The day was still as dark as a witch's caldron and Main Street was eerily empty when photographer Kathlene Persoff and her three assistants began unloading their equipment out of a van parked behind Snow White's Castle in Disneyland.
It was shortly after 4 a.m. Tuesday.
By 5:45 Cinderella's pumpkin coach had arrived and a stately white Lippizaner horse was standing by. So were the cast of characters Persoff would be photographing: Cinderella's fairy godmother, four human-size white mice, the coach driver and, of course, Cinderella herself, resplendent in a pale blue ball gown.
Prince Charming, however, was nowhere to be found.
"Has anyone seen him?" asked Persoff, standing on a stepladder adjusting her large format four-by-five camera. " Prince Charming, where are you? "
By 6:15 Persoff and crew had set up their lights, and Cinderella was calmly awaiting her leading man in the copper coach parked in front of the pastel-dappled castle.
By 7 o'clock several test Polaroid shots had been taken of the staged fairy tale vignette and, Prince Charming or no Prince Charming, Persoff was ready to begin shooting. She cued the fog machine, which laid a billowing white carpet around the wheels of the coach.
"OK everybody, hold still as much as you can," Persoff said. "Here we go."
"End mouse, move a little closer to the other mouse," instructed Persoff. "OK everyone, hold still."
And so, without the fabled prince, the shooting went on for the next 20 minutes. By the end of the day, Persoff would have photographed seven other setups, concluding, nearly 18 hours later, with a shot of Mickey Mouse in his fabled Fantasia role as the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Persoff was not alone, however. Elsewhere in the park five other professional photographers were taking pictures of what is unquestionably one of the most photographed locations in the world.
But unlike the Instamatic-toting visitors who shoot an estimated 20 million pictures a year at the Magic Kingdom, the six professionals were on a special mission, one called, appropriately enough, "Focus on Disneyland."
Their assignment: to capture a personalized view of Disneyland, using their specialized talents in the area of human interest; glamour, fantasy and fashion; action; industrial and technological design; landscape and architecture, and advertising and commercial.
In addition to Persoff, a light and design expert who specializes in still lifes and floral landscapes, the photographers hired by Disneyland included:
Craig Aurness, a top free-lance photographer whose work appears regularly in National Geographic; Charles William Bush, a leading glamour and fashion photographer; George Long, a noted sports and action photographer whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek and Life magazines; Jim McCrary, a leading still life and high-tech photographer, and John Zimmerman, a renowned sports and illustration photographer whose pictures have appeared in Sports Illustrated, Life and the Saturday Evening Post.
A fine-art approach to shooting Disneyland was the brainchild of Bill Kobrin, a Camarillo-based independent photographic consultant.
"The idea is, since Disneyland is the No. 1 theme park in the world that has been so completely photographed since its inception, I thought there are so many things in Disneyland that, given the eye of the artist, can be so beautifully done photographically," Kobrin said.
"The idea interested us," said Mark Feary, Disneyland's division manager of marketing. "We hire a lot of photographers over the year mainly from a publicity angle. We wanted to display something that had more of an art flavor. We're going to see Disneyland like we've never seen it before."
The end result of "Focus on Disneyland" will be an exhibit of the best photographs culled from the hundreds of images shot Tuesday.
Although plans have not been completed, Feary said, the pictures will be displayed first in Anaheim, possibly at City Hall or at a public library. They then will accompany Disney characters on a Disneyland marketing tour across the Western United States early next year. A coffee table-size book is also being considered, he said.
All six photographers had made several advance trips to the Magic Kingdom to scout locations as well as take test pictures for scheduled shots. As the photographer assigned to "human interest," however, Craig Aurness was an exception.
"I don't have any fixed schedule," Aurness explained while strolling down Main Street shooting street cleaners at 7:30. "The other photographers have a lot more planning involved than I do. I'm really lucky. I can go through 30 to 40 rolls of film today shooting variety constantly."
Aurness, son of actor James Arness, already had shot various maintenance crews at work. "I'm really curious about what goes on during the non-normal hours," he said.