good look at that delicious-looking food shot on the label or box, remember it's your money that's paying for me to stand around a hot studio, making a fish fillet look that good! Thanks everyone... the next organic, locally sourced, free-range, fresh corn-fed farmers market chicken fillet, is on me!