Parts of the Process — How to get Slowthai nude, exposed in a pillory in front of his old home

Posted 19 September 2019 Interview by Indi Davies
Introduction by Anoushka Khandwala

Making the country take a long, hard look at itself, the searing message behind Slowthai’s debut album Nothing Great About Britain was only accentuated by its infamous artwork. Crowns & Owls, the multidisciplinary image-making trio behind the concept, give us a tour behind the scenes of the shoot. Recounting their personal connection to the themes of class and politics that permeate the music, and detailing how Slowthai [aka Tyron Kaymone Frampton] narrowly missed getting covered in “a surreal amount of pigeon shit”, they recall how shock, humour and a twisted kind of patriotism formed the crux of the creative direction. As the team aimed for an image that was grounded in reality but still had an air of theatrics about it, needless to say, they most definitely succeeded.

Client

Slowthai, Method Records

Duration

March 2019

Team

Concept and Creative: Crowns & Owls
Artist Management and Creative Direction: Lewis Levi
Set Build: James Hamilton
Stylist: Daniel Pacitti
Photography Assistants: Giles Smith, Will Reid

Brief

Shoot the cover for Slowthai's debut album, Nothing Great About Britain.

Essential Tools

Smartphones, Pentax 67, lighting.

Project Background

How the project came about
Ty’s team had been aware of our work for a little while through a mutual friend – we were all waiting for an opportunity to do something together. They had a big ambition to make something which felt iconic for the record and they trusted us with it. We knew some of Ty’s circle, but there wasn’t anything which could be described as a formal relationship. The best thing about the whole project was how organic it all was.

There wasn’t really a pitch involved. We hung out in Northampton quite a bit leading up to the project (Ty’s hometown and where the cover was shot) and we all ended up forging nice friendships out of it with the guys working with Ty. From that, conversations happened and the entire project was kind of born from this mutual appreciation of each other’s craft.

Spring Burroughs Estate, Northampton

The brief
Whilst there wasn’t a formal brief, the aim was to of course shoot whatever felt right for how the record sounds, but mainly to capture Ty’s personality, and how it feels to witness Britain unfolding in 2019.

There were a few other ideas that had been floated internally with the guys; discussions of Ty knighting himself (which was later referenced in the Nothing Great About Britain video), there was also an idea of a birds eye shot with Ty covered in a surreal amount of pigeon shit. From this, we gathered shock, humour and a kind of twisted patriotism which were clearly components that were important and felt right, so we carried that forward.

“We all agreed that we should aim for something theatrical and cinematic but anchored in a real environment.”

The location
We all agreed that we should aim for something theatrical and cinematic but anchored in a real environment. The Spring Burroughs estate in Northampton was where Ty lived for the first few years of his life, and it’s a pretty striking place. Ty’s first home as a kid was in the building behind him in the final photograph. This was an important detail and it formed the backbone of the concept. We hung out there, and as seems to be the way in 2019, a pretty heavy WhatsApp group dialogue ensued. This was actually where a bulk of the creative decisions were made.

Mocking up the set

Exploring the album themes
We did a lot of research at the beginning. One of the big themes that we wanted to explore was class, as it’s a major part of the record and a defining factor in our personal lives. It’s something that means a lot to us as a trio, and Ty has become a big voice for young working class people. There’s a lot of shame in the discussion around class in the UK, and a lot of our pop culture has appropriated working class tropes and repackaged them in recent years for its own gain, whilst giving little in return. This is something that’s bothered us, and we had an opportunity to work with an artist who is articulating the angst of growing up in an environment where the drawbridge feels lifted up, but doing it in a way which feels really refreshing, inspiring and actually genuine for a change.

“We had an opportunity to work with an artist who is articulating the angst of growing up in an environment where the drawbridge feels lifted up.”

Translating themes as inspiration for the shoot
Shame was an important word that kept on recurring as we talked about it, and so we went down a bit of a research rabbit hole based around public shaming. We’ve seen the pillory re-emerge in the form of social media shaming now, and a pillory as an object has this kind of archaic European weight to it. Having Ty nude in a pillory in front of the Spring Burroughs estate flanked by British flags, but just adamantly grinning. It felt right straight away.

Inspiration for the shoot

Development and Production

Set design process
We started with a reccy of the Spring Burroughs estate. We then divided and went into the research phase, once we arrived at the pillory idea, we then approached James Hamilton (set designer). We went up to Spring Burroughs again and collected references of the textures that are used throughout the estate so we could make the pillory and the platform feel integrated into the environment. After this, James mocked up the pillory in 3D and composited it into the space so we could get a sense of scale. The pillory and platform were then made from wood, and incredible scenic painting was added to give the impression of brick work and weathering. The result was a huge resolution scan for billboards etc. We also delivered two moving image pieces to live alongside of it, both of which were shot on 16mm film.

External collaborators
James Hamilton is a long time collaborator of ours now, so as soon as we were set on the shot having the pillory as a leading element, we brought him in. He was pretty much the only main collaborator external to us. We also had an incredible producer with us on the day of the shoot – Andy Picton, who also moonlights as Ty’s tour manager.

Outtakes from the shoot

Behind the scenes at the shoot

Outtakes from the shoot

Behind the scenes at the shoot

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Challenges on the day of the shoot
The biggest challenge actually occurred on the day of the shoot. We had permission from Northampton council to shoot, but we were unfortunately sucked into the politics of a building contractor who took issue with us shooting the building behind Ty in the shot. It turned out that eviction notices had been handed out to the people in the building just a few weeks before our shoot, and that the building was to be demolished in order to make way for new build flats. As frustrating as it was to work around on the day, this only adds weight to the photograph.

“The image feels synonymous with a really disruptive record during a period of massive political uncertainty in this country.”

The final image

Reaction to the final outcome
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It was an honour to be involved with the project in general – the record made such a massive impact and a majority of the press reacting to the album commented on the sleeve. We’d heard via friends who lived and worked near the billboards that were dotted around the UK of people stopping in the street to look at the image for a while. It’s very empowering and encouraging as creators to know that it resonated with certain people on that level.

Project success
The image feels synonymous with a really disruptive record during a period of massive political uncertainty in this country. Opportunities to work on this scale don’t come around often, but we put a lot into this one as ultimately we believed in the sentiment behind it.

Posted 19 September 2019 Interview by Indi Davies
Introduction by Anoushka Khandwala
Introduction: Anoushka Khandwala
Collection: Parts of the Process
Disciplines: Photography, Set Design

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