Wednesday, 17 December 2014

ONE OF THOSE DAYS by Sophie Harris-Taylor

ONE OF THOSE DAYS by Sophie Harris-Taylor
I stepped off the bus, crossed the road but went too far and so, realising my mistake, I walked back and found Sophie's house. It was Victorian with a solid front door. I remember it as being pale green but perhaps not. Sophie came to the door and welcomed me with a smile. So many smiles.

We had discussed the shoot previously by email - Sophie said she wanted the photographs to be raw. She took me into her sitting room at the front of the house which overlooked the road and set up a black backdrop. Black as night but nowhere to hide. We talked and I removed my clothes and stretched and curled first on the black and later against the white wall. Sophie paused to show me some of the images in the back of the camera. My eyesight is so bad that all I could see was the light. It was beautiful. "I love skin" she said. Skin.

We moved into her kitchen where the light was different. I bent my head. I placed my hand on the work top playing music in my head which washed through to my fingers resting on imaginary keys. I gazed out to the small courtyard on the other side of which Sophie planned to create a studio. It was cold but I offered to go outside so that she could photograph me there. In the event, it was Sophie who stepped out and she shot me through the window. She returned to the kitchen and pushed kitchen clutter to one side as I stared at the lens - click - and then looked away - click.

Then it was over. I felt that familiar tinge of disappointment mixed with a grudging acceptance that comes at the end of every shoot. I dressed. I showed Sophie some of my films on her computer. Then I took my leave and caught the bus. I thought of the shoot as the bus lurched towards Clapham. Sophie, it was all so easy. You were easy. I was easy. 

She does not prettify bodies, she illuminates them and in the light, she scratches over the skin like sand paper on wood revealing the grain.  The human spirit is there, the pulse beneath the skin, the breath welling up from lungs pushed out past nostril or lip. She stands back and observes, slightly detached, from a doorway, through a window, across a room. I catch her eye. I know what she is doing and she knows that I know and I know it too. The light is all. As Sophie said afterwards, in terms of overtone, this image has a more documentary, honest and voyeuristic feel and the strong light feels quite cinematic which is something she is always striving for in her work. It all works so wonderfully well.

One of these days, 
When we are both at our ease
When you've got time to please yourself, 
See what's right and see what's there
and breathe fresh air, ever after.
                                 - Paul McCartney

Thursday, 11 December 2014



Alicia must be one of the nicest people I have met. She is very genuine and open and with an exciting and infectious enthusiasm for all things photographic. I first came across her beautiful work through Twitter in December 2012 - I think I must have followed someone and Mr Twitter then kindly suggested l might also be interested in Alicia and, when l saw her work, l was and wrote and told her so. She replied with the aforesaid enthusiasm saying that she would be delighted to be part of this remarkable project. It would not be the last time she would use that adjective in relation to me and my project but l am not so remarkable although l would accept that the project is - it is full of remarkable work by remarkable people. I am an ordinary guy who got an illness that affects many ordinary people and I have dealt with it as best I can, sometimes well and sometimes not so well. The drugs boosted my creativity but at the same time produced rather worrying side effects. Rough and smooth.

Anyway, back to the remarkable Alicia. She explained right at the start that her work was a collaborative process with those she photographed and was often based on artworks from public collections. She said she would ask me to be involved in the planning process as much as possible and that we could choose a painting which draws parallels with me and aspects of my personality and use this as a starting point for my portrait. She said that she would be happy to shortlist with me but equally happy for me to make suggestions. So you can see that she is a person who knows what she wants and makes that quite clear. Unfortunately, in Alicia's case, I made a completely inappropriate suggestion which has haunted me ever since - as I say, the rough and the smooth.

Simon, Sylwia, Me, Alicia & Laurence

There was then a thwarted attempt in 2013 to travel to Edinburgh to meet Alicia as well as some old photographic friends but the thwart was my Parkinson's which had got steadily worse and so I decided very reluctantly not to go. I felt so sorry but Alicia and the others were very understanding and the trip was put on hold until December 2014 when I found myself with a beating heart outside Lovecrumbs cafe. I pushed the door open and was met with a table of smiling faces belonging to Sylwia Kowalczyk, Simon Crofts, Laurence Winram and Alicia. Sylwia very kindly bought me a hot chocolate and they all seemed as pleased to see me as l was to see them. 

Me by Alicia Bruce

In the cafe, Alicia and I chatted a bit more about the shoot and agreed to proceed with her idea of Botticelli's Venus. It was lovely to meet her and in the company of the others with whom I enjoyed such a beautiful friendship and, when we all left the cafe, I gave each of them a big hug and Alicia walked back with me to the centre of the city and she pointed out various landmarks and took a few pictures. This is what I love about this project - spending my time having these experiences and meeting people in this way. The next day I had a very enjoyable shoot with Lucy Kendra (see future blogpost) and I had hoped to see Lucy Telford and Brogan Ramm the day after but the weather was too bad to make the journey and Alicia texted and suggested that I went to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and also Stills Photographic Gallery. I am so glad that I did both. At the Portrait Gallery I saw some wonderful paintings by Allan Ramsay and bought some great Christmas presents in the shop. At Stills I saw the amazing photographs by Chloe Dewe Matthews in her "Shot at Dawn" exhibition. 

