This project began in 2008 when Christian Guémy (aka C215) found my photographs online and started using them in his work. We met in person in 2009 and discussed the possibility of a more formal collaboration.
Christian and I share a passion for making visible the hidden, the fleeting, and the overlooked. Christian’s moving and technically astonishing stencils depict many faces of the forgotten and disenfranchised, from the urban homeless in Paris and New York to the street children in the favelas of Sao Paulo. But for this project we wanted to expose another hidden population, and one to whom we all have an intimate connection – older people, so many of whom live alone and in isolation.
I was to take photographs and these pictures would be passed on to Christian and a hand-picked collection of street artists, chosen for their exemplary work in different media and styles, each to inspire a new and unique piece of work.
Shortly after this meeting I was introduced to Ben Long, a project worker at Age Concern Kensington & Chelsea. Ben runs intergenerational projects at the charity, bringing younger and older people together in a range of roles and activities, for the benefit all involved. It was his support and belief in this project that made it possible.
Ben introduced me to ten older residents of the Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, and each was an inspiration and a great pleasure to photograph (even retired photographer, John Arthur, who made it quite clear that I was doing it wrong).
You can see all the photographs here.
By the end of 2010, Christian and I had assembled some of the finest street artists painting today – all exemplars of their style. They are: C215, Alice Pasquini, Cosmo Sarson, Ben Slow, sink, and David le Fleming. These artists took my photographs – simple snapshots of the subjects at home, sitting where they would usually sit – and used them to create a collection of stunning and memorable portraits.
The exhibition is on at The Chelsea Gallery, Kings Road until March 6th.
We had a private view last night where the subjects met the artists and saw their portraits for the first time.
I recently had the privilege of photographing the latest performance by artist Kira O’Reilly.
When I’m photographing people, expression and gesture are what I’m most interested in. I don’t believe that you can capture a person’s ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’ with a photograph; it’s the bodyness of bodies that I like, and it’s that surface that I’m interested in when I take a picture. Photograph a look of contempt, and it’s the look that’s interesting, not the contempt.
So I was bound to enjoy O’Reilly’s latest work – Untitled (syncopations for more bodies) – which presents the poetry of human physicality at it’s simplest and starkest. She presents five bodies in a large plain space shared with the audience.
At the beginning of the rehearsal I was told roughly what to expect, but once the performance begins it ambushes you from all directions. The performers – singularly, or in pairs – emerge from the dark corners of the hall, slowly at first and I have time to plan my shots. But they close in, fracture, circle around me, reform in other combinations and very quickly I become aware that for every shot I take, I’m missing something else right behind me.
These are naked bodies, neither passive nor challenging. They are here to be looked at. Most of the time they don’t return your gaze, but sometimes they do. This pricks the comfort of voyeurism, and as I stood disoriented in the middle of room, I had the feeling that it was they who were converging to spy on me. This sense was amplified with mirrors, held by the performers and used either to look over their shoulders or throw a reflected spotlight on another body.
The light in the hall came from two rows of fixed lamps facing off across the hall, creating parallel bands of hard light. Like most theatrical lighting this was a friend and an enemy. When the performers paused in these zones I could drop the background to black and compose frames with nothing to distract or contextualise the extraordinary shapes the performers were articulating. At other times I had to get creative, make lens flare my friend, and test the ISO limits of the D3S (regularly hitting ISO 12800, which still seems like a crazy number to me).
One of the most striking things about this performance only hit me when I edited the pictures. The five women performing looked very distinctive when standing ordinarily in a line. But once those familiar shapes and stances were twisted, contorted or collapsed they became almost unrecognisable, so much so that it was often difficult to work out who was who. I don’t think I’ve ever seen bodies look so purely physical, so sculptural, so fascinatingly bodyish.
Untitled (syncopations for more bodies)
Kira O’Reilly with Hrafnhildur Benediktsdóttir, Lauren Barri Holstein, Nathália Mello, Amanda Prince-Lubawy.
I’ve been really lucky with the opportunities I’ve had to collaborate with some really interesting people. Last November I spent an evening photographing champion freerunner Chima Akenzua for painter Cosmo Sarson.
