Milla Jovovich – In the Beginning

Jeffrey Dash

Jeffrey Dash, owner of Prima Models in Los Angeles, 1987

In 1987, I was talking to my friend (and fellow photographer) Gene Lemuel in the middle of the booking room at a new Los Angeles modeling agency called “Prima” when a very loud little 12-year-old girl dragged her mother up the stairs. Gene had found a photo of the girl in a trashcan at the agency the day before, with a phone number on it. He called the number and spoke to the girl’s mother to find out that the little girl wanted to be a model and her mother was looking for representation.

The little girl walked into the middle of the booking room and announced “who do I see about becoming a model?”

Milla Jovovich, Age 12 AKA The Brat

Milla Jovovich, Age 12 AKA “The Brat”

Most of the bookers looked at each other in shock, galled by the brat’s presumption, but the owner of the agency, Jeffrey Dash laughed, rose from his chair and introduced himself. Gene Lemuel immediately buddied up to her beautiful mother, Russian actress Galina Loginova.

I took a step back and watched the whole circus unfold. Gene was very quick to jump in suggest that they do a photo shoot. I thought Milla was a pretty little girl, but frankly, I didn’t get it at first. Gene and Jeff seemed to be mesmerized by her attitude and I thought, okay maybe…

Gene Lemuel

Gene Lemuel

The next day, Gene talked the trendy Robertson boutique Comme des Garçons into lending him some clothes and took Milla to Malibu to make some photographs. He didn’t use much hair or makeup. He draped some seaweed on her and had her roll around in the sand after wetting her hair.

Gene Lemuel and his muse, Milla Jovovich

Gene Lemuel and his muse, Milla Jovovich

They came back from the shoot and I ran into him at the agency again, he showed me the Polaroids. The black and white photographs were good, a little contrasty and moody for my taste, but I could tell there was something there. Gene ran into Herb Ritts and showed him the Polaroids and convinced him that he needed to photograph her. Herb asked Gene if he could keep one of the Polaroids and wrote down her information. The next day Herb called up Prima and booked Milla for cover of Lei magazine.

Milla Jovovich First Cover - Lei Magazine

Milla Jovovich First Cover – Lei Magazine

After that, Milla’s career took off like a bullet. Once she had the cover, it was easy for me to get assignments. I photographed her for a lot of different magazines and advertisers over the next three years. Often, Galina would stand behind me while I was shooting and shout out directions in Russian. I had no idea what she was saying, but the pictures always turned out great.

Milla and I worked together for the short time that she remained living in Los Angeles. Pretty soon she was off to New York and Paris and the rest is history! I haven’t made any photographs of Milla in years, but Gene and Milla are still going strong..

Milla Jovovich and her mother Galina Loginova by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich and her mother Galina Loginova by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Everyone was always playing up the fact that she was Russian and it used to stick in my craw. My thoughts were that she escaped from the Soviets to come to the greatest land of opportunity known in human history, who the hell cares about the Russians? If she was still in Russia, she’d be harvesting wheat in the steppe! So I literally wrapped her in the flag whenever I could.

Milla Jovovich wrapped in the American Flag by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich wrapped in the American Flag by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

The first time we did a picture, she just wore a pair of jeans and I had her hold up the flag covering herself. She looked at me and said “I know what you’re trying to do… you want me to show my boobs!” I laughed and said, “look, YOU DON’T HAVE ANY BOOBS… but if you hold that flag up there, people might think that you do!” She laughed… knowing that I was right and it would make a great photo… even before we made it happen.

Milla Jovovich Playing Super Mario on Her Nintendo with her dog "Doc" by Peter Duke ©2013 All rights reserved

Milla Jovovich Playing Super Mario on Her Nintendo with her dog “Doc” by Peter Duke ©2013 All rights reserved

Milla Jovovich for Garron USA by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich for Garron USA by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich eating a Cheeseburger, Chocolate Malt and Chili Cheese Burger by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich eating a Cheeseburger, Chocolate Malt and Chili Cheese Burger by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich in Oliver Peoples on Melrose by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich in Oliver Peoples on Melrose by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

 

Milla Jovovich - Dolce & Gabbana by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich – Dolce & Gabbana by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich - American Beauty by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich – American Beauty by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich - American Beauty by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Milla Jovovich – American Beauty by Peter Duke ©2013 All Rights Reserved

Coda at Villa de Leon

My buddy David worked for a company called Coda that makes a pretty cool all-electric automobile that is designed and built here in California. David asked me if I wanted to take a test drive, and I brought my camera along, just in case there was some place to make a cool picture.

Coda - All Electric Automobile - Villa de Leon HDR

Coda – All Electric Automobile – Villa de Leon HDR

The sun was a little high for an ideal car photo, but we drove by the back of the landmark mansion Villa de Leon and as luck would have it, I thought an HDR shot might work. It’s really tough to set up a shot like this without some help moving cars, directing traffic and dealing with blinding sun. Digital cameras are not usually very cooperative in these situations and if you want to find every piece of dust on your sensor and in your lens, this is a good way.

It took us a few minutes to arrange the car. Villa de Leon has some issues with the degrading slope in front of the house and the lower driveway was closed with an ugly chain-link fence and florescent signage, so we put the car in front of it, and I got low to hide it. At that point I was shooting directly into the sun with my Canon 5D MKII and it was hard to tell what was going on. My white Panama hat was not doing a very good job of shading me enough to check my focus, exposure or anything on the display on the back of the camera. So I focused the lens using the numbers on the top of the lens, set on manual focus, and went for ƒ/8, Auto-bracket-exposure, +2/0/-2 and crossed my fingers.

