In May, for our TOAST Autumn Winter campaign, we travelled to Italy to capture performers at Cirque Bidon. The contemporary circus of art and poetry travels from France by horse-led caravan to perform theatre and live music across Europe. We speak to Photographer and Director Jo Metson Scott, who shot our campaign, and Director of Photography James Bannister, who created our campaign video, about the experience behind the shoot, inspired by our seasonal theme of Everyday Theatre.
It looks like this was an amazing trip. Have you both worked on projects together before?
Jo Metson Scott: We’ve been working together for a good while, and I’ve been working with TOAST for about six years. Our aesthetic works really well together.
James Bannister: I’ve always been a fan of Jo’s work.
Jo: And vice versa!
James: I was very excited to work with Jo. And it’s nice when someone you admire turns out to be a lovely person too.
Jo: Ah, James! It can be tricky on set when a client wants both video and stills. You’re always pressed for time and there’s lots to do. Stills and moving image may have a similar aesthetic, but the way you capture it can be quite different. It has the potential to be quite tricky, but James and I really like working together and have a very similar aesthetic. And he's very patient with me. I think we worked really well together. For something like the circus performers, the moving image was so spectacular to capture and it was such a joy to watch. It was lovely to dip between shooting the stills and directing the moving image.
And how did the seasonal concept feed into your preparations?
Jo: Katie [Callaghan, TOAST Head of Brand Creative] came up with the concept. What I love about TOAST, and I’m sure James will agree, is they really put in a lot of time and research into the concept. It’s been so lovely, consistently over the years. The solid concept makes you want to be involved with the ideas so much. Once the locations and characters begin to be firmed up, I can’t wait to get involved. The trips are often shooting in different locations with different models and props, it becomes like a logistical Jenga puzzle. We do become a little bit of a unit. By the end of it, I always feel a bit bereft when everyone's gone home, and we're not all travelling, eating, working together. James, I don't know how you feel?
James: Yes, one thing I would say about working on the TOAST shoots is that everyone in their own field is really creative, and really good at what they do, at their craft. Especially Katie, and everyone during the pre-production, the references are always amazing. The creative direction is always so good – it's such a pleasure when everyone's amazing. Your part gets much easier, and you can and you can relax into the creative process.
Was there anything that you set out to capture in particular, or did things happen more spontaneously?
Jo: We always start with a whole set of ideas that we want to achieve. Katie and I talk a lot before the shoot. I love the preparation and discussions we have before the shoot even starts. Having the research and the planning done beforehand means that you have a creative structure to experiment and try things that weren't planned, but fit the general feel of the campaign. The preparation means there's room for things to go in all sorts of unexpected directions and keeps the creativity of the campaign. We are continually developing and adding to an idea.
James: Like Jo says, you have a structure and a framework beforehand, but then within that, when things come up, you can go with them. There are certain practical things that have to happen, but they're like dots, and then how you join the dots is very creative. You can go with what feels like the best thing in the moment.
What was your favourite location and what did you love about it?
Jo: In Italy we were at a really beautiful brewery where they distilled their own craft beers and had their own bar. The location was lovely and we used it as a backdrop for a lot of the shots. We were drawn there because that's where Cirque Bidon comes every year to perform. The circus was beautiful, and it was wonderful to be around them and be able to watch them rehearse for the season ahead.
James: For me, the first two days with the circus were great, because you could look in any direction and there was a strong background, which sometimes isn’t the case shooting on location. Also the circus were really there, not just for the shoot – they were really there doing their thing whilst we were shooting.
Jo: They were really training and getting ready for the season.
James: They were doing their thing. I was able to be quite free with shooting, and just go with it.
Jo: We were all in awe of their talents. They slept in traditional wagons, travelling by horse. It was a very traditional circus in one way, but then the performances were very contemporary in other ways. We'd be arriving early, because we'd be planning and shooting, and they'd be waking up and someone would be playing a mandolin, and another person would be juggling. For us it was just a delight to see all their skills before they did any performances.
James: That reminds me, when they were practising, I would go off and record bits of audio for the video. You can hear a musician doing scales or warming up, or fragments of a song. It’s really genuine, and wasn’t for the camera. There was some documentary mixed in, things that were really happening.
Jo: I don’t know about you James, but that’s what I find so special about going on a shoot, it's wonderful watching people live and perform. But there's something really special about watching people rehearse, and work things out and do things that normally are in private. The fact that we were around whilst they were rehearsing for the shows was really exciting. When they wore some of the TOAST clothes, they were working out how you could show the outfit whilst doing a performance. So we relied on them to work out what they were going to do, and how they were going to move to show the shape of a dress or the cut of some trousers. We were learning from them, and how they were performing.
James: A lot of things when people are rehearsing or backstage, there were mistakes, which is where the feeling is, you know?
Were there any performers you really clicked with on set? How many days did you spend with them?
Jo: We were there for three days, but in that time they were also doing performances for a local school. I can’t single any of them out, they all had skills which were very specific to them and all so talented. They were very welcoming and supportive of the model we were working with. She was French, as were most of the circus performers. She had a great rapport with them and really wanted to try and learn the different skills, learning how to juggle for example. I think she really enjoyed the challenge. You could see she was quite determined to learn and was enjoying working with each circus performer. It made it really fun.
James: Francois, who ran the circus, must have noticed it because he gave her a book from his collection, on the history of circuses, to give to her at the end of the shoot.
Jo: They had such beautiful skills, which are so important to be passed on.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Interview by Alice Simkins Vyce.
Photographs by Jo Metson Scott.
Videography by James Bannister.