Wednesday, 30 April 2014

RED BLACK AND BLUE by Alun Callender

RED BLACK AND BLUE by Alun Callender

My long term memory is still very good but my short term memory not so good. I do not know whether this is because of my age (62) or my Parkinson's or what but the point of saying this is to explain why I cannot remember whether I met Alun inside Mini Click or outside. I suppose it doesn't really matter in the great scheme of things but it is something that concerns me from time to time - that is when I remember it is a concern. Either way, I did meet him and we chatted briefly about my project in which he seemed quite interested. However, it took a while to set up a shoot with him but, in the meantime, I looked up Alun's site and I discovered that he was an excellent photographer.

Eventually, we arranged a date for our shoot  and, by coincidence, he chose the old Fruit and Veg market in Circus Street Brighton as the location only a few days after I had been there with Jim Stephenson. However, his backdrop was red whereas Jim's was white and he asked me to wear a dark jacket which would contrast with the red of the backdrop. He wanted me to appear as a sort of a ringmaster and so I brought with my Grandfather's silk top hat which has featured in a number of shoots and films over the years.

On the day of the shoot, I met Alun and his assistant, Charlotte Harber, at the market where they had already set up the set. Unfortunately, I was a bit shaky (as I was with Jim - that's Fruit and Veg for you!) and so I felt that the flow wasn't really there but Alun was very kind and it turned out to be a very jolly undertaking and it was interesting to talk to them both. Charlotte mentioned that she was a graduate of UWE in Bristol and I told her that her former tutor, Shawn Sobers, had filmed me in Brighton and had subsequently invited me to speak to the photography students there. We talked briefly about trying a nude shot but Alun was so pleased with what he had got from the clothed shots that we decided not to bother. We then went to The Lion & Lobster pub around the corner from our house and had a scrumptious lunch and a beer. I simply cannot go into a pub and not order a pint of beer. It has to be a pint too - half pints are not the same, even if one doubles up. Shortly afterwards, I received three images all of which I loved but this one stood out for me. Everything is right - the backdrop, my pose, the articles in the background and the colour. I was very, very pleased and so was Alun.

Isn't life wonderful? If I hadn't got Parkinson's, I would never have answered the advert in Time Out in 2007 and the project would never have started and so I wouldn't have moved to Brighton and gone to a Mini Click evening and bumped into Alun who would never have photographed me BUT I did get Parkinson's and consequently do all those things and that's why life is wonderful and strange and exciting and fun. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW by Laura Stevens

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW by Laura Stevens
All you need to know is that this is an almost perfect photograph. I love the tone and the light and the colour and... well, everything about it. The fact that I am surrounded by the things in that room which are so familiar to me and which, in the main, Jane has brought into our home. I also love the shape of my rib cage, the strong tufts of my pubic hair, the sallow light on my body and the abandon of my pose.

I first heard of Laura in 2012 when I discovered that she had photographed the poet Clare Best with whom I am now involved in a separate project. Clare decided to have preventative bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction because of the strong likelihood that she would have breast cancer at some stage and she arranged with Laura to photograph her both before and after the surgery. I was interested in the way that Laura was affected by this experience and so I looked at her work on her website and as I did so, I felt this zing of excitement at the possibility that she might wish to photograph me in the same intimate way she appeared to approach all her subjects. Another zing arrived when she said yes, she would like to photograph me. She asked what, having seen her work, I wanted to get from working with her. I explained that I had seen how she had climbed into her subjects' lives and achieved a real intimate connection and the more I worked with photographers the deeper and further I wanted to go and, having seen her work, I felt I might achieve this with her.

At first, we talked about meeting in Paris, where she lives, as I was planning a trip there before my Parkinson's suddenly took a nosedive, but she really did want to photograph me at home surrounded by my own possessions and she made the trip over to Brighton with loads of equipment to do so. I had never met her before but we sat and chatted with Jane for a while and it was very pleasant and we both found her easy to get on with. She really liked our sitting room and that was what she plumped for as the location for the photograph.

