Monday, 29 July 2013

PIECE OF CAKE by Valda Bailey

PIECE OF CAKE by Valda Bailey
When I first arrived at Farley Farm, many years ago, I was full of wide-eyed wonder. I had long been an admirer of Lee Miller's photography and a large part of that was based on her hedonistic lifestyle which, like that of the Bloomsbury Group, was unchartered fantasy for me. I am talking here not of sexual fantasy but more of an interest in seeing how art transcends morality. Therefore, imagine how it felt for me to walk around the gardens naked and pose for Valda's wonderful photographs. Also, how appropriate it should be Valda who photographed me there as her own work had struck me as so beautiful when I discovered it via her correspondence on Twitter with the likes of Rob Hudson.

Valda came to tea with us at Brighton armed with the most delicious home-made cake I have ever tasted and this may very well have given Valda her idea of a formal, naked, tea party for one in the grounds of Farley Farm. At the shoot, Valda brought lots of goodies to eat as well as a two tier cake stand. I provided the crockery, table and chair. She had two thoughts for a location - either the formal rose garden near the house or the open field by the car park. We plumped for the former and had great fun whilst Valda clicked away as I gorged on the sandwiches and cakes which Valda had brought with her. After the tea shots, we wandered around the gardens and tried poses next to several of the sculptures. This was one of the first shots and I remember that Valda purred as she took the photograph. I felt good too as I obeyed her request to lean against the trunk of the tree and let my arms hang loose like the rest of me. How many visitors to Farley Farm in the past had done the same?

Valda wanted to shoot me next inside the old greenhouse by the Kitchen Garden and after we finished there, we finished up in the field where I shed my clothes again and, holding only a polka dot umbrella, I went bonkers in the field much to the possible surprise of visitors to the village shop in the car park which abutted the field although I guess that the inhabitants of Muddles Green have seen stranger sights over the years. The wind was quite strong and it was as much as I could do to keep hold of the umbrella - I secretly hoped a big gust of wind would lift me up like Mary Poppins.

So that was that - a magical morning in a special place but Valda agreed to my suggestion of a drink and a chat at the local pub, neither of us really wanting the magic which had been conjured up between us to dissipate but, eventually, the time came for us to let it go and I returned to Brighton and she to her home and the editing of the photographs.

And look what she produced! A sumptuous feast for the eyes. When I first received them, I flitted from one to the other like the wasps which had buzzed about the sandwiches and cakes which Valda had made with the same love and care that she now displayed in the final edits of her photographs. I fed on each of them and, as I guzzled, I drank in their intoxicating colour and vibrancy until I had to stagger away with a belly full of wonder. I had to choose one of these images for my project but I needed to rest first. I noticed that she hadn't sent me any of the shots in the field and, when I asked her about these, she realised that she had omitted to send them and they followed soon after. They only made my task more difficult. I decided to choose two - something that I have done only four times before. Valda had been daunted by her task and the responsibility of following some amazing work by others but  she need not have worried. Even Lee Miller would have been proud of what she produced and what is more, Valda has cast a sweet shadow over Farley Farm and, whenever I return,
my mind will drift back not only to Lee Miller and her life there but also to the gloriously happy day on which I was photographed by Valda Bailey. She is very self-effacing but she is exceptionally good at what she does and I suspect that, deep down, she knows it.


Wednesday, 17 July 2013

CARRY THAT WEIGHT by Emma Critchley

CARRY THAT WEIGHT by Emma Critchley

I promised that I would write another post about my shoots with Emma Critchley and so, here it is. I loved the first shoot with Emma but the problem we had then was that the water in the pool was too murky to produce decent pictures. However, it set me up for the second shoot in that I got to know Emma a bit better and also her assistant, Hannah, and also I got used to being underwater and swimming in the pool. When I first went into the deep end on the first shoot, Emma told me to take a weight into each hand and allow myself to sink to the bottom when my feet would touch the ground as I landed but that, if I panicked at all, I should let go of the weights and I would float back up. So, I took a weight in each hand and held on to the edge of the pool, took a small breath and let go. I sank down, my feet touched the ground, I panicked, dropped the weights and shot straight back up gain! Emma said "That was quick!" Eventually, I got more courageous and and managed to stay down there long enough for Emma to shoot some images which informed her as to what to go for when we returned another day when the water was clearer. This we did on 17th July 2013.

