“Fantastic!!! Fabulous!!!” cried my client, as she caught sight of me. Its not often that I am greeted with quite as much gusto, but I’d just arrived at the ITV Studios stand in Cannes, where bubbly smiles, enthusiasm and exclamation marks abound. ITV, the UK’s biggest and most popular commercial television channel, has a big presence at MIPCOM (the entertainment version of a series of annual Cannes-hosted global trade fairs), and I provide their corporate event photography. Today, my first stop was a rendez-vous on Love Island.
Living in France as a photographer for over ten years now, I confess to being entirely out-of-date with British telly culture. It wasn’t until a few days after an ITV shoot last year that I realised the young Love Island winners that I’d been photographing are no minor celebrities. I had met with a writer friend, who’s clocked up more than his fair share of VIP encounters, and when I told him about this recent job, he sounded genuinely distraught: “Oh gosh, I wish I’d known and asked you to get an autograph for my niece – she’d have been over the moon!”
For those who don’t know (anyone?), successful singletons on this dating reality TV show are sent to an isolated villa in Mallorca for a few weeks. Under the gaze of no fewer than 69 cameras, and susceptible to elimination by the Great British voting public, the young contestants assess each other, couple and re-couple in a quest to find true love / win £50,000 in prize money / be Famous. Love Island has apparently been a roaring success and, in Cannes, ITV Studios are not shy of flaunting this feather in their cap. A new Love Island terrace had been installed across the front of the stand, complete with winning contestants on display.
Success breeds success
Actually, ‘stand’ is a rather misleading term for ITV’s presence at this event. They refer to it in their own unique ITV terminology as the “House”, which is actually far more appropriate – and it is a considerable house at that. While only a temporary construction, with parts trucked down to the French Riviera from London and assembled on site in Cannes, the two-storey building has a reception area, meeting rooms, screening pods, 3 bars, several terraces and a cafe-restaurant that doubles as a nightclub. It stays up for less than a week.
However, ITV Studios didn’t commission me for architectural pictures. As corporate photographer, I was to record the experience of the “House”.
Against a backdrop of logos, interactive screens, wall displays and carefully-chosen interior design, my work was to illustrate the value of face-to-face meetings between staff and visitors (investors come from all over the world to meet and make deals here), their interactions with ‘innovative, dynamic displays’ ( or “activations”); and the buzz of the cocktail-drinking, partying, play-hard side of the business, as execs mingle with the “talent” [invited actors and Love Island stars]. In today’s competitive, global world of entertainment provision, success breeds success.
Out on Love Island, the weather wasn’t exactly tropical. Although Cannes palm trees may have made the Islanders feel at home on their terrace, the day was a chilly one by South of France standards (especially for a lady in a miniskirt or plunging necklined summer dress).
Finalists from the latest season, Wes & Megan, were joined by three couples from Love Island Australia, Love Island Germany and Love Island Sweden (the show already has franchises in 6 countries, and CBS recently signed up for an American version). All gamely posed for pictures with visitors and for a press call, where a small but excitable wall of photographers fought over each other for 3 minutes, then moved on. In between, while they didn’t seem to speak an awful lot, the couples kept warm, exercising their fingers on smartphones and sipping Cosmopolitan Kisses and Raspberry Love’tinis (courtesy of the cocktail barman brought over from London for his skills).
As the sun started to go down, activity notched up a gear as the set of the House was changed. Screen displays and lighting was transformed, the lunch-and-meeting space upstairs was gradually emptied of mid-meeting executives by staff wearing bright smiles that appeared slightly more tense than before, and a team of make-up ladies arrived, armed with colourful eye-shadows and glitter to give evening guests that little je ne sais quoi on arrival. Suddenly the party was announced open, and a Ministry of Sound DJ kicked off the music, at a volume guaranteed to make the rest of Cannes feel they were missing something great.
Warm laptops…and a pumpkin
It wasn’t quite the Vanity Fair party at the Cannes film festival that I’m assigned to shoot for the New York Times, but it was not hard for me as photographer to capture a successful event. The organisers had calculated the number of invitations well to ensure it was packed, and as a result, it was quite difficult for me to move around. The only vacant space was the central dancefloor, which, despite the high octane beats, remained stubbornly empty. Maybe, despite all efforts to the contrary, guests’ awareness of the hour – a time normally devoted to a pre-dinner aperitif – and the fact that their laptops were still warm from meetings, contributed to a feeling that dancing might be a little premature.
In any case, around 9pm, as suddenly as it had started, the party stopped. Everyone simply drifted away, presumably to get dinner, and the fast-emptying room became a stand again (albeit a large one). Ready to drive home and prepare a set of “hero shots” [fast turnaround selects for ITV’s social media], I almost expected my car to have turned into a pumpkin. However, it hadn’t and my client’s response later on receiving the photographs was as enthusiastic as ever: “Really really appreciate it – these look brilliant!!!!”