We talked briefly about me being clothed to begin with but soon ditched that idea thankfully as although her photographs would have been great either way, naked was obviously the right way to go. We chatted a lot during the shoot about this and that and it was a very relaxed session. Laura directed me as to how she wanted me to pose and I added a few little bits I think. I received the images a few days later and I adored them. They were as good as I could ever have hoped when I first saw her work. I urge you to look at her website for more of the same. Laura is a lovely open person who is extremely adept at what she does because she has insight and a real desire to examine the lives and the feelings of her subjects. I feel very proud indeed to say that I have been photographed by her.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

AN EMPTY HOUSE by Maeve Berry

AN EMPTY HOUSE by Maeve Berry

When Maeve first said that she would like to photograph me on stage, I imagined the shot quite differently to the way it turned out. I immediately thought of the Theatre Royal in Brighton where my daughter had already performed and my nephew had produced a play. I thought of the beautifully rich red velvet curtain and me in front, dressed in my white tuxedo, in the spotlight. However, when we first went to the theatre for our first shoot, I was surprised to see the curtain pulled back and the stage completely empty and open. This potentially gave a much greater depth to the images by way of both distance and meaning. The first shoot ended up being a trial run in that, by the end of the time allotted to us, we had a much better idea of what we were going for. The two shots that worked were the one with me dressed and sitting in a chair looking out to the audience and the one of me naked dragging a ball and chain represented by a balloon and a feather boa respectively. 

The team at the the Theatre were very accommodating and supportive and were more than happy to allow us to return for a second shoot on 21st July 2014. This time, we knew exactly what we wanted and started with the feather boa and balloon. Maeve had found a purple boa and this colour looked tremendous under the lights. The idea was a playful take on the burden of my disease. Then, halfway through the shoot when the house lights came on, we saw how beautiful the auditorium looked from the stage, a view the audience never sees. We both loved the silhouette of me in the spotlight on the stage and wondered what it might look like from behind with the gorgeously fiery red and gold of the lights on the balconies as the back drop. What I couldn't see but Maeve could was the tinge of gold light on my head and arms and the weird distortion of the shape of my body in the shadow. 

And it is so personal to me. I always wanted to be an actor - l do not regard my photographs as a performance because, even with the more theatrical poses, they are all the real me; I am not playing a part. I don't act on the stage any more and I don't think I could but of course I make my films. That sounds sad but it isn't. I had my day in the sun and enjoyed it hugely. I played some wonderful characters not least those in my two one-man plays - Harry in "Harry's Christmas" by Steven Berkoff and the boy in "These Childish Things" by Raymond Cousse. 

So this image means a great deal to me even though I was sorely tempted to go for one of the Boa and Balloon shot all of which would have had no contest in any other circumstances. It was important to me that Maeve agreed with my choice which she did although I reckon she would have chosen the Boa and Balloon if it was solely down to her. 

And what of the darling Maeve? A lovely warm and jolly person. A photographer with a clever, artistic and unusual eye. And a friend for life. Sod the bloody photographs - this is why the project has given me so much pleasure; I have met so many beautiful people like Maeve who, incidentally, was introduced to me by another special person, Joanna Burejza. (Sigh) oh yes, life is good. Very good indeed. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014


Tobias Slater-Hunt is a superb photographer who lives in Brighton and was introduced to me by the lovely Justyna Neryng, another brilliant photographic artist. I have been trying to cut down my photographic assignments to concentrate on getting things ready for the PhotoFringe exhibition in Brighton in October but the one person I was desperate to work with was Toby. I first met Justyna when she shot me in June 2010 and it was soon after that shoot that she explained that Toby was very interested in photographing me. I looked at his website and found that he was a very innovative and exciting photographer and so the prospect intrigued me.

Shortly afterwards, we moved to Brighton and gradually got to know Toby and Justyna socially and indeed I was photographed a second time by Justyna and on this occasion, Toby was assisting her and I was very impressed at how he allowed her to run the shoot and was very sensitive when he was asked his opinion but more importantly when he was not but though to make a comment any way. In the meantime, one of his own portraits had found itself in the final shortlist of 60 for the Taylor Wessing Portrait prize in 2011 and very well deserved it was too. I was also up in Edinburgh when no other than the great Laurence Winram, completely out of the blue, expressed his admiration for Toby's work.

It still took another three years before I was actually in front of Toby's camera at a lovely studio just up the road from us and the image above came out of that shoot and what an image it is; it exudes such power and such grace. 
Image from Toby's Closer to God series
It is his attention to detail that I admire so much and his patience. That said, he had the time to discuss what he was looking for and he was strong in his direction of me in our shoot. However, following my Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, I now fell into his Metamorphosis project dealing with people whose physicality has been changed by surgery, be it medical or cosmetic, and so Toby kindly asked me to return to his home studio for another session which I did only a few days ago. Again his meticulousness came to the fore as he used up two rolls of film in his quest for the right image.

