From the Archive: Cirque du Soleil

We’re headed back to summer 2010 for our latest post from the Archive. Chris and team traveled to Canada to spend two straight days shooting Cirque du Soleil behind the scenes at their world headquarters in Montreal. Aside from making a handful of incredible photos (including the American Photography 27 award winner shown above) the trip provided for a great story. I spoke with superstar assistant Jeff Elkins to share a few details from the trip. Keep reading for a ton more photos, more stories, and Jeff’s recollections of the adventure.

Jeff Elkins:  Regarding our first shoot at Cirque du Soleil, where to start . . .?  Well, the weekend started with Chris and our other assistant, Chris Koontz picking me up in Jersey City. We knew we were in for a long drive, filled with lots of energy drinks and a potential problem. The drama at the time was that we didn’t have a work visa for the job and Chris was concerned that there was a pretty substantial chance that border security wouldn’t let us through (no need for an international incident). The primary things in our favor were that we had a letter of intent from the magazine and we would be crossing the border around 2 AM.  As luck would have it, he was right – after 45 minutes of very late night nervous waiting and a host of polite, rehearsed questions, we made it through. The shoot was underway.

Jeff Elkins: I’ll never forget the plaster head room. Cirque du Soleil keeps plaster busts of all of their performers so the mask and wardrobe technicians can make modifications and new masks for any of their performers anywhere in the world. Surreal place!!

The level of craftsmanship and artistry that goes into every aspect of the Cirque du Soliel performance is truly amazing. Beyond the performers themselves, there is an entire community of designers, costumers and artists that play a role in creating, building, and maintaining the costumes and props for all of the performances worldwide.

And what a shoot it was. I’m definitely bummed that this one happened before I joined the team. Two days of nonstop shooting produced a wild range of photos, from the simplistic and expressive portraits…

to environmental shots that show the performer’s amazing and dynamic abilities, as well as heroic portraits of the artisans and designers that work behind the scenes to create the details of the Cirque universe.

Jeff Elkins: Despite the time and logistical concerns, Chris made some stunning portfolio images (including his first beauty image of a car – which we created in less than ideal circumstances).

Without a readily available way to rig and light a car suspended in mid-air, Chris and the team had to improvise. And improvise they certainly did.

They devised a plan to to light the Infiniti SUV in pieces using a combination of large octabanks and softboxes, making sure to get as many options as possible for the later compositing. To further complicate matters, Chris and crew had to consider the fact that the car would be suspended vertically not horizontally in the final image, therefore the light on the car had to make sense from that perspective as well. Once the car was lit in pieces, the rope which it was suspended from had to be lit and shot in pieces, following a similar process

Last but not least, Chris shot a series of background plates for the environment the Inifniti would be suspended in.

A few other tidbits I have to include (along with the awesome light test above) from my interview with Jeff:

“We all ate poutine and smoked meats for the first time. Gotta love eating as the locals do!

Drank a lot of beer of course!!”

Thanks again to Jeff Elkins for taking the time to share some stories from the shoot. Make sure to keep up with him on twitter @jeffelkinsphoto and check out his website