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.