I’m no Elvis fan but I know lots of people have a very soft spot for The King and his music. For many, the anniversary of his death today is a significant one so I thought I’d show a few images that I made at an Elvis convention some years ago in Blackpool as a mini tribute. Once upon a time I was shooting a good deal on a rather lovely 5×4 Horseman Camera with Polaroid Type 55 (pos/neg) instant film. Working that way allowed me to shoot rather formal – but unexpectedly beautiful images that I could peel apart and then give to the subject (whilst shoving the negative in a big tank of fixer). It was a lovely way to work but my back never forgave me for the weight of kit I had to lug about. Anyway, here’s a triptych of some of the work…
Whilst looking through my archive yesterday for something completely different, I happened to chance upon this image that I think, whichever way you voted in the EU Referendum, might sum up today’s triggering of Article 50 by the British government. It was from an assignment for the Times Magazine on David Miliband in 2008. I’d travelled with him to Kiev, Brussels and errr… Birmingham as well as shooting a portrait at his home in London. This was taken after a rather laborious interview in the European Parliament’s TV studio. Everyone else had cleared off and just the dying buzz of the tv feed remained in the air. Clearly weary, he held his face in his hands as the lights started to dim. It’s never been published before and I’d forgotten all about it but I thought today it might have some … resonance.
Light and moreover, the quality of the light that I’ve photographed in has, it’s true to say, been rather an obsession for me.
Working away from the cold, blue northern light of a damp Britain, I’ve been completely enthralled by the warmth and the colour of the light of the South – particularly of Africa and Asia. Sometimes I confess, that concern has overridden my image-making – sometimes I’ve simply not taken an image that perhaps I should have done because I didn’t feel the light was beautiful enough. It used to be much worse when working on transparency film: dawn and dusk were the only times I would work outside comfortably because only then could you guarantee that rich, golden warmth.
I’ve therefore been intrigued over the last few days to read Peter Davidson’s new book, The last of the light – about twilight. In it, Davidson examines twilight in the tradition of Western art, thought and sensibility. It is an extraordinary book and a meditation on the very brief threshold between day and dusk. I realised that I’ve shot so little outside of the ‘golden hours’ that actually I wonder if I’ve done myself a great disservice. I’m not sure that except on a few isolated occasions that I ever have shot at twilight – that briefest of in-between times when the sun has dipped and ushers in a blue sky just before the inevitable black.
Digital cameras allow us a much greater latitude to cover marginal light – sometimes light that the human eye cannot see. In that way perhaps we’re becoming less aware of light’s peculiarities and certainly its perceived technical limitations. Certainly if we are able to photograph more in twilight perhaps we are less aware of its historic and symbolic meanings for past generations. Inevitably, it just becomes another time of day shorn of it’s cultural significance – and hence the kind of imagery that we can photographically reflect.
I’m not sure that except on a few isolated occasions that I ever have shot at twilight. Here’s an image taken (ironically in London) of an instant before twilight – just as the sun is dipping below the horizon.
Amateur Photographer Magazine recently asked me what image that I’ve made, had had a profound effect on me. I told them about photographing a deeply disturbed boy forced to commit atrocities by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Here’s the full piece …
Yesterday, I was delighted to learn that Prince Charles and family – surely Britian’s most celebrated benefit claimants – were visiting his very own bejewelled architectural confusion, Poundbury. Three years ago, I visited the same town – a kind of Daily Mail wet dream of Middle England, to write about it for a special edition of the German magazine, Brand Eins. I found the place mostly deserted with a chill wind whipping through a stage set of architectural pastiche and folly. Charles, a fan of the work of Albert Speer, has overseen the creation of a fantasy land: a reimagining (from a lonely castle window) of a ‘former’ but entirely fictional Britain well suited to the Brexit generation (British homes for British people…) – an airbrushed past of classical architectural tropes masquerading uncomfortably as an (upmarket) housing estate.
You can read the piece called ‘The strange Death of the British Utopia – or how Britain live in her own past’ here (warning: it’s long…).
but I leave you with an image of a deserted street and a Neo Classical … errr bus shelter.
Here’s a recent commission – images and words – from Thai Airways magazine about Delhi’s burgeoning street art scene. A million thanks to ST+Art India, Anpu Varkey and Harsh Raman. A really interesting and colourful piece to photograph – and write.
Here’s a rather lovely tear sheet from this month’s Digital Camera Magazine. They asked me to write a piece about how to put together a photo essay so I deconstructed (and greatly simplified) the classic Life Magazine formula using several of my old stories to illustrate the idea.
As I say in the piece, the Life formula is much derided these days but I teach it (and use it myself) because it’s so useful.
Just as there are rules in grammar which enable us to convey meaning, this ‘formula’ allows you to use a narrative structure that ‘reads’ in a similar way. There’s a logic and a simplicity to it. In any case, if you know the rules, you can break them – but it’s good to know them first…
So goodbye to the Independent on Sunday Magazine… In the late 1990s/early 2000s, I had a few lovely covers – thanks to the wonderful picture editing duo of Susan Glen and Victoria Lukens… my favourite I think however remains this one (apologies for the terrible scan) that I made with the brilliant Peter Popham about Arundhati Roy‘s Kerala. A marvellous assignment and great memories.