Monaco: Lunching in the Fast Lane

Back in the day, they were Finland’s premier power couple. He was a Formula One champion; she was a television presenter. Today they may be divorced, the “Flying Finn” Mikka Häkkinen is no longer a racing car driver and Erja Häkkinen’s TV days are over, but the press has not forgotten them. Very glossy ‘Gloria‘, Finland’s number one fashion magazine, recently sent me as photographer to Monaco to shoot a lifestyle feature about Erja. It was a rather glamorous day-in-the-life piece, that required a lot of people, tasty (and not so tasty) morsels and champagne in its making…

Draft page layout from Gloria magazine showing 3 photographs and text
First draft double page spread of the article. Finnish, anyone?

10 is a crowd

Sometimes, I do my portrait assignments alone, just photographer and subject, one on one. Sometimes, I attend the interview and work alongside the writer. On other occasions, several people might be involved – and this photoshoot was definitely in the last category. Gloria’s writer-producer had flown to the South of France from Helsinki; the make-up artist and stylist had popped over to Monaco from neighbouring Nice. Wonderful assistant Rebecca ‘Junior’ came to help me; star PA Kamila was there to help Erja. Erja’s business partner (who had also come from Finland to the French Riviera) hovered in the sidelines for a ‘business meeting shot’; Erja’s children waited to figure in a family picture set-up. Last but not least, Misha, Erja’s Russian toy dog, kicked back nonchalantly in the wings (or, to be more accurate, dozed on my scarf, as I was somewhat disgruntled to discover), awaiting his key role in the “out walking” scene. It made for quite a crowd in the small kitchen of Erja’s apartment. “What can I do?“; “Where do you want me?“; “Where will we go next?” It was up to the photographer, as ‘chef d’orchestre‘, to give directions and make it all happen.

Screengrab of Finnish magazine Gloria's web page showing feature article text and portrait of Erja Hakkinen beside her swimming pool
The online version of the final article (no easier to comprehend)

A lost makeup artist

Contrary to what one might expect, I hadn’t arrived with a plan that morning. Apart from Erja’s weekend country house in France and her Monaco city pad (neither of which I had been given the address of, let alone seen), no precise shoot spots had been specified in the brief. Yet it was clear that the magazine photo editor had ambitious plans for me to capture Erja in a whole range of locations (“at least 5“), doing activities that figure in her day-to-day life (“the more variety, the better“) and in a specific style that would require both styling and creating a relaxed atmosphere (“luxury, beauty, fashion, but not in a too posing way“). Before I met Erja, I had no idea what her typical day might consist of, and where we would need to go to photograph it. Abseiling or yodeling seemed unlikely, but would we be lunching on a yacht? Doing a hot yoga class? All I did know was that the order was tall and time would be tight. I’d need to dig deep into reserves of creativity, quick solution finding, good humour and shepherding skills.

Rebecca Jr and I were up at the crack of dawn, and, after a few coffees and a beat-the-traffic drive to Monaco, soon recce-ing some generic Monte Carlo shoot locations. Unfortunately, not everyone was on the same page, time-wise. The subject herself announced that she couldn’t start until 10.00, and then – unsurprisingly for a Monaco VIP – arrived late to our rendez-vous. During the wait, the make-up artist decided to assume the role of entertaining and relaxing everyone (particularly the magazine producer, whose full-length, rabbit-fur coat appeared to be quivering with annoyance) – “no stress people, we’ve got all the time in the world!“. Yet once Erja did show and we’d decided to head to her country house, he proceeded to get lost en route and so generate another lengthy wait time, all of his own. Last minute news from Kamila that I hadn’t, after all, been granted Monaco photographer authorisation to shoot either in Casino Square or inside Monte Carlo venues such as the Hotel de Paris, hadn’t improved my mood either.

Photographer loose in the kitchen

Still, once we eventually got going, I did my best to create a happy, relaxed-yet-efficient working atmosphere. I took photographs in the bedroom, lounge and poolside areas of Erja’s villa in France, the kitchen of her apartment in Monaco, a bar, a restaurant, and in the streets of Monaco’s old town, harbour and Monte Carlo. Each time, outfit changes and styling were required, and Rebecca Jr and I set up lighting, and moved and arranged background objects before I even picked up my camera.

Draft opening page layout from Gloria magazine showing 6 photographs and text
Waking, lunching, working, lounging…a pretty packed Monaco day

Erja herself rose gracefully to the challenge and was as happy to throw on her pink dressing gown for morning coffee photographs as she was to brave the February cold outdoors in an evening gown. She also gamely tolerated a photographer turning her kitchen upside down and rummaging through her fridge on the hunt for ingredients for a mother-&-daughter juice-making photograph. Taste took a back seat to colour on this occasion, and, as I clicked away, Erja and Aina Julia did an admirable job of tasting the drink I had asked them to make, which contained considerably more lemon and parsley than carrot. I can vouch for the achievement of their smiling through this, when I later involuntarily screwed up my face on trying a mouthful. It wasn’t all hard work though: “Sit here in the sun, order a glass of champagne and have a chat about something nice with your assistant” aren’t the most taxing of directions.

The importance of lunch

Photograph of photographer kneeling on pavement with camera
Thank you, Rebecca Jr, for this, but mostly for your top assisting!

Coming up to midday, we had only just finished shooting the villa, and Gloria’s producer, conscious of the enormity of the task her magazine had set us, had been keen to skip lunch. However, in the South of France, lunch is simply not to be missed, and I knew the enormity of the task I would face to create relaxed, happy pictures if we didn’t sit down for a quick meal. In the fine restaurant that Kamila organised for us, a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, moods were not only re-boosted for the afternoon, but I was able to cover off another location and activity in this lifestyle reportage (Misha again starring, as he sat on his mistress’s lap and elegantly savoured a few gastronomic morsels).

The day continued well into the evening, and my 5.30 am start began to take its toll. Everyone, not least myself, was happy to finish the last set-up and head back home. A few days later, the picture editor received the results. “I really like how you got Erja to be so relaxed and smiley, she easily looks a bit tight in pictures“. Tight was the word for the day’s challenge for the photographer, but not so for the subject – gladly.

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