Melvyn Bragg and the portrait


Apparently, the seminal British television arts programme, The South Bank Show is forty years old this weekend. I remember watching it on a Sunday evening with it’s extravagantly coiffured presenter, Melvyn Bragg.

I thought this might be an appropriate time therefore to show an image from a (very brief) portrait session I had wth him some years ago. I can’t remember the client but I do remember that the venue was the South Bank Centre and that I probably had less than five minutes – a pretty standard amount of time to make an impactual and polished image under the cold, dead eye of some insufferably intransigent PR (plus ça change…).

In those days, it was rare to be able to set up a background (as seemingly all celebrity portraits have to have now) so I chose a neutral wall and used a metre square Chimera soft box mounted on a Lumedyne head with a heavy battery pack that no doubt I’d struggled with on the ‘Tube at rush hour… This is back in the days of film when I was shooting 6×6 and one had to meter slightly more carefully than with the more forgiving digital cameras that we now take for granted. I remember very little about the shoot except looking at the contact sheet I see that I shot just ten images (from a roll of twelve) and Bragg was polite if brief. He did comment on my camera – as many people used to – an old Mamiya TLR – a C330 built like a tank with bellows… (years later I’d photograph Arundhati Roy who insisted that I only use that camera because it looked “like an antique”). The softbox was great at wrapping light around the face if you set up right and had time to adjust and it was a stock-in-trade technique I used when I knew I’d be pushed for time and wouldn’t be able to use a second head for a little help with the shadows. All key light, no fill.

I shot a portrait for a European magazine yesterday – something I don’t do enough of these days and I used three lights on one set up (for those interested in such things, a big, deep 100cm Elinchrom Octabox as key and then two other kicks with a brolly and another shot into a reflector underneath). It took more than twenty minutes to set up before I shot a frame … I did at one point miss those earlier simple shots… but not the inevitable wait for the film to come back from the lab to determine whether the job was a success…



Melvyn Bragg, British broadcaster and author

Minor celeb not feeling well shock

I was indebted to learn from every single media outlet today that a minor British celebrity who used to be married to a footballer and apparently sings, has contracted malaria. And on holiday too…

Apparently she’ll live. Unlike the approximate 850000 people still die from malaria every year even though simple insecticide-treated mosquito nets could significantly reduce mortality if made readily available to all people in regions where the disease is endemic. This according to Ann Veneman, head of UNICEF speaking on World Malaria day on April 25th. No – funny I didn’t hear much about that either.

According to Veneman, 90 per cent of those afflicted live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the majority of those deaths are children under five years old. “This shocking disparity is even more unacceptable” she concludes. I completely agree. Thankfully I am no longer cynical about how the media works (…) and certainly wish no-one to be ill… however – on recovery, expect brave celeb to do more charity work on said disease with full media coverage and nothing to change.

Burundi - Ruyigi - Jean, an orphan of Burundi's ethnic conflict at Shalom House shivers under a blanket with malaria. Shalom House was founded by Marguerite Barankitse (known as the 'Angel of Burundi') in 1994. During the genocide, Barankitse, at great personal risk, managed to save 25 orphans, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa and built a home for them. Currently, she has helped more than 10,000 orphans and separated children who can grow up in an "extended adopted family" in security, education and love.