Back in 1981, Richard Avedon photographed Nastassja Kinski with nothing but a snake. Avedon called the shot, “Nastassja Kinski and The Serpent.” It is one of the most famous nudes in the history of modern photography. A few years back, I was hired to shoot a calendar for a client and our theme was iconic images from the world of entertainment. The model we chose for the shot was extremely excited to pose with the snake.
The most diFficult part of the shoot was to get the snake in the right pose. We had a professional snake handler and the snake’s owner on set to get the snake into the same pose as the Avedon shot. After 20 or so minutes of the handler trying to replicate the pose of the Kinski shot, I really felt we were going to have to shoot the model nude, and photo shop the snake in place, but as we were about to give up, the snake hit the pose perfectly. My only concern then was to get the model’s head more up right without disturbing the snake. We got it, and I fired away until I felt I had the shot.
I had read that at the time of the Avedon shoot, stylist Polly Mellen wished she’d removed the ivory bracelet, now almost as iconic as the photograph itself, so we went without the bracelet in honor of Ms. Melen. Our shot is about a full f-stop hotter on the background then the Avedon shot. I could have darkened it in post but the brighter background suited the calendar better. For more on the genius of Richard Avedon, check out his website at [ RichardAvedon]