The chateau was in the middle of the French countryside. It stood stately amongst 56 acres of green land and old stone buildings. Among the previous owners had been ancient Romans, nineteenth century French nobles, a group of enterprising nuns, and, more recently, an eclectic theater company.
The Romans built a vast stretch of underground tunnels to escape enemy attacks. In the less distant past, amateur botanist owners undertook to plant bamboo forests and giant Redwood trees near the old empty graves of the previous inhabitants. The chateau itself spoke the stories of its owners, from the secret medieval staircase to the turreted towers overlooking the long green allee.
My humble presence at the ethereal Chateau St Julien was thanks to Elizabeth Messina, a highly acclaimed wedding photographer from Southern California. She created and planned A Lovely Workshop, a week-long photography workshop for wedding photographers from around the world.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Wait, you’re not a wedding photographer.’ Nope. I’m not.
I was asked by my friend Gina Moore to come along to Poitiers to model with her for Elizabeth and the photographers, and for Kristen, the amazing Silicon Valley wedding videographer from Bliss Productions (you can see her video of the chateau below).
I also came to be a palette for amazing New York makeup artist Lauren Napier and Seattle hair guru Erin Skipley, a prop in the sets of the talented Los Angeles event designer Eden Rodriguez (of The Batchelor wedding fame), a learner from artist Leah Macdonald of WaxWorks, and a cheerleader for Junebug Weddings and La Vie Photography’s Kim and Adam Bamberg, who worked both in front of and behind the scenes to make the week not only a success, but also a life-changing experience for many people involved.
I arrived at Chateau St Julien near Poitiers on Sunday evening in time for the first of many amazing dinners prepared by the week’s incredible team of chefs. From there the whirlwind began.
Not only did I meet inspiring people like Jackie Tobin from PDN, Ulrica Wihlborg from People magazine, and fabulous photographers Yvette Roman and Stephanie Hogue Davis, but also the group of amazing photographers that had come as attendees to A Lovely Workshop.
From Monday to Thursday I was in hair and makeup in the mornings and modeling all day. I had almost forgotten how exhausting it can all be. Seriously. With all the hair, makeup, clothing changes, running around outside and inside, standing, sitting, walking, running, jumping, and holding sill, modeling is hard work.
For the first shoot we wore mime makeup paired with beautiful Sarah Seven dresses. The shoot took place outside in a leafy grove of trees.
The next day we modeled gorgeous wedding dresses by the likes of Claire Pettibone and beautiful bridal head pieces by my fellow model Myra Callan of twigs and honey. The photo shoots rotated between the brilliant green fields outside of the chateau and the soft light of the interior rooms and hallways.
The next day we were back in Sarah Seven for a photo shoot around a beautiful antique piano that Eden set up in the woods.
Friday we stepped aside and let the dinner table work the camera. It was set up in the allee that night for a beautiful al fresco meal. There was an intense session in which 30 people swarmed the table snapping every detail of Eden’s ribbons, roses, and rosé. Instead of modeling, my job was to keep the candles lit. It sounded easy, but the wind made it a Sisyphean task. By the time we sat down to eat I was exhausted.
Between photo shoots and helping out with various projects, there wasn’t much time to explore the chateau and the town. But one of my fellow models and I snagged some free time on Friday afternoon. We walked around the grounds exploring old buildings full of antique furniture and wandered through the beautiful green spaces and past the moss-covered statue of Joan of Arc.
After exploring the chateau a bit, we ventured into the town of Saint-Julien-l’Ars, meandering through the church and its adjacent graveyard. We strolled up to the small shops and down the side streets, enjoying the warm weather and the quiet of the afternoon.
Saturday was our last day in France, and I spent the afternoon in Poitiers before taking the train back to Paris. The city felt huge in comparison to the tiny town I had been in all week. I enjoyed a sizeable lunch at the excellent Le Poitevin restaurant, then walked off the calories for the next three hours as I ducked in and out of churches, walked down quiet medieval streets, and photographed every beautiful detail.
When I finally got on the train to Paris I fell asleep almost immediately. The week had taken more out of me than I realized.
After all the excitement, I was ready to get home and start seeing the photos that resulted from everyone’s hard work, talent, and eye for beauty. The week had been an inspiring one for photographers, artists, and models alike, and I was not immune to the awe that it imbued. It was truly a lovely workshop.