When I entered the portrait studio, huge lights were focused on a high chair in the middle of the room. Then Xavier showed how he wanted me to sit on that high chair. With this photographic session in Paris, I was posing for my portrait photo by Harcourt Studios, the premier photographer in the world of movie stars and famous people. For a few minutes, I thought I was a movie star on Tauck’s first Paris New Year’s Event tour. It was more than a photograph, it was an experience. “Stand on your left leg and lift the right leg and lean on it on the high chair”, Xavier Gray, one of 10 Harcourt’s professional photographers, explained, “and rest your right hand on the back of the high chair and your left hand on your right thigh.” Then Xavier began focusing the lighting on my face and upper body by bouncing the light off of a reflecting fabric, adding 2 low lights and adjusting the 4 tall lights to show my character, spirit and personality. “With lighting, Xavier showed us, “I can make the character of a face or body really stand out and show mood, your soul and personality, Xavier demonstrated as he adjusted lights up, down and left and right adding shadows or subtracting shadows.”I have used as many as 12 different lights on one person to get the relaxed look I want.” The tungsten lighting was like a movie set. Then, Xavier snapped a photo of me and instantly had a proof of it provided by a machine near him. Xavier was working with no flash and was using only the lights he had shining on me. “Too dark,” he said as he viewed my proof photo so he adjusted several lights and shot another photo and replied; “Now that is what I want.” So he took another photo of me. “Now I want you to turn your head to the left and look at the camera with your eyes,” Xavier explained as he adjusted my jacket collar and moved several strands of hair that were in my face. And he took more photos. My once-in-a-life time portrait session was over then and my experience of how movie stars and celebrities have their portrait made by Harcourt Studios. So, I left that high chair and went to the proof machine behind Xavier to view my 4 photos on a 24×30 inch computer screen. And I could only select one. After discussing each photo, the proof man and I agreed on the first photo taken. And immediately, the final black and white print was in my hand with the famous “H” icon logo of Harcourt at the bottom right. I had a priceless souvenir of my visit to Harcourt and Paris. All 125 guests on Tauck’s first Paris Event had their portrait made on 4 different days and they were as happy as I. Our photographic session began in the make-up room of Jean Cocteau where the makeup artist worked wonders with all the tricks of the trade. She powdered shiny faces so they wouldn’t cause a glare in the photo. Then lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, blusher or eyebrow color was added to make each one of us picture perfect for the portrait session with Xavier. So, with this experience, we all learned how movie stars, celebrities and prominent clients are photographed in black and white at Harcourt Studios. For 2000 Euros (approximately $2250 USD) each famous client gets to select one photograph just like we did. Cost to photograph a family is 3000 Euros.
“We have photographed many famous people such as Brigett Bardot, Spike Lee, Charles De Galle, Josephine Baker, Karl Lagerfeld, Salvador Dali, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland and many more.” Gorge Hayter, Harcourt Sales Manager, said as he showed their photos and explained the lighting, personality and mood of each one. “We photograph 300-400 people/objects per year.” When we had lunch at Fouquet’s on the Champs Elysees in Paris after our photography session, we viewed scores of Harcourt’s photos of movie stars and celebrities hanging on the wall all over the restaurant.
Harcourt also photographs animals and objects. “We have photographed a polo player on his horse, Barbie on her 40th and 50th anniversary, the Energizer Bunny, Hedwig the owl in Harry Potter, Minnie Mouse, buildings inside and outside, weddings, motorcycles, cars, planes, and the soccer team in Paris, explained Hayter. “Many clients want a photo with their precious cat or dog also and dogs are easier to photograph because they usually pose and hold still and most cats don’t. And we will go to locations outside of our studio if need be and set up the same lighting as in our studio.”
Harcourt Studios began in 1934 when Cosette Harcourt, an industrial photographer who was fond of the Parisian and aristocratic ways of life, noticed her friends didn’t have the time to sit for a painting but they did for a photograph. So she began her studio that has grown to 10 professional photographers, all in Paris but moving on command. “It takes 3 years for a photographer to learn how to manipulate light according to the unique expertise of Studio Harcourt,” Hayter explained. And it was very unusual for a woman to begin a business in 1934.
Our photography session was over for all of us and we left with wonderful memories, the experience of Harcourt and the joy of being photographed by the top portrait studio in the world. It was exhilarating and fun experiencing how celebrities are photographed by Harcourt Studio. And that high chair in the middle of the studio waits the next movie star or celebrity.
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