When I got back to my office, I merged the images in Photoshop and Nik Software HDR Efex Pro. Some pretty aggressive recovery in Photoshop Raw combined with some equally aggressive structure and saturation in HDR Efex Pro gave me what I thought was pretty good for a limited execution in the field. There are a million things that a car shooter could find wrong with this, but I’m happy considering the circumstances.

Sharon Stone Chronicles – 1983

Sharon Stone at home in her Beverly Hills apartment, 1983.

Sharon Stone at home in her Beverly Hills apartment, 1983.

Sometime in 1983 I was assigned a series of fashion advertisements by the American department store The May Company. I rented a studio in downtown Los Angeles, set up my equipment, met the hair & makeup artist, Keith Zenobia and waited for the model to arrive. Sharon Stone doesn’t enter a room, she works it. So as she crossed the threshold with clean face, wet hair, Levis, a Barry Kieselstein Cord belt, a thin white t-shirt that left little to the imagination and the distinctive clunk clunk clunk of her Manolo Blahnik high heels.

Sharon Stone models costume jewelry for the May Company Department Store

Sharon-Stone models costume jewelry for the May Company Department Store at our first meeting. She wore only a thong and high heels for this shot.

We went through the cursory “how-do-you-dos” and she Keith headed off to the dressing room while my assistant Edward and I finished setting up the equipment. I worked as a fashion assistant for several years before I began shooting on my own and had learned a few things. A great book that I had found particularly helpful in defining myself as a photographer was “Fashion Theory” by Carol Di Grappa. In a series of essays David Bailey says “the best fashion photographs have a homosexual’s attitude… but that a photographer didn’t need to be a homosexual to idealize women.” I am shy by nature, but very straight.

Given the shield of the camera allowed me proximity to the most beautiful women in the world and by maintaining a decorum of sexual ambivalence, I can maximize my affect on the style and context of a photograph. This was in stark contrast to my dark Italian assistant who wore his masculinity on his non-sleeves with tight tank tops and bulging muscles. Many people don’t understand that there is a inversely proportional relationship to how attractive a woman is, and their absolute need for attention in order to reinforce their place in the cosmos. The queen in Snow White lives in every beauty.

It was apparent to me that Stone (as I called her) was measuring the her ability to dominate any straight man in the room as she entered. Having already worked with hundreds of beauties as an assistant, I wasn’t going to be easily swayed by her machinations. May company paid by the shot, so the more pictures that were completed, in the shortest period of time, meant more money for me. In the dressing room, she questioned Keith about my sexual orientation and was surprised to discover that I was not gay, based on my deliberately blasé attitude towards her.

Our first shot was a costume jewelry earring. The setup was simple, one light, a stool, an unlit white background. Stone walked out with a towel wrapped around her that she was fussing with. As she walked onto the set, she asked where the shot was cropping and I tapped my own chest at the neck line. With that, she tossed the towel aside, and wearing only her thong and high heels, mounted the stool. Game on. Inside I was amazed, but guffawing… and not willing to give her what she needed, a reaction. Meanwhile, Edward was having a hard time breathing.

We made some polaroids and a couple rolls of film, and I said “got it, thanks, next shot.” As she walked off the set she said to Keith “he must have a beautiful girlfriend.” To which Keith responded “I don’t think he has a girlfriend at all.” This kicked off several weeks of strange phone calls and a bizarre mating dance which ultimately culminated in a late night call for help about an assumed prowler. After that, we co-habituated in her Beverly Hills apartment for almost a year. Her mother knitted matching pot holders with our initials S & P, and her first comment to my mother was “Peter and I were just discussing what to name your grandchildren.” She classified our relationship as “Partners in Crime.”

Eventually we went our separate ways.

Technically, these photographs were a challenge. Generally the light was low, coming through sheered windows and a single torchiere lamp in the case of the photographs on the floor. The lens on the Nikon FM2 was a 50mm 1.4 and the Tri-x was probably being pushed to 1600. The color photographs taken at the dining room table were the “snipped” end of a roll of Ektachrome and were not even viable images until digital scanning technology allowed them to be salvaged.

Sharon has always styled her life. Even when she was throwing art supplies on the floor, there was a deliberate intent to make sure that there was some sort of aesthetic orientation. The sheered windows were the original designed fixtures in the apartment, but Sharon replaced the boring white with fabric that brought color and energy into the space. There was a certain comfort that we had in each other that is manifest in these images. Most stars wouldn’t let a photographer make a photograph of them with messed up hair in real life, unless perhaps you were the one that messed up their hair.

These photos reflect a different Sharon Stone than most people are aware of. Struggling with her weight and her carrer, there is a certain vulnerability revealed that she has eschewed since “Total Recall”. In her most acclaimed roles in Basic Instinct and Casino, she’s not really acting. If you want to know what she’s really like, watch those films. Her performance in the film “Basic Instinct” is taken from life, only the ice pick is a metaphor. Inside though, she is a 300 pound Pennsylvania farm girl and wearing a fat-suit isn’t going to give her the Shelly Winters Academy Award moment. If she wants the Academy Award, she’s going to need to pull a DiNiro and start packing the groceries. I’m sure that scares the crap out of her more than anything else.