A day on a location shoot – the Bahamas – 1982 . We’re shooting sweaters for a German magazine. In the Bahamas. Sweaters. Think about it.
4:30 am – the alarm goes off. Stagger into the shower. Dress in loose shorts, baggy tee shirt. Go down the hallway to the makeup artist’s room where I sit and wait for hair and makeup. There is a thermos of tea on the counter, I drink some before the makeup artist starts, because once she does I won’t be able to eat or drink anything for a while. No breakfast yet – nothing is open. We’re staying at the Club Med – there is a cafeteria style restaurant that opens at 7 am, but we’ll already be on the road. We have to start shooting when the sun comes up. Hairdresser comes in late and has obviously been up all night. He doesn’t look good. Pours himself a tea – sees it’s tea and not coffee, swears, dumps cup into the garbage. Looks at the models sitting in our chairs. There are three of us. The makeup artist has put on our foundation and powder, and is working on my eyes. The other girls are reading magazines. We have been there since 5 am; it is now nearly 6 and the art director pokes her head into the room. “Leaving in fifteen minutes,” she announces. The hairdresser swears again and grabs a curling iron from his bag, plugs it in, and starts brushing one of the model’s hair. She winces, but doesn’t say anything. The makeup artist finishes my makeup and starts on the the third girl. The hairdresser is now busy crimping the first girl’s hair, rolling it in tight coils with his curling iron and pinning all the curls with bobby pins in order to brush it out last minute. In ten minutes, he’s done. He looks at me (I have short, straight hair) and he makes a face. The art director comes in and claps his hands. “Let’s go!” she yells. We grab our bags. In the days before cellphones, we didn’t have much to carry: wallet, sun glasses, a hat, tissues, hairbrush, address book (a real book with paper pages!) sometimes a camera, and a book or magazine for reading. We pile into a minibus that is already packed with the photographer’s equipment. The makeup artist has her case, the hairdresser has his bag. We squeeze in. Next to the driver, in the front seat, is the photographer. There is a hierarchy to the shoots. Front seat photographer. The next seats are taken by the art director and the stylist. Then comes the makeup artist, the hair dresser, and in the very back are the models. The assistant photographer arrives at a run. There is no room for him – but he crams in anyhow, shoving the hairdresser into a corner. The door slams shut – we zoom off.
Half an hour later, we arrive at the location. The models are herded to a bench where we sit while the makeup artist adds finishing touches and while the hairdresser opens his case and takes out some curlers. He starts to put curlers in my short hair. He is pulling hard, rolling up my hair, then putting hair pins in to hold it tight. He keeps stabbing me with the hair pins. I ask him to be careful. He ignores me. He stabs me again. I cry “Ouch!” That does it. He jumps back, then yells at me. “Shut up!” Surprised, I try to defuse the situation. “Look, just be more careful, that’s all. You’re hurting me.” He throws his brush down on the ground and says, “That does it. I’m finished with you. I’m not touching you again, do you hear me? You can do your own hair. I’m not going to bother with you.”
I’m gaping at him, and I feel my cheeks get red. The photographer has worked with me before. He just shrugs when the hairdresser goes to him to complain. “Her hair is fine the way it is,” he says. The hair dresser is furious that I didn’t get fired on the spot. I want to make peace, but for the remaining five days we’re on location, he won’t even speak to me. The makeup artist is super nice to me. She can’t stand the hairdresser, she confides to me. The art director doesn’t care either. As long as the photographer is happy, she’s happy. The photographer is happy – I’m the first one up in the morning, I don’t drink, don’t go out at night, don’t take drugs. One model goes out every night. She’s wasted most mornings. The other model is homesick and cries a lot. She’s my roommate, and I tell her stories about growing up in St. Thomas every night so she can fall asleep. She’s Dutch. A big girl, with a round, baby face.
On the third day, the photographer tells the model who goes out at night that she’s going to be sent back home if she comes in with dark circles around her eyes once more. He’s serious. She apologizes. Says she’s met the love of her life at the nightclub. The rest of the shoot goes smoothly, except for the hairdresser’s tiff with me. We wake up at 4:30, we work until 11, then we break for lunch. We nap afterwards, because we start work again at 3 pm and finish when it’s dark. Then we have dinner and go to bed early, because at 4:30, our alarms go off. It’s beautiful in the Bahamas, but we don’t see much of it. We stay in the shade, don’t go to the beach, because the slightest sun tan, the slightest pink nose, is a disaster. No marks on the skin – no bathing suit mark, tan, sunburn. We stay indoors. On the last day, I take my Dutch roommate out to the beach. We slather sunscreen on ourselves and swim in the surf. We stay exactly half an hour, then run back indoors. Are our noses pink? We each bought a shell necklace from a beach vendor. a souvenir from the Bahamas.
Our plane is late. We boarded, but it doesn’t taken off. A problem with the radio, we’re told. Another hour goes by – we disembark and are loaded onto another plane. Everyone is in a hurry. We all have connecting flights to other places – from Miami I’m going to Paris. So are the photographer, his assistant, and the art director. The other two models are going to Milan. The makeup artist is going to London. The hairdresser to New York. When we get to Miami, we’re all in a tearing hurry. The luggage arrives, and one suitcase is open and its contents scattered over the carousel – it’s the hairdresser’s suitcase – it has broken open. We all help pick everything up. The models, the art director, even the assistant and the photographer. We pick up the pins, the clothes, the brushes, the curlers – even though we’re all late for our flights. Despite everything, we stay and help out. Because you never know who your next shoot will be with – and if I have to work with this hairdresser again, he’ll be nicer to me next time. I drop a handful of hairpins in his outstretched hand, and he gives me an apologetic smile.