A rainy, neon-lit night in the East Village: Matthias Clamer on photographing British superstar singer Ellie Goulding

One of the biggest singers in Britain at the moment is Ellie Goulding, who at the young age of 25 has already won over both critics (she topped the BBC’s “Sound of 2010” poll and the same year nabbed the Critics’ Choice Award at the Brit Awards) and the Royals: Goulding sang her hit cover of Elton John‘s “Your Song” for Prince William and Kate Middleton at their wedding reception. Goulding was in New York recently, and British music magazine Q commissioned Matthias Clamer to photograph her for a feature story. Here, Matthias explains the challenges and triumphs of the shoot…

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The taxi as photo studio: Ellie Goulding in a New York City cab. Photo by Matthias Clamer for Q, November 2012 issue.

Photo by Matthias Clamer.

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“There was no budget for studio or locations, but Q wanted her alone in New York at night on the streets—the end of the night, a British girl alone (and lost) in New York. I suggested Ellie stay at the Bowery Hotel in the East Village, so we could do a walking tour from there. I did have an SUV and driver, so we could keep equipment and outfit changes nearby.

The forecast was rain, but we couldn’t reschedule. I said I would figure it out. After the first couple of pictures, it started raining. I could tell Ellie and her team were thinking, What a disaster. I asked a cab driver to pull over for 20 minutes for $50. Ellie hopped in, and we worked around it in the rain with a couple of lights (and garbage bags to protect them). The rain became an asset and made the picture.

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Outside the laundry. Photo by Matthias Clamer.

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Prior to the shoot, I had scouted for small neon signs in the East Village. My favorite was at a laundry place. They were locking up as we showed up, but I asked if they could stay an extra 30 minutes, and I offered to pay them. The lady said no, that she did not have the keys to the shutter that was already down. I offered $100. I saw hesitation, but since she had just lied about the keys, it was hard for her to accept. So we left, and I sent my assistant back a few minutes later, pretending he did not know about the key. This time, the woman accepted.

I also had another place in mind: Odessa [bar and restaurant] on Avenue A. They agreed to let us shoot in the window booth as long as we drank a lot. So we shot there and drank a lot. Again, the rain worked out well. The bar was completely empty and all ours for a $140 tab. We actually all stayed for a couple of hours after the shooting was finished.”

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Ellie Goulding at Odessa bar and restaurant in the East Village. Photo by Matthias Clamer.

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