When British photographer Laura Hynd received an invitation to be involved in a photography project about the costumes in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, Phantom Thread, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, she admits that the enormity of the commission didn’t immediately sink in. “It was Christmas Eve 2016, and I was at my mum’s house in Scotland,” she recounts. “I didn’t look at the email properly, but I got chased on Boxing Day and thought, ‘hang on a minute!’”
Sophie de Rakoff, a costume designer and longtime friend of Thomas Anderson, was looking for a photographer to follow the film’s costume department. Award-winning costume designer Mark Bridges had designed the costumes for the film, which tells the story of the relationship between couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his muse Alma (Vicky Krieps), and Anderson had given permission for an accompanying photographic project.
Hynd didn’t hear anything more until the next February when she received an email from De Rakoff insisting she hotfoot it up to the Cotswolds where they were filming. A day trip to Owlpen Manor, the location for Woodcock’s countryside retreat and atelier, turned into 17 days of taking photographs during the three-month filming schedule. The bulk of location work was in London, in a “beautiful, grand townhouse” in Fitzroy Square and lavish Goldsmiths’ Hall, but Hynd’s first experience of Anderson’s magical world during that hasty visit to Owlpen Manor made a lasting impression.
“The countryside atelier was in a dark, moody, and gorgeous barn,” recounts Hynd. “It had this big table in the middle for dressmaking. All of the props were sourced as original pieces. It was a feast for a photographer.”
“In the nicest possible way I was not to be seen or heard,” she continues. “It was all very secretive... We wove in and out with someone on a walkie-talkie saying, ‘ok you’ve got to leave now’.”
Initially, Hynd had access to the film’s costume and art departments and photographed costume fittings and extras getting ready, but she soon became part of Anderson’s world, shooting behind the scenes images that capture the intoxicating atmosphere on set. “There was a big fashion show scene that takes place at Woodcock’s London home in Fitzroy Square and we snuck in,” says Hynd. “I remember looking across the hallway to where they were filming and it was just so magical,” she continues. “Everyone was in costume and there was smoke from a smoke machine. I was taken in by the beauty of it all. This is why people are addicted to working in film. It plucks you out of reality and puts you into something you can only really dream about.”
Hynd literally became part of the fabric of the film when she was asked to appear as a photographer in one scene. Her brief that day was to get photographs of Woodcock and Alma, but the only chance she had was while the actors were being filmed doing a photoshoot. “It was absolutely terrifying,” admits Hynd. “When it was put to me, I thought, this is bonkers. But I then thought, ‘this is what memories are made of’. You’ve got to embrace these things. I can’t say I did anything spectacular,” she adds. “I didn’t act, I did what I do.”
It’s an experience she’ll never forget, says Hynd, whose images are being published as a book, The Women of Woodcock. “I wanted to be able to take beautiful photographs – that was my remit,” she says. “I was lucky that everything I was photographing was absolutely gorgeous. It might sound clichéd, but I really do believe that the more you put yourself out there to feel a bit uncomfortable about what you’re doing, the more you’re going to learn,” she adds. “You look back and think, ‘I can't believe I did that, well bloody done’.”
The Women of Woodcock is available for pre-order, published by August Editions. Phantom Thread is in cinemas from February 2.