Posts Tagged ‘medium format’

Melvyn Bragg and the portrait

Saturday, January 13th, 2018


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

The Kumbh Mela

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013


As you will by now no doubt have seen (by the tsunami of images generated) humanity’s greatest gathering is taking place on the banks of the River Ganges  in Allahbad, India. The Kumbh Mela, a bathing festival for Hindus that draws millions of devotees (and photographers and tourists) to bathe in the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna has just started.

This year, up to 100 million people are expected to attend.  I last covered it in 2001 when there were ‘only’ 70 million in attendance. I’d also shot one in 1995 – an Ardh (or half) Kumbh so I sort of knew what I was letting myself in for. They both feel a long, long time ago. I remember that in 2001 I was working a good deal in medium format and all I took with me were two Mamiya 6s and an old Vivitar flashgun. I remember shooting the entire set on Kodak colour neg film (I used to be sponsored by Kodak). It felt like I was trying to do something different, something new.

On that trip I travelled up to Allahabad with Kalpesh Lathigra and Jason Eskanazi. I seem to remember bumping into Stephen Dupont and the late Tim Hetherington (then at Network with me). Bruce Gilden saved me from getting beaten with a lathi by an Indian policeman (a long story…) and I remember being freezing cold every day before dawn as I rose from my inadequate sleeping bag. My fondest memories are reserved however for another fellow Network photographer, Nikolai Ignatiev, who died tragically a few years later. A very talented journalist, Nikolai had a colourful life story to say the least. Sadly, few traces of his work – nor indeed of Network Photographers – remain online (but see here for an archived obituary) but good memories.

Some pictures and thoughts of absent friends.


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India – Allahabad – Pilgrims stream into the Maha Kumbh Mela grounds across pontoon bridges


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India – Allahabad – A man dressed as Hanuman the monkey god shows an act of self-mortification


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India – Allahabad – A saddhu and his Western disciple


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India – Allahabad – Ropes cordoning off bathing grounds at the Kumbh Mela


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India – Allahabad – Pilgrims crossing pontoon bridges over the Ganges at the Kumbh Mela


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India – Allahabad – Pilgrims bathing in the Ganges


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India – Allahabad – Naked saddhus prepare to process to the bathing grounds at dawn


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India – Allahabad – A man peers into a slidehow at the Kumbh Mela


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India – Allahabad – A man and wife bathe in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela


India - Allahbad - Stuart Freedman and Nikolai Ignatiev © Kalpesh Lathigra

India – Allahbad – Stuart Freedman (L) and Nikolai Ignatiev © Kalpesh Lathigra


And just because I feel nostalgic today, here are a couple of my favourite images from the Ardh Kumbh way back in 1995…


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India – Allahabad – Saddhus after their bath in the Ganges during the Ardh Kumbh Mela

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India – Allahabad – Devotees on a boat on the Ganges