Recently, I got an opportunity to do a shoot in the King
Tut Exhibit in New York City. It was for Dr. Zahi Hawass’s new men’s line. As well
as being a leading Egyptologist, he is also the star of the
television show ‘Chasing Mummies’ on the History Channel.
It was really
unprecedented that we got access to shoot at the museum. Usually,
there are no cameras permitted inside the museum space. Obviously,
we had to do the shoot when the museum was closed as we couldn’t
interrupt the daily business of the Exhibit. That being said, the
call time was 9:30pm for crew and models. Unfortunately, there is
only one freight elevator and that closed at 4pm. So, my assistant,
James Sullivan, and I trekked over with the stuff earlier in the
day to beat the freight closing. The hardest part about doing a
location job like this is that if you don’t have what you need with
you…you just don’t have it. Period. The doors opened for us once
at 9:30, and then were closed and locked behind us. So, we brought
ALL the gear, and then the kitchen sink. We would be shooting in
the museum from 9:30pm to 7am. It was a looong night. After the
freight drop off, I got some sleep, but it’s hard to try and train
your body to stay up and focused for such a long time after you’re
normally in bed. So there was lots of coffee and red bull for us as
the night wore on. As I was working out
the lighting of the space, I wanted it to be dramatic and as much
as we could manage, have it not look like we were in a museum. I
wanted the lighting to feel like we were in a tomb with the work
lights on in the background lighting up the space. I also wanted
the lights to be shot directly into the camera lens, which creates
the sunburst/rainbow effect above. That would give the space some
life that it otherwise wouldn’t have. Using the hot lights also
adds a warmth to the photos.
We’re shooting here
against what I think was the best artifact in the museum. It’s the
“Gilded Coffin of Tjuya”. (Text from the museum): It was
made during the reign of Amenhotep III. During his reign, Amenhotep
authorized a burial in the Valley of the kings for his non-royal
in-laws. The tomb included this elaborately decorated coffin for
Tjuya. It’s spells and divine imagery ensured her successful
transition to the afterlife.
I took the photo below of this
beautiful artifact. Click to see it larger. The detail is really
There were certainly
restrictions and some difficulties to shooting there. The first of
course is the lock down we were in. The head of security was with
us the whole time. Basically, no one could leave until 7am when the
doors would be opened again. Also, the glass cases that these
artifacts were in had seismometers in them that would set off an
alarm and call the police/fire department if someone bumped into
them too hard. They were also temperature controlled, so that if
the temperature exceeeded 70 degrees inside the glass case, the
same thing would happen. So…I’m using hot lights… 😉 Yes, we
had to monitor the reading in the glass case a few times and
couldn’t put the lights too close to the case so it wouldn’t heat
up and set off the alarm.
One thing that no one counted
on was the music. It was the kinda creepy instrumental music that
the museum plays all day…well it played ALLLLL night as well. We
couldn’t turn it off. At about 5am we all started getting a little
loopy and the music wasn’t helping at all…lol. Art Zulu, who also
did the book design, did some wonderful compositing of some of the
images with or against images of hieroglyphics and other antiquity
artwork(all with permission). Lora Flaugh of Art
Zulu, the branding and design firm that designed and is selling the
line, has this to say about the new clothing line: “The Zahi Hawass
collection features natural dyes, vegetable dyes, and organic
cottons with environmentally friendly fabrics that deliver a bold
new look for men. The rich khakis, deep blues and soft, weathered
leathers tie together the rich tapestry of ancient Egyptian
artifacts in his new collection”.
Thanks go out to my
Daryon Haylock First Assistant: James Sullivan
thanks to everyone at Art Zulu, www.artzulu.com, for
making it a fun, “Night at the Museum”. 🙂
Edited to add some additional information, Interviewer Danny Ramadan of: http://damascusian.wordpress.com/
1. Danny Ramadan: Can you provide me with date, place and more information about the photoshoot. When and where did it take place? I can use quotes from your blog about the details of the photoshoot, but I want more information about specific dates and place.
James Weber: The Shoot was on October 7th, 2010 from 9:30pm to 6:30am. It was shot in New York at the King Tut Exhibit, 226 WEST 44TH STREET (between Broadway & 8th avenues)
2. Danny Ramadan: You blogged about the photoshoot on November 23rd. The revolution in Egypt took place in January 25th. Can you tell me more about the reaction to the blogpost between November and January and that after the revolution.