Cosmo came to me with some very clear ideas about photographs that he wanted to use as study for some paintings he was planning, and it was an interesting challenge to let someone else call the creative shots and focus on being the technician responsible for making the pictures described. Great fun.
You can see some of the results here.
Last weekend Chima and I got to see one of them ‘in the paint’ at Cosmo’s exhibition in Brighton.
It’s weird walking around town with Chima though; one minute he’s next to you, next minute he’s 40 feet above you.
Meanwhile, I got kick out of seeing some work I’d assumed was long gone.
Painted by my friend C215 a year ago, but still there, untouched. You gotta love Brighton.
There are these large, highly mirrored lifts in my building and I’d really like to use them as a location for a photoshoot. I love playing with reflections and they could look great for something fashioney, particularly if you threw some flash into the mix.
But how to shoot in a space mirrored on all sides? Considering the practicalities raises some interesting questions. For instance, I’ve thought of giving the model(s) the camera, but then I wonder to what extent I could claim the pictures as mine. I could put it on a tripod and have it triggered automatically, but is that really much different? What makes a picture my picture?
Anyway, it’s a cool little location and I’m looking forward to finding an excuse to use it.
I’ve recently done a series of assignments for The South Bank Show, and had the chance to meet and photograph some real heros.
But the stand-out job for me was shooting David Hockney at his home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire.
I was nervous. For one thing, Hockney knows a thing or two about photography, and I’d heard that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He lives in a small, unfashionable seaside town partly to escape the attention he gets in London or Los Angeles, so I had realistic expectations that he’d agree to pose for a couple of shots with the presenter, Melvyn Bragg (a long standing friend of his), but no more.
Being a stills photographer on a film set is not a high status position. I spend a lot of time staying out of people’s way and planning and worrying. Even though I don’t generally step in until the interview is over, and don’t get more than a couple of minutes to take the pictures, I give myself plenty of time to set up, think through my shots and do some lighting tests. For this, I took the train to Bridlington the night before to be sure I could get there at the same time as the crew to recce as many options as possible and leave nothing to chance.
When I arrived at his house at 10am with my picture editor from ITV, the anxiety instantly evaporated. Hockney greeted us warmly at the door and was in effusive mood. He showed us to his large studio on the top floor, ferried up cups of tea and coffee and chatted enthusiastically to the crew as they set up. There was a large area of his studio lined with pots of brushes and racks of oil paints that, my editor agreed, would be right for the publicity photos. I’d worked with the crew several times before they were happy for me to stake my claim.
One of the striking things about Hockney is how much technology excites him. He loves the Brushes app on his iPhone, is boyishly excited about the iPad, and has done an extensive series of portraits using a Wacom tablet and Photoshop. And although I’d set up on the other side of the studio, I really wanted to get some environmental portraits that captured this side of his work. So as he sat holding court amongst his Macs and monitors I raised my camera for wide shot with the available light, hoping he wouldn’t object. For someone who I’d been warned wasn’t crazy about having his photo taken, he didn’t flinch or murmur.
A kicker that the lighting cameraman had put up to accent the background edged him out nicely, and not one to miss out on an unexpected opportunity, I fitted a 50mm 1.4 to my camera and took a series of pictures as we chatted. Instinctively I prefer candid photographs to posed ones, and his face is so expressive and his gestures so lively that every frame felt like a magic moment.
He was so generous with his time (at one point driving three of us over to his studio on the other side of town to show us his latest work) and his enthusiasm about seeing ‘the bigger picture’ was truly inspiring.
I’ve been boring everyone I know about how awesome David Hockney so I’m going to spare this blog. As for pictures, most are under embargo so my solution is to post my favourite unusable one. As rejects go I’m pretty pleased with it.
Edit: As it turns out, the 365 format didn’t really suit me. So I’ve decided to bore you instead.
Slightly gruesome day after sleeping through my alarm (a peril of living alone that I hadn’t really thought about) and having to catch the last train to Bridlington in order to photograph David Hockney at his home on Monday.
I’m going to pause these updates here, because I’ll want to talk more about Hockney if I can think of what I want to say, and work out how to deal with the embargo on (at least some of) the pictures. At this point I didn’t know that it was going to be one of the best days of my pathetic life.