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Chocolate Boxes & Biscuit Tins

The Tailor

I guess we have all seen them, touched them and used them at sometime or another in our lives. The pretty chocolate box Grandma has on her mantle shelf. A gift from an admirer from a long time ago. A romantic scene of the suitor in the barn offering his betrothed a chocolate morsel, etched into the wrapper. The biscuit tin, with the pretty but oh-so-kitsch ginger kitten with a gaudy red ribbon tied in a bow on its head. The tin with the image of the carnation lying on a table with water droplets.

How many of us have or have a friend or family member who has the ubiquitous “Ouma Mazzawatee Tea” tin on a shelf somewhere? Either actually holding tea or more likely dads fishing tackle, or granny’s sewing kit, or just empty. Some of the tins so old, the original image is just barely visible. Other’s are copies re-manufactured somewhere in the far east, reprinted in its “original” bright colours. Little monuments to by-gone era’s. Nostalgia etched indelibly into the materials.

Yet, despite the gaudy kitsch-ness of the biscuit tins and chocolate boxes, nothing comes close to calendars when it comes to kitsch, gaudy and downright bad taste. Calendars have been the portal for the most bizarre assortment of imagery to assault the human eye probably since the invention of the Gutenberg press. The kittens, puppies and flowers are almost welcoming after one walks into Joe the plumbers back office and see’s the naked bimbo draped lasciviously over a stop cock, badly manipulated to look as if she’s astride a motorbike. Then we have the motor bike workshops where the bimbo IS draped around a motorbike, all Barbarella futuristic like. Lips pouting at you from behind a mask of lipstick so thick and red The Joker would be envious. The list is endless.

So it was with a welcome sigh of relief back in 2004 when I was approached by Metropolitan Life Insurance to shoot their 2004 calendar. Their calendars are internal and distributed to all branches nationwide including Namibia and Botswana. Their calendars are themed by association with their clients and products they offer. The first one was themed Africa at Work, and we depicted people at work in a styled manner. With a stylist and a brief we set off to depict South Africans in the workplace.

The calendar was well received by all, and I got the assignment for the 2005 calendar titled Africa at Play. This was a fantastic assignment. A total highlight of my career. It took me all over the country, and even so far as Namibia and Botswana, as we had to depict life in those countries as well. Again, the calendar was very well received and I continued to get the annual assignment up till 2010, which had soccer as its theme, due to us hosting the World Cup. Unfortunately it was to be the last calendar, as the global financial crisis was now seriously hampering everybody, large corporates as well as small entities such as myself, and the calendar disappeared. To my delighted surprise this year, the calendar came back. The theme was Building Futures through Imagination, conceived by Andre` Steyn at Inspiration, the ad agency which deals with Metropolitan below the line. Together, we, Black Box Studios and Inspiration, came up with the plan to bring the ideas to life.

The result is without a doubt my best work to date. Yes, I have done some very complicated shoots over the years, and there is work that is my best based on the criteria at the time, but this years assignment for Metropolitan’s 2014 calendar has to rank right up there as my best work ever. The scale was large, with set construction and full scale styling carried out impeccably by Claire Gritten, who slogged relentlessly back and forth getting props to bring the images to life.

The brief was to keep things under lit, so as to create drama, and a continuous search of the image which will sit on a desk or hang on a wall over a whole month. The image must not bore you after 10 minutes of looking at it. Instead every time you look at it there should be something that you “haven’t seen” yet. Of the 12 images, its hard to decide which are the “best”. Narrowing things down, I suppose for me the Baker, Tailor, Fisherman and Farmer are my top four.

All told, I think we have done another great job producing a calendar that puts the good taste back into calendars.

The Nurse

The Farmer

The Fisherman

The Baker

The Flower Seller

The Laundry Lady

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