I just spent a thoroughly wonderful day in the company of BJJ black belt Gazzy Parman. She's here to travel, tour and conduct a seminar at the Roger Gracie Academy in London this coming Sunday (8th August). But today was all about Gazzy the model. I took the day off work so I could accompany Gazzy to the academy where I train (Mill Hill BJJ) in north London where top BJJ photographer James Oluoch-Olunya was to do a series of jiu-jitsu and non-JJ photos. It was a right hoot since Gazzy was a barrel of laughs and we all had a smashing time...including my skull, which I'll get on to later...
First of all, Gazzy's name is pronounced 'Go-Zee', actually maybe more like a 'Guh-zee', but definitely not Ga-zee (ie not like the football chap nicknames Gazza) - it was something I was quickly corrected on. I know how she feels, some people mis-pronounce my name and it is really annoying!!!
After picking Gazzy up from West Hampstead tube on a bright and sunny(ish) morning, we chatted away at the train station waiting to go to Mill Hill and completely and utterly failed to notice the train pull up. What a dork! Anyway, we finally made it to the academy where James had set up his impressively massive lighting rig and make up artist Kirka Verinen quickly went about applying her magic on Gazzy's face and hair.
Glossy photographs on magazine covers might hint at a world of glamour and showbiz, but in actual fact photo shoots are incredibly long-winded and tedious affairs to the uniniated. I work on photo productions as my day job and Gazzy has done professional shoots before so we both knew what to expect. Still, our initial planned three hour set-up ended up being a five hour marathon - but Gazzy was such a trooper not stopping once for a water, food or even loo break. A true professional!
Despite a lot of planning and pre-shoot thinking that goes on before a photo-shoot, there are still a lot of uncertain factors - especially concerning lighting. It helps to have lots of lights pinging away at every angle but James actually relied a lot on the natural light seeping in from the skylight above and little old me crouching underneath hoisting up a reflector board!
James wanted to capture several costume changes, but none of us knew what Gazzy - who was travelling light (one tiny suitcase) - would bring. Luckily, girls know about stuff like this and out of her tiny suitcase she unveiled a number of garments to suit the job...as you can see above.
Gazzy was such great fun to be around - we had a ton of laughs in between the takes and during some down time. For example the many times Gazzy had to exit the mats but could not take off her high heels so scrambled on hand and knee to reach the changing room, we couldn't stop giggling. Or the time when all the guys training stopped and all sat like an audience watching Gazzy pout and preen and she just turns to them and waves a Jessica Rabbit style 'Hi boys' and we all fell about laughing.
But she's very serious about presentation and wanted to inspect every shot that James took as they popped up on his wired up laptop. I like that, it shows a passionate interest in the creative process and an involvement about trying to portray the right kind of image for herself (empowered, yes sexy I guess, but not salacious or mens magaziney). She and James spent a lot of time discussing the feel of each photographic set up and it made the shoot much more constructive I think. The opposite to this would be someone who models away, has no interest in the pictures, and then weeks later kicks up a huge fuss saying he/she did not 'approve' such images and hates them etc. That would be a photographers nightmare.
So on to the technical portion of the photo shoot. This was the bit where I could pitch in with my input and talk to Gazzy about cool jiu-jitsuy things she could show the world. Well that and how to crunch my head off, ha!
We started off in the guard and Gazzy progressed through a series of post-triangle related set-ups. She likes to create a reaction with her triangles and then kimura or americana her opponent's arm as the try to defend - and that's exactly what she did to me. Despite the fact that we were doing the moves slowly for the camera, I could instantly sense from her immense strength and perfect application of pressure, that she is one hardcore super-fit BJJ athlete. I mean even the jokey choke she pulled on my (top photo) really flipping hurt. It's like her arms are made of plutonium or something!! Now I know why Gazzy calls her academy in San Diego (LVL5) after an X-Men cartoon, dammit Gazzy IS an X-Woman!
Next up we played with some spider guard techniques - sweeps mainly including a lovely balloon sweep (my suggestion), which neatly echoes a photoshoot my wife and I did when Royler Gracie came to town a few years back. Although this time I remembered to take off my stupid socks!
Oh yes back to my head, yeah so right at the end, as we were wrapping up, James thinks for a second and then pipes up - oh Gazzy do you know any cool judo throws you could show us? She nods enthusiastically, and there I go, flying through the air earning serious air-time and landing completely on to the top of my head, ouch!
Gazzy was overcome with apologies but there's me nursing my lump on my head, typical British mannerisms: no no it's quite alright, no really, it was my fault for not being thrown properly, no its just a flesh wound, really let's carry on...
And so we do! that James, he has a mean streak I knew it! More gravity defying throws later and we finally call it a day. My head is spinning but I'm happy. And so is Gazzy. She loves the photos but sadly we have no time for our in depth interview. We agree to do that when she hits London later in the week.
So there you go. This is my perfect day off from work - spending time in the gym with a cool black belt, getting involved with photography and interviewing and just generally living the BJJ lifestyle - even if it is just for one day. Oh and my head...it's perfectly fine i was just being a drama queen!
My thanks to everyone at Mill Hill BJJ who so kindly offered us the space for photography - including the poor lunchtime class who were relegated to a tiny portion of the mat and had to spar one at a time! thanks to James Oluoch-Olunya and his lovely assistant Mireia Pujol for coming such a long way and donating their spare time. Thanks also to Kirka who did such a cool job on the styling.
Next up, Gazzy's London seminar review. Oh and I should also mention, after the Roger seminar, she'll be doing two dates in Scotland: one in Glasgow on the 10th and one in Dundee on the 17th