I got the bus this time and arrived punctually. I got undressed and plonked into the pool and, of course, it was glorious again. This time, we went straight to the deep end and started on the shots which had succeeded the first time. Emma also adjusted the lighting which produced some interesting effects. I suppose the shoot must have taken about three hours again, maybe more, but the time sped by. I absolutely adored every minute of it. Not only was I swimming (and sinking) as I posed for the photographs, we were chatting too and it was all very relaxed. I do so love the shoots.

Afterwards, we had lunch in the Mad Hatter in Montpelier Road and then later on, I received the initial versions of Emma's favourite images form the shoot. They were simply wonderful. There were basically three that were the very best and it has been so difficult to choose just one as each said something different. However, after a lot of thought this is the one I chose. I really like the awkwardness of my pose and the shadow behind me. Emma produced them in black & white as it made the space more ambiguous. It reminds me of a painting by an old master but I cannot think of the name of the painting or the identity of the old master. If anyone can help, it would be most appreciated.

Emma is a great photographer. She knows what she is doing and does it very well and very efficiently but she has an artistic eye and a strong intelligence that enables her to fix on something and turn it into these beautiful weird images. We are planning to work together again and I know it will be pure joy, serious but fun, just like Emma.

Monday, 15 July 2013


Clockwise from top right: Photos by Alma Haser, Chris Floyd, Harry Borden and Brian David Stevens. Centre: Luca Sage

On what must have been the nicest Saturday of the year weather-wise, 13th July 2013, the wonderful Mini-Click organisation held an event in Brighton at which I was invited to speak along with five of "my" photographers namely, Harry Borden, Chris Floyd, Alma Haser, Luca Sage and Brian David Stevens. I was asked to get there at 10.30am and sure enough, I arrived at 10.40 having ploughed my way through hordes of day trippers marching purposefully down Queens Road from the railway station on their way to the beach. I had paused only to slip into Tesco Express to test a shelf-filler with the tricky question "Where are the pork pies?" to which he replied with a mumbled "porkpiesporkpiesporkpies....."whilst dragging his forefinger with mock concern over some labels on which he was stacking cold meats of various kinds eg Beef, ham, turkey, horse. After what seemed like three minutes I decided to put him out of his misery and pursue a different subject of enquiry to which he replied "The square root of 94 sir? I think you will find that this is what you're looking for" and he handed me a scotch egg.

The basic theme of the day was Portraiture although other subjects came up including "How to photograph Paul McCartney", "Which famous 60s photographer was shot with his finger up his dog's fanny?" and "Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur?".

I was first up and rattled on for about 15 minutes about my project and showed about 20 photographs and then the others followed talking about their own work as well as their collaborations with me. They were all extremely interesting and entertaining as I am sure that members of the audience will confirm. What struck me particularly was that it made me realise even more why I love the shoots so much. It is because I get to meet and work with these people and to experience what they described on the day (apart from the canine petting) and that is why the project is still ongoing. I'm sorry but I'm not expressing myself very well but I hope you get the drift.

We knocked off for lunch at about 1pm and enjoyed drinks from the bar, picnic treats and thought provoking conversation with members of the audience until we returned for a Q & A session led very adeptly by Jim Stephenson. We finally finished at about 3.45pm and, after a few more drinks, I left for home and fought my way again through a slightly pinker version of the same horde of day trippers whom I had met earlier in the day ......

A splendid day meeting old friends and new.