Back when I was starting, when photography felt inspiring and true, I first encountered Martin Parr.
We went along to Plymouth Arts Centre to see his seminal ‘The Last Resort’, and I was blown away.
I bought a poster and it was a constant on the wall of my student bedsit.
Lovely then, if a little nerve wracking to photograph the maestro 2 weeks ago for the Independent on Sunday.
Genial if slightly brusque, I managed to stretch our time to an hour by suggesting we do a few pictures with his wife, Susie.
Without a support structure, artists very rarely achieve longevity so it’s always good to celebrate ‘the power behind throne’.
No man is an island.
Father’s day June 15, 2008.
I drive to a housing estate on the out-skirts of Plymouth to photograph a 13 year old diver.
His Father organises everything with meticulous care; my diary reveals a Sunday and we can only shoot between 1.45 to 2.15pm.
I remember a bright clear sunny day, a trampoline dwarfing the tiny back garden and the small boy with dark intense eyes. After I made a portrait of him, I include his Mum and then the whole family.
Comfortable on their sofa, tactile and intimate, they seemed to represent modern Britain. Free from constraints, hopeful and optimistic.
Over the last 8 years, I’ve marvelled at the man Tom became.
After becoming the youngest British World Champion in any sport, he’s been an advocate against bullying, become a television personality, completed is education and had to deal with the loss of his father who died of cancer in 2011.
At the beginning of October last year, Tom and his fiancé Lance announced that they were engaged to be married. Happily I was asked to do their first shoot as a couple for Out magazine.
It was genuinely lovely to see him again and poignant to give him the family pictures from our first shoot.
1st of April 2015
I had a full day with the maestro at MC Motors, a warehouse-type location in Dalston.
Professionalism personified. He had the comfortable air of a man who is master of his domain.
Coming over here, saving our lives.
As the son of an immigrant, I enjoyed making this portfolio of 8 portraits that reflect the diverse range of people who work for the NHS.
In public discourse there needs to be more emphasise on the positive effects of immigration.
The simplistic notion peddled by some, that all our current problems can be laid at the door of immigrants is not just wrong but dangerous.
The Nation state is a construct. We have never been more inter-connected and need to reflect on our status as a species rather than as bunch of disparate gangs.
I really like Steve Coogan. I’ve enjoyed everything he’s done. Partridge obviously, but also Saxondale and I loved the heart-breaking poignancy of the Trip.
I normally like to improvise but he wanted to know the concept, so the pictures were planned a week before and we attempted to reference Irving Penn’s corner portraits of cultural icons. At the studio early, showing him pictures from my phone portfolio, I noticed my hand was shaking. I needn’t have worried. Although twitchy and clearly not a fool sufferer, he was generous with his time and has a mastery of his physicality that made him an absorbing subject.
David Bailey for the Sunday Times magazine 15th August 2011
He’d given an interview to Lynn Barber and it was agreed his Devon farmhouse near Dartmoor would make a good location.
Initially I didn’t take any photographs because he was brusque and defensive.
Over a coffee with his wife in the kitchen, we chatted about other photographers he liked, (mostly the dead ones) and disliked, (pretty much everyone working today).
I had assisted John Swanell who in turn had assisted Bailey and after a while I think he began to warm to me.
After shooting in various spots around his garden we decided to try the studio where he paints.
It was quite cluttered so I placed an unpainted canvass behind him to make a frame within a frame. I then put Catherine (his wife) behind the canvass and told him to hold Pig his Jack Russell Terrier. I asked him to hold the dog very lightly so it looked natural. I commented on how good the dog looked and he replied, “That’s because I’ve got my finger up her c**t!”. Almost certainly the most obscene thing any of my subjects has ever said.
John Humphrys is angry.
As my assistant and I bump our heavy lights down the path of his West London home he berates us for being early.
