Louis de Berniers. Author
Back in the eighties I shared a house with Louis de Berniers (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin etc). When I tell people this they usually choke on a peanut, or all agog, let the martini slip (or pint - I judge not). They ask what this giant of literature was like and I faithfully report that he could thrash me at tennis, beat me conclusively over nine holes with only a putter, craft beautiful guitars and mandolins (naturally), speak several languages, weld and cook a mean curry. Oh, and I seem to remember he is ambidextrous. Annoying n'est-ce pas? Not really. I learned to laugh in defeat, not to whack Hell out of the ball, a classical guitar tune or two and the importance of fresh spices.
It felt right to ignore the horizontal while shooting this unconventional polymath. We had a laugh and afterwards a glass of port. One day I must get back in touch with my encouraging friend. I’ll bring a bottle but I’ll leave the tennis racquet out of it.
Alison Balsom. Classicla trumpet
It was a cover shoot for Classic FM. I did a reccie at Kenwood House a week earlier and logged the fantastic rhododendron bushes. The night before the shoot big winds swept across the capitol and we arrived at Kenwood to see all the giant bushes bereft of flowers. I wondered around with one of the assistants, panicking slightly until I noticed a human sized gap in one of the bushes. We gingerly crept inside to discover a wonderland of fallen petals. People often ask if this shot was constructed in post. It wasn’t. I used one light with a soft box and grid off to one side. Exposure balanced for the outside glow and the interior shadow. (for those of a technical bent, f5.6 1/160th, ISO200) That was it. Serendipity.
Mike Roemer. Chief Internal Auditor, Barclays
It’s not a fake background, it’s the view from a lofty HQ and devilishly tricky to avoid reflections it was too. I was thinking of Leonardo; a hazy renaissance aspect and the same curve of the river on the left of Mona Lisa. But that is by the bye. Don’t mess with the Chief Auditor is all I’m saying.
Maxine Peake. Actor
I decided to wing it. No prep. Travel light. I met Maxine after her lunch with an agent in Soho. We wandered all over the place looking for possible venues. The first restaurant was quiet after the lunch crowd had dissipated and there were some fairly good shots to be had but we decide to move on. Maxine knew of a secret little Chinese cafe in the back streets so we went there. It was empty and a tiny elderly Chinese lady brought us tea. No light though. Eventually I made this portrait at a family Italian. All these places have gone now but this highly respected actor is very much busy and around. There are too many appearances to list. I have the terrifying Metalhead from Black Mirror burned in to my memory. A terrifying scramble around a bleak landscape - very different to our pleasant amble and fortunately I only had to worry about running out of locations and not metal “spiders”.
Daniel Barenboim, Director of the Berlin State Opera
A legendary conductor and Bach virtuoso. I had been told I could take pictures of the Maestro at the piano in his office. It wasn’t until we got there I realised it was an upright against the wall. All my hopes of doing something like Arnold Newman’s classic 1946 image of Igor Stravinsky dwarfed by the black silhouette of the an open grand piano lid evaporated. Fortunately the opera house were kind enough to move a spare grand piano in to the reception area where we could do the shoot. Do you know how difficult it is to move a grand piano? There was a heavy snowfall in Berlin that day and big soft light glowed through the enormous windows. He began to play and I went in, inches from the fingers of one the worlds most acclaimed musicians. It was a good day.
Grayson Perry CBE
Straight talking, humble, entertaining, no BS. That’s how the Turner Prize winning artist was if you couldn’t guess from his many tv appearances. He took time out to explain his pot. To me. Just another snapper. He was witty, funny and without a whiff or pretentiousness. It was a rather pleasant hour or so. One of my favs.
Any Clarke - CEO ASDA
60 Second Shoots
Total journey time 7 hours. Total time away 12 hours
ASDA HQ is busy, there’s a lot going on. Big atrium. It was busy in the photographic sense too. What with all the stalls, food venues, break out areas and palm fronds there was no where on the ground floor for a clean cover shoot. As with most impressive atriums, the views are up, not level where your subject and the spider plant is. But up that escalator I could see some dappled sunlight falling on a small section of ASDA green wall. That was my spot. I quickly set up some gear and did some mental calculations about how the light would fall on a human. Would it be too harsh? How tall was the CEO? Would the sun move before he arrived? I didn’t have to wait too long. Suddenly Andy Clarke appears with staff; PR, PA, a couple of other people. He walks right up to me with and with a firm friendly handshake says, “Its very nice to meet you. I do apologise, there is nothing I can do about it but I literally have 60 seconds.” He looks at his watch, “And your time starts now!” There is a certain skill or self awareness which allows you to calmly and patiently direct a sitter while inwardly your brain is screaming “Hurry up you eejit!! (to myself not the sitter)” You sense the clouds moving serenely across the sun and the second hand moving like and unstoppable oil tanker toward an ultimate conclusion. Oil tankers actually move quite fast btw - we nearly got run over by one off the Western Australian coast once. But I digress. We got there. On the dot. And he was gone. I looked at my watch and wondered where I should get lunch while I waited for my train in three hours.
Stephen Pinker. Evolutionary Psychologist.
