A little while ago, art director Anna Sullivan spotted an old vintage postcard featuring stilt walking shepherds. Stilt walking shepherds! Curious, as anyone in their right mind would be, Anna started digging into why these shepherds were atop stilts — which we now only associate with childhood games and circus performances — to herd sheep.
As it turns out in the Landes region of France, “not far from Bordeaux”, the use of stilts is a traditional tactic for shepherds, helping them extend “their field of vision to watch their sheep and also to walk on the moor ground in this region,” Anna tells It’s Nice That. “In France, they call the stilts ‘tchangues’, which means ‘big legs’.”
Anna’s chance coming across the postcard led her into researching all the way back to two centuries ago when stilt walking died out “as the planting of forests and draining of marshland changed the terrain,” she explains “but, it is still practised in local folk clubs like the Lous Esquirous”. Who, consequently Anna has worked with for an incredible shoot harking back to this tradition for Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin Stil Leben with Nansen and Piccard, and photographed by Hill and Aubrey.
Anna’s commissioning of Hill and Aubrey, otherwise known as photography duo Tim Hill and James Finnigan, is the perfect partnering for a project interpreting a tradition with an editorial contemporary twist. Especially, as Anna points out, that “from the beginning, we wanted to show real people and Hill and Aubrey is well known for catching the atmosphere and characters of authentic folk in its special way”.
When it came down to the actual shoot day, Anna worked with stylist Samira Fricke to “connect the dots between the already wonderful traditional clothes, like sheepskin vests and barrettes, and current fashion collections to create a new aesthetic,” she says. And, the fact that stilts were obviously a must have for the shoot, gave Samira creative freedom too, adding “an extra five feet to each model, which allowed Samira to use a lot of long garments and layering”.
In terms of location, the shoot led the team to Eco Museum Parc in Landes “where you have to go full Indiana Jones style and take an old train to get to,” Anna explains. “Within the Parc, they modelled the landscape back to the way it would have been in the 19th Century, making for some interesting shooting locations with the models and photographers standing in three feet of moor”. While Anna anxiously stood at the side, “hoping that neither an expensive camera nor a valuable fashion piece takes a fall into the mud below,” she recalls. “Luckily, the stilt walkers seemed to be more confident on the stilts than not.”
The result is an editorial shoot which combines fascinating heritage that you couldn’t help but stop and look at while flicking through the magazine due to Anna’s vision, Hill and Aubrey’s photography, Samira’s styling and, without a doubt, the modelling by Lous Esquirous.
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.