Muse: Shooting Venus
Constructing the Shell
We often get questions about the Birth of Venus [After Botticelli] shell. Despite living in Chicago with lots of theaters and prop houses, we figured the search to find the perfect shell was more effort than just making one ourselves. At 9’x6′ it consumed my apartment’s dining room and brought with it a host of delightful and unexpected experiences.
After having scoped out our lakefront location weeks in advance, Niki, my friend Joe and I meet at the agreed upon location around 4:45 a.m. The sky still dark and the September air crisply in the 50s, we arrive at the beach only to discover a parking lot full of cars, a row of yellow school buses and scurrying people in the dark. A stab of fear is replaced by confusion until we notice a promotional tent and a few people in running gear. Judging it safe to proceed, we begin unloading and taking everything down to the water’s edge.
An hour passes as we position the giant shell in the water, deep enough to look good while shallow enough not to sink in the shifting sand or fill with water from the breaking waves. Amidst our busy preparation and an ever slightly blushing sky, we fail to notice the swelling crowd of 200 or so runners up on the beach ridge stretching and looking down our way with curiosity – a few moving down onto the beach to snag a photo.
As the sun rises to the horizon, we begin the shoot. Niki, with sweater wrapped around her head (looking precisely like little Edie from Grey Gardens), steps behind the camera to secure its position. I place my clothes in a plastic bag, tape the fabric hood on my head, step into the shell. I find my position with right hand over chest and left nearly covering my groin. I lock my gaze with the camera lens and wait for the click and wind of film. A split second of confusion is replaced with disbelief. “O-oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” peels from a loud speaker near the runner’s tent. The three of us burst into uncontrollable laugher. Never before has the Star Spangled Banner initiated such hilarious irony.
As our composure returns, we witness a slow moving line of runners stretching out and moving north from the tents along the lakefront path. Warmed with humor, we resume our shoot, taking advantage of the best light and waves Lake Michigan can provide. At the end of the shoot we pack up all but the shell. One last glance, looking down from the grassy beach ridge, we wonder about its new life, how many people will pass and appreciate it, how long it will remain.
The disco ball, however, hangs in my dining room.