Stories from the Pit – what really goes on behind the camera at London Fashion Week

Twice a year, fashionistas primp & preen descending on London for Fashion Week, coming out in their glory for all to admire. For this latest round, I was lucky enough to attend last month’s show and join in the photographers’ pit.

The term pit is not one that conjures up warmth and cosiness. The space proved certainly to be cosy, but not that inviting. Armed with my trusted stool, camera and most importantly masking tape, I approached the group of mainly large men, dressed in black with long lenses and felt the eyes of the pack scan me as I approached, assessing my size, equipment and after conducting a quick threat analysis conducted, I was allowed in. A photographers’ pack is not different to any other, territorial! Animal packs use scent to mark their space, photographers use tape, which once marked should never be encroached upon. That is the ultimate Pit faux pas!

Squeezing into position and setting myself up with limited space to move is tricky, but once cosy, the pack begin to accept and warm up, after all the hunt is now on. As fashionistas take their seats tension and excitement rise, whispers of designs or models to look out for start to spread. As the lights dim, silence falls over the pit and audience. Poised, focused with finger on the trigger, we wait with expectant anticipation. Music booms, models start strutting and photographers answer with their machine gun fire of appreciation. Adrenalin pumping, heart pounding and slightly trembling, I fire and capture.

Remembering to breathe, I start to relax, pacing myself, trying to anticipate the models’ rhythm to capture the perfect form. As each model begins their walk, a quick assessment must be made on which element of the design to focus, I find myself counting the model’s steps, making small camera adjustments, leaning into the photographer next to me and being leaned into. Maybe, this is why it’s really called the pit! All the while models strut, and we click. Models and designs are applauded and cheered. Those who overcame precarious teetering on ridiculously high heels are practically given standing ovations. Designers appear, take their bow and accept their applause from admiring fans. House lights come on, photographers breathe, clamber down from their stools and rush to edit and upload before the next show and new crowd roll in.

The last show ends, photographers pack up and disperse. I travel home, muscles fatigued from hours of tension, but spirits energised and uplifted. Sinking into a hot bath, I consider the fashion world. I like style and design but have never considered myself a fashionista and have always thought those outrageous catwalk outfits pointless, but now, having attended several shows I look forward to them for the visual excitement they bring. I admire the fashionistas dedication and commitment to their cause, driving themselves to wake whilst still dark, just to be preened and suitably attired for the 10am show. I loved watching and observing the whole circus as it rolls into town and for a few days being part of that world, but what is the value of such exhibitionism?

As the philosopher Roland Barthes once stated, “…Clothing concerns all of the human person, all of the body, all of the relationships of man to body as well as the relationships of the body to society…”

We are individuals who each have an unwavering sense of ‘self’ but who must fundamentally exist as a group. We are part of nature but make our every assertion as a species, an act of rebellion against it. Culture does not exist apart from humanity, it is something we create. It may take the form of art, music, fashion, architecture, or literature, but fundamentally it plays the role of being a medium for conversation, statements, questions and answers.

The cultural manifestation of this need to ‘dress’ or fashion, which Lars Svendsen in his book ‘Fashion as a Philosophy’ describes as being “…one of the most influential phenomena in Western civilisation since the renaissance. The logic of fashion he states, “…also encroaches on the areas of art, politics and science, clearly fashion is a phenomenon that lies near the centre of the modern world.”

Fashion has always been and will be a constant part of our existence. Many people see fashion as ephemeral and frivolous, but I see it as creative, and an enterprising multifaceted industry that is vital to our economic and personal well-being, influencing many other industries with their design and trends. Fashion really does matter and I thoroughly look forward to the next time the fashion circus rolls into town.