Red faced, he aserts that “I absolutely said not to turn up before two o’clock” and that he had “told the desk if they come early I’d tell them to eff off”. After a few awkward seconds, he mumbles “oh well you might as well come in” and reluctantly opens the door.
As I creep around his house in silence looking for locations, I can hear the clink clink of his cutlery as he sits at his kitchen table eating his modest lunch of salad and new potatoes whilst watching the news on his IPad.
By the time we took these pictures, he had morphed into the Humphrys I’d hoped to meet. A free thinking man of integrity. Courteous even kind.
When you are hungry, you become angry. As my son says to me, “Eat something you’re becoming hangry!”
Empathy is not an obvious trait of a photographer but It’s always worth reflecting on the state of mind of your subject.
Lunch can often turn Edward Hyde back into Dr. Henry Jekyll.
Kylie Minogue 3rd of January 1998
In the shadowy lounge of a London club, curled-up dozing like a kitten on a big leather chair, Kylie waits patiently to be photographed for the Observer whilst her management explain why I must sign a contract selling them the copyright of the shoot for £1.
Assuring me they just want to be able to prevent bad images being used,
I reluctantly put pen to paper.
I know I should stand strong but I don’t want to cause trouble
and I’m confident they will like the pictures.
Quiet, demure, like a ballerina going through her steps Kylie performs for me and gives me what she thinks I want.
The pictures look good. The magazine are happy.
When some time later the Australian National Portrait Gallery ask if they can have a print of Kylie for their archive, I remember the contract.
When her people refuse to let me supply a print, I’m shocked but sanguine. An important lesson learned. Maybe they didn’t like the pictures?
4 years pass and suddenly I get an email from Kylie’s people.
They want to use my images in her forthcoming book Kylie La La La.
Of course I have no say in the matter as they own the photographs, but as a matter of curtesy, they are letting me know….
I’ve no idea what this enigma is really like.
I’ve no idea how involved she is in her business dealings.
Over the last 20 years she’s been a polymorphous presence.
Cleverly using talented and creative people to keep the Kylie brand alive and relevant.
Sad then that she tacitly sanctions the theft from those of us lower down in the creative food chain.
You can buy a used copy of the book on Amazon for 1p.
I notice Kylie Minogue split from her Management Company in 2013.
Dermot Morgan 18th February 1998 Soho.
It’s difficult to believe it’s been 17 years since Dermot Morgan the eponymous hero of Father Ted died. I happened to photograph Dermot a few days days before his untimely death of a heart attack at 45. I loved the program but my enthusiasm for meeting ‘Father Ted’ was tempered by fatigue.
We’d just moved house and were adjusting to the sleepless nights that come with young children.
The 5 miles from my house in Hackney to the West End were a daze.
It was only at Calumet (I think they were called KJP back then) buying film that I realised I’d left my equipment at home and they had no cameras at the Soho branch.
We hired a portable flash system that I strapped to my then assistant Sarah Dunn and I ran to Jessops and bought a secondhand Fuji 6×9 rangefinder on my credit card thinking I would return the camera the next day. In the carpark adjacent to the cafe where we were due to meet, we plugged in the lights.
There was a pop and then they started smoking. We were now late and it was getting dark.
Sometimes, I experience scenarios like this, in anxious, panic ridden dreams from which I’m always relieved to wake. Now it was happening for real. Although magazines usually wanted colour, I decided to shoot B&W and hand-held. My Tri-X film rated at 1600asa.
The pre-shoot madness meant I didn’t really calm down and spent a frantic 20 minutes darting around damp streets, shooting in the seedy doorways before being moved on. Although Dermot was easy-going and compliant, it was a slightly melancholic shoot and we said our goodbyes as it started to rain.
Driving home I pondered how I would explain to the Sunday Times the obvious photographic shortcomings.
10 days later and his death was all over the news. The article became a eulogy. The pictures seemed to have a poignancy that would have been missing were they in colour or lit with flash. Sometimes in a difficult situation you learn more than when things go really well. I decided not to return the camera.