I am waiting to receive some pictures from this second shoot but wanted to put Toby on my map so far as my Blog is concerned and here he is. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

TIM by Charlie Clift

TIM by Charlie Clift
I opened the Sunday Times magazine on 17th November 2013 and saw a great photograph by Charlie Clift and then looked up his website and saw some of the best portraits I had ever come across so, what did I do? I wrote to Charlie asking him to photograph me and he said he would. Then there was along gap because this was the period (early 2014) when my Parkinson's began to get really bad and I found that my 24 hour day was being eroded to the extent that there were really only 4 usable hours each day and you can imagine what that did to my ability to keep up with email correspondence. Anyway, Charlie didn't forget me and chased me up and within a few weeks we had set a date in April for the shoot. We decided to go to the beach because he liked the idea of photographing me where I was happy to be. I had already started swimming by then  - in fact my first swim was at 5.30am on 1st April. 

I really enjoyed my day with Charlie - he's a funky sort of guy. What's funky? Oh I don't know - his minds jumps all over the place and we ended up talking a lot about different subjects but although his life is very different to mine eg he is younger, hipper, he is a photographer and a traveller, we found that we had a lot in common in so far as our views on life, friendship and music were concerned. I have said this many times before but this is why this project is such fun. The photography is great but the connection with another person who is essentially a stranger is what makes it so energising.

Back to the shoot. Charlie asked me to lie on the sand and allow the water to rush over me which was a little scary because, as I say, due to my illness worsening, I wasn't so capable as I used to be. We did some with pants on and some with pants off but the beach was pretty deserted so I didn't offend anyone. We then returned home and did a few more there. Charlie the sent a selection of shots to me but this coincided with my brain surgery so again I didn't respond immediately but, in the end, this was his choice and I am very happy to go with it. I says a lot about me. There is happiness and hopefulness in my face and also a few places where I nicked myself shaving but that sort of says something too. And that's what Charlie does so well - he captures the real person and he does that by engaging with him and discovering what he is about. I am sure lots of other photographers do that too but Charlie does it particularly well as you will see when you tap on the link to his website below. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

A BIG DEAL by Grant McLean

A BIG DEAL by Grant McLean

Who is Grant McLean you may ask? He is not a professional photographer but, in my opinion, he is a very good photographer and that is all that matters. But who is he really? Well, look at the photograph  above and look into my eyes. They are looking at him through the lens. They are saying "You are my friend... you are my brother...You make me happy... you make me laugh....I am interested in what you have to are my dear sister's husband.....and...I love you". There are not many people you can say all those things to. He has been a special person in my life and in the lives of my sister and and her two children. He has photographed them too as you will have guessed. My first realisation of his talent as a photographer occurred when he sent us a photograph of our son Tom taken when he was a baby (Tom not Grant) and which is printed below (although the scan is poor as our scanner is playing up). It is a stunning photograph because it captured the essence of Tom - his seriousness, his wisdom, his worry about his life and the world as a whole. He saw it and caught it. That is what he has done with me - he has connected with my feelings for him and opened them up for all to see. 

I first met Grant (or at least this was my first memory of meeting him) at a pub in Kingston where we were living at the time. I thin it must have been shortly before his wedding to my twin sister, Sally. He wasn't quite ready for English beer but he survived. He eventually met the rest of our family and won them over with his quiet charm, his droll sense of humour and fun and his interest in them and what they did. He is quite shy I think and needs to feel confident before speaking (this is beginning to sound like a school report) but when he does, his soft Canadian drawl puts one at ease immediately and you find yourself enjoying a sweet moment of conversation. He is a very English Canadian - in other  words, he is a fan of both countries. He is clever and he is artistic but doesn't flaunt either virtue. He is a man of deep sincerity and humility but it is always ready to be punctured by a silly sense of fun. 

So, even if he had never held a camera before, I might have been tempted to ask him to be part of my project. As it is, I knew of what he was capable and he proved it. 

And one more thing, on the day he photographed me, his camera was playing up. There were two false starts and then it worked and he took this picture but the camera never worked after that. He had one shot and he got it in one. It was a big deal for him and a big deal for me.

So feast your eyes on portrait by a very good friend, a loyal loving husband, a caring father and an excellent photographer - John Grant McLean. Now you know who he is.

POSTSCRIPT Grant died today 8th April 2014 whilst my sister held his hand