Professor Pinker was over from Harvard on a book tour and staying at the Covent Garden Hotel. He was named in the Times 100 most Influential People in the World and Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. And yet Professor Pinker is a keen amateur photographer so we had a nice chat about photography and cameras like the two nerdy snappers we are. It’s important to have a rapport with your sitters. Hardly anyone actually likes the surreal situation of sitting for a photographic portrait. Roland Barthes described it as “..a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity” So yes, me and Stephen and I don’t know my alleles from my Chomskys.
Sir Phillip Green
This image is in the permanent collection of the NPG. Dealing with such a larger than life character was a formative experience for me. My assistant and I had been waiting for over an hour with all the equipment set up while the light faded fast outside the net curtains. I had designed the shot with a delicate balance between ambient light and strobe. My nerves were frayed; how was he going to be and would it be dark by then? Suddenly he burst in with his entourage and amazingly is all smiles and joviality. A good day on the markets? I worked fast to capture the mood while it lasted. 60 seconds. Then in to some sitting and talking off-camera shots. 30 seconds. I’m on my knees before him getting the angle, directing him to look this way and that. “Right” I say, meaning to follow with “I’ll just change lenses” but he only hears the first word. He is up and out the door while I am still on my knees with my mouth agape, lost for words.
Richard Wilson RA. Sculptor
Somewhere in deepest Bermondsey works an artist who makes monumental works of art. I had previously seen that mesmerising rotating slice of office block in Liverpool, the wonderfully befuddling room filled with sump oil at the Saatchi Gallery and the witty balancing bus of Hang On A Minute Lads, I’ve Got An Idea. I have yet to experience the slice of ship anchored to the river bed at Greenwich or the 77 tonne Slipstream at Heathrow.
So I was expecting a kind of cigar chomping Brunel and instead found a modest friendly man just as happy to talk about motorbikes (he loves off-road and I the road).
My sculptor project is partly about artists whose work sits in the public consciousness. Richard Wilson’s work lives there and it fills your field of view.
Denise Coates CBE. Founder and joint chief executive of Bet365
According to Forbes, Denise is worth $4 billion and the giant HQ in Stoke looked suitably spangly. As I approached in my taxi I was mentally rubbing my hands with glee at the prospect of making a portrait in a glass palace. We passed the entrance and sailed on around the corner to an industrial estate and a red bricked, brown windowed 1980s monstrosity. I stopped mentally rubbing my hands with glee.
I was a couple of months early for the new offices but the staff were lovely and helpful. Denise was a painfully shy subject and I was lucky to be anywhere near her with a camera. I am told her demeanour belies a steely determination and an ability to get things done. I felt the same way about that room.
Marianela Núñez. Principle Dancer of the Royal Ballet
Behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House is a bewildering warren of red carpeted corridors, winding staircases and mysterious spaces. Staff must be used to baffled visitors with heavy cases materialising in dark chambers. They guide with a knowing smile to the appointed clearing.
We began setting up but way before the last test shot, the beautiful dark haired and blue eyed Argentinian dancer appeared from hair and makeup, friendly, poised and professional. An air of calm prevailed. The photographic technicalities became fun little diversions, composition was a stroll on a sunny day and I liked Marianela all the more for wanting to show off her muscles. We finished in time for her daily massage. The sandwiches provided by the House remained just nibbled and the drinks un-drunk. All we had to do now was find our way out.
Gordon Brown. Prime Minister
Friday evening, June 2008. I was just about to knock it on the head for the week when a call came in from the then editor of the Health Service Journal, Richard Vise asking if I was free on Monday morning. I had planned to do my accounts on Monday which meant I was very very available. He said, “I can’t tell you who you are photographing and I can’t tell you where we are going. It’s a matter of security. Bring your gear to Waterloo station. 7am Monday.” I was surprised he didn’t use words like Mission and Self-destruct but there you go. Exciting. What gear though? Was he interviewing a choir of nurses? I decided not to opt for the large wooden view camera with a black cloth.
It was to be the PM of course. Cover interview for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Our taxi arrived at the health trust where the PM was to do a press call. There were dozens of police vehicles everywhere and armed officers festooned around the grounds. This was a very different kettle of fish to the David Cameron interview earlier in the year. A peak in my bag was all that was required for an opposition leader.
We were told to sit in reception with some bemused patients and waited nervously. Was there enough time to scope a location and set up lights? Richard collared the press secretary as she whizzed by and pleaded our case. Ten mins later she approached and said, “Quickly! Follow me.” We jogged to a tiny breakout room where the interview would take place. Blue NHS paint was peeling off the walls and there was a small scummy wash basin on one side. I moved quickly and put up a rim light for a seat facing the window where I wanted the PM to sit. Wash basin behind me. Daylight would be my key light. Did a test. Ran back to reception with the Press Sec. Another 20 minutes. The other press were gathering off to our right, TV cameras at the ready. Suddenly the press sec is at the end of the corridor gesticulating urgently. We run back and get ready. In walks the PM who immediately sits in the opposite seat to the one I arranged with his back to the window. The interview begins immediately. Now my key light is my rim light and the rim light is my key light. I have undiplomatic thoughts. Aaaagh! The PM’s blind eye is now on my side too! I take ten frames before the press secretary is wagging her finger at me sternly and swipes a finger across her neck. I think she meant “end now", not “I’m going to take a knife to your throat” although they amount to the same thing and I obey. My only resistance is a pathetic and confused look.
This is not my best portrait but considering there were people with machine guns outside the door, I think I did quite well.