James Weber: Since the blog was written on Nov. 23rd, I have not had any negative reaction to it until 4/14/2010, well after the revolution. I imagine this is when information from my post was published somewhere in a blog or newspaper in Egypt or an Egyptian blog. The comments have been mostly negative, lambasting Dr. Hawass for doing the shoot with country resources for personal gain. A lot of them seeking to sue him or oust him from the ministry post he now holds again. Some of the time, the posts lambasted me as well for being a part of it, but most of their energy has been focused on Dr. Hawass.
3. Danny Ramadan: Tell me more about the original pieces used in the photoshoot as a background and the replicas used in the photoshoots as well. In one of the photos, the model is placing his foot on one of the artifacts; is it real one or a replica?
James Weber: The only original artifacts used in the shoots were as backgrounds. None were ever touched. The chair and the bench that we used are replicas. We never would have sat a model down in a 3,000 year old artifact. We would have also never had the chance. All of the artifacts, such as the chairs you speak of are protected under glass. There was also some photoshop involved in some of the images. The one photo where his foot is up in what looks like a Hieroglyphics wall, that’s a photograph of the Hieroglyphics wall, mixed with a photo I took of the model.
4. Danny Ramadan: Tell me more about the safety measures you and your team took to protect the artifacts; were they ordered by Zahi Hawass himself or by the New York museum? Who was there to make sure that these measures are being respected?
James Weber: Safety of the artifacts was a primary concern for us. The entire time that we were there, the Exhibit’s head of security was with us. He was there to safeguard the artifacts themselves and also informed me about the safety features that the items behind glass had in them. When I spoke of a seismometer in my blog post, that was relating to the glass itself, not the artifact inside. If the protective glass was jarred, bumped, moved, in any way, it would trigger an alarm and the police and fire department would be called. As for temperature control, the items inside the glass were not to exceed 70 degrees. If the air inside the glass reached 71 degrees, it would trigger an alarm and the police and fire department would be called. So these controls are inherent in all of the artifacts behind glass. The, “Gilded Coffin of Tjuya”, is one example. The entire King Tut Exhibit is temperature controlled for the safety of the artifacts. That being said, the artifacts were never in any danger of damage from heat or being touched. These safety measures were in place at the King Tut Exhibit prior to and after our shoot. It’s just a part of how the New York Exhibit protects these artifacts.
5. Danny Ramadan: Was Zahi Hawass present at any moment during the photoshoot? Did he show you any documentation to prove he had any permission from anyone to use the artifacts to promote himself?
James Weber: I’ve never met Dr. Hawass. He was not at the shoot at any time. He did authorize the shoot and make arrangements for the Head of Security we had with us, who was there to safeguard the artifacts.
The documentation question you ask was an irrelevant one at the time. He was the Minister of Antiquities. From that post, he was in charge of the very artifacts that we were shooting. Prior to the Revolution, there wasn’t any question about his role in the country.
6. Danny Ramadan: In your opinion; was it Hawass’ right to take advantage of the artifacts for promoting himself?
James Weber: Now whether he had the moral right or justification to do this shoot is another question entirely and it’s not my place to answer. I believe the Egyptian people will be answering this question in due course. In this way, I’m very happy that the Egyptian people have the right to speak up so forcefully now, so that this kind of dialogue can happen.
7. Danny Ramadan: Would you work with Hawass again? can you explain your answer?
James Weber: Especially since this has been brought to such a negative light, I don’t believe I’ll be working with Dr. Hawass again. In one respect, Dr. Hawass has done some great things for Egypt and Egyptian Antiquities over the years. I only heard good things about him prior to the shoot. Chasing Mummies was an exciting look behind the scenes at things most of us will never get to experience first hand.
Now, after the revolution, there are other questions that arose about things like this shoot…using country resources for personal gain. I understand why the Egyptian people are outraged at what he and other governmental ministers were doing. I’m sure everything will come out in due course as the Egyptian people demand answers. This is only the beginning, and I think discourse like this is very healthy and necessary in any society.
I hope the answers to your questions have been helpful in shedding light on this shoot. I can say with all sincerity that I love Egypt and her history and never wanted to do anything to tarnish her or her artifacts. Thanks again for giving me the chance to respond.