Venetia Cuninghame was 20 years old when John d Green photographed her for Birds of Britain on 18 May 1966 at his Kensington studios. Venetia was a model and close friend of Pattie Boyd, and at the time, the girlfriend of Terry Howard – the creative director of an advertising agency and one of the four friends who came up with the original idea for Birds of Britain. She appeared in the 1965 short film A Penny For Your Thoughts or ‘Birds, Dolls & Scratch’ English Style.
John d Green recalled the session vividly:
“I had some rather bizarre ideas when I photographed Venetia Cuninghame, a model with a dead-pan but strangely interesting face. I decided to photograph her in heavy white make-up, calculated to give a deathly effect, with a tarantula spider on her cheek. First, get your spider. Someone suggested I should go to a museum and try to persuade them to lend me one. One of the officials I spoke to agreed to lend me one for 24 hours. He wrapped it up in a little box and delivered it to me with strict instructions to take it back without fail the following day.
So off we went – David Tree, Venetia and I – to Highgate cemetery, which seemed a suitably depressing place to take the kind of macabre picture I had in mind. Highgate cemetery did not encourage photographers. In fact they strictly prohibited them. I was covered with cameras – three Hasselblads and a Nikon – so it was a bit difficult to pass myself off as an ordinary visitor. Every time we found a suitable location and get the cameras set up, two gravediggers would appear out of nowhere and ask us to move on. The third time this happened, it began to rain, and that was the last straw. We decided to pack it in, return to the studio, and do the picture against a jet-black background.
We were a pretty bedraggled team by the time we got back, and Venetia’s hair was still soaking wet as we set the scene again. When everything was ready, David produced the box to take out the spider. I opened it to find that the beat had completely disintegrated. I hope the official never discovered, but I just couldn’t face going back to explain. After all, what is a tarantula between friends? “