Celebrity photographer Anthony Horth is using his most persuasive Australian charm and flattery to keep Paula, a Brazilian model, relaxed and smiling during their first shoot together.
Paula looks a picture of elegance as she sits on a “wedding throne” at Emirates Palace, surrounded by white tulips and draped in more than US$4 million (Dh14.6m) of diamonds.
But it is not the jewels that former Vogue photographer Horth is showcasing, nor the Dh6,373 lace wedding dress designed by Madiyah Al Sharqi, daughter of the ruler of Fujairah.
It is Emirates Palace itself that is the subject of the eight-day shoot. Horth has been hired to depict the Abu Dhabi hotel in a series of “imagination runs wild” storybook-style photographs.
Rather than setting up in the ballroom, where most brides at the Palace have their wedding photographs taken, Horth has chosen the boudoir of one of the hotel’s most opulent suites.
“I wanted it to be a more intimate environment,” he says. “The palace as it was represented before [it] was too architectural, with not a lot of lifestyle – photographs of empty restaurants, for example. Everybody wants to go somewhere where a beautiful woman can have ‘joie de vivre’. Our model is going to do crazy things in our photoshoots.”
Horth’s “photo chapters” will explore some of the rarely seen parts of the 360-room hotel.
“When I saw the dignitary gates, which are always closed to the public, I said ‘let’s go up there’”, he says. “We’ll also have Paula riding an Arabian horse up the beach. Some of the palace’s 1,200 staff will be collaborating with us, too.”
It is no surprise that Horth prefers an unusual setting for wedding photos. His own wedding 15 years ago, to his PR manager, Maria Jowett-Horth, took place in Antarctica.
“Maria and I on were on top of an iceberg, with a bunch of penguins lined up with us by our sides,” he says. “There was one little penguin jumping up, trying to get up on the iceberg with us.
“Everybody thinks Antarctica is just ice and penguins, but there’s something magical about it. The colour of the ice is almost like a Caribbean blue.”
His wedding also marked the moment Horth decided to switch his professional focus from fashion shoots, which had been his bread and butter for 30 years, to landscapes.
“I’d always been in love with beautiful landscapes, but was always putting a model in the shot,” he says. “Whether we were on some beach in Tunisia, or up in the mountains of Scotland … I kept thinking, ‘I like these landscapes without anybody being in them’. Then that became my passion.”
Horth had been photographing the world’s most beautiful women since he was 17.
“I did Christy Turlington’s first shots and put her on the map,” he says. “Marisa Berenson was unforgettable – she goes back to the early Vogue days. Sarah Murdoch, we also started from nothing for French Marie Claire.”
Horth says his most memorable models were successful because they were “incredibly confident, gentle people – not divas”.
He has particularly fond memories of Dayana Mendoza, a Venezuelan former Miss Universe who was a contestant in the 2012 season of Celebrity Apprentice.
“She has no qualms about doing shots for a run-of-the-mill retail fashion client in America,” he says. “No airs and graces. We wanted to bring her here for this shoot – it didn’t work out but I’ll bring her back to Abu Dhabi for something else.”
Horth says he has never been one for following fashion trends, instead preferring a more timeless Grace Kelly-style classic beauty in his models.
“I’m not into that grungy, misunderstood look,” he says. “The women who appeal to me are the ones who remind me of my mother. I lost her when I was 12, and I saw her as the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Horth moved to New York in the late 1980s to work for Condé Nast.
He was assigned to photograph the Argyle Diamond Mine in East Kimberley, North Western Australia, and became fascinated by the “humbling” red-earthed landscape around the mine that still belongs to the Aboriginal community.
“We camped out with the aborigines there,” he says. “They say that long ago, the local barramundi fish jumped from the waters of the dam to escape the local fishing women, and squished their tails on the sides of the rocks. In the process, many aboriginal women were killed, and their souls sank into the ground and turned into the rare pink diamonds that are found in the mine.”
The story, which Horth calls Barramundi Dreaming, is the inspiration for Horth’s Mother Earth photo exhibition of the mining landscape that he is holding at Emirates Palace from April 22 to May 6.
It’s no coincidence that the diamonds Paula is wearing – courtesy of Dhamani jewellers – are sourced from the Argyle mine.
Horth admits he drives his wife “nuts” with his “photography affliction”. “She must be the most photographed woman in the world,” he says. “I’ll say lets do a quick selfie in a restaurant over dinner – but it always takes me forever. I’m an obsessive person.”