Finally, on the morning of 12th December 2014, I arrived at the studio a few miles down the road from my hotel and met Alicia again and her assistant for the day, Craig Yule. They had already set everything up and really we had the picture we wanted in the bag pretty quickly. We looked at a few in the back of the camera and, although my eyesight is not brilliant, I could see that the colours were stunning. We tried a few more with me altering my pose slightly - Alicia had pinned up a copy of the painting to help with that - and that was it! Alicia produced a Christmas hat and we mucked about with that doing a few silly shots and then I said goodbye. As I left, I plugged in my earphones and the beautiful sound of Brian Wilson's voice washed into my head like a silver sea.

Who took that look away
I remember how you used to say
You'd never change 
But that's not true 
Oh, Caroline you

Break my heart,

I want to go and cry
It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh Caroline why

Alicia asked me to comment on the collaborative process and it was the case that we discussed various options beforehand and we enjoyed the to and fro but how much influence I had on the final outcome I don't know; I think that is for Alicia to say. All I can say is that I think the portrait is superb. I love the contrast of the blue and my pink skin. It is not an exact copy of the painting- I am looking straight at the camera with a slightly fearful, apologetic gaze, I am a man and there is no shell - but it was never intended to be a copy and because of that, Alicia has in fact very cleverly created something unique albeit influenced by an original work. Furthermore, she wanted my portrait to be a subversive homage to the original work. It is no wonder that she is held in such high regard in photographic circles.

Me and Alicia in conference by Craig Yule

So there we are. I have been photographed by Alicia Bruce, a great photographer and a very nice woman. How many people can say that? Probably quite a few and they almost certainly feel as proud as I do. 


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

STAIRWELL by Lucy Kendra

STAIRWELL by Lucy Kendra

It was raining and it was cold as I stood outside waiting for Lucy. I had not seen her since my last visit to Edinburgh when we ate meringues the size of Saturn with Claudine Quinn in a cafe near what is commonly known as The Pubic Triangle. I was nervous because I love my Edinburgh friends so much and each time I go up there, I wonder if it will be as magical as the first time. I know I shouldn't think this way but I do. I put pressure on myself and them and the situation but sometimes you do silly things when you are in love - even if it is with a city. That said, I need not have worried as Lucy was as I remembered her - pretty, amusing, warm, amusing (again) and cool. Her idea was to photograph me in the stairwell of the building where she worked because the filtered light had a lovely quiet glow to it. First, we went into the room or rather, studio, where she worked which was stocked with all sorts of photographic equipment - lights, tripods, reflectors, screens, cables, cooking foil - cooking foil? Lucy and I looked at the foil and then at each other and then at the foil. We realised at that moment that the foil would feature heavily in the morning's exploits.

We had a cup of tea and then ventured out into the stairwell but Lucy found almost immediately that it wasn't going to work in the way she had envisaged as the sun was not bright enough outside. I think it was me who then had the idea of sprawling on  the stairs as if I had been attacked. Lucy liked the idea and so I positioned myself head first down the stairs. I love doing these silly things. The stairs were in constant use but everyone who came by, stepped past me very carefully and seemed quite accepting of the whole scenario.

Then we returned to the studio for more tea and got out the silver foil. I undressed and wrapped myself in the foil. I looked like something out of Doctor Who. We took a few photographs in the studio before venturing out into the corridor to the lift which we then commandeered for some more photographs. Fortunately, I couldn't see much otherwise I might have brought a halt to the silliness. We then returned to the studio where I removed the foil by performing the first foil striptease ever seen in Edinburgh to Caro Emerald's song "A Night Like This".

Lucy and me

Lucy and I had a beer I think it was the following night and we talked and we talked and we talked and we laughed and then we toddled out into the City and went our separate ways. A lovely shoot, a lovely friend and, now, a lovely photograph. What more could I ask for?


Friday, 5 December 2014

HOME by Tereza Červeňová

Home. I am fortunate enough to have a home to come back to, where I can relax and be me. Often, when I have been out for the day, I come home after dark and I look through the window to see if Jane is there and, if she is, I feel a warm glow of love, affection and companionship. This may all sound a bit sugary and soppy but it is true. There really is no other way of putting it. Home is where your family is and where you are surrounded by your things such as your books and pictures and photographs. Everything is familiar; everything holds a memory.

Tereza's family home is in Slovakia. She talked to me about her home and her family and, in particular, her brother, with whom she has a very close relationship. So, it is not surprising that she took this picture. When I first saw it, I felt quite emotional because I recognised myself immediately. What Tereza had done was capture me where I am the most like the real me - at home- and she did that because she loves her family and they love her and because we had met previously and talked a lot about each other and, on the day of the shoot, we just continued that conversation. But not many people could translate all that into the feeling expressed in this shot. Tereza is an extremely talented photographer.

I had seen her work in 2013 in the Taylor Wessing exhibition for which she was shortlisted whilst still a student at Middlesex University. Her photograph, "Sisters" is reproduced below. 

I loved the light and the trust shown by the three girls; it is a beautiful picture. So, I had absolutely no hesitation in writing to her asking if she would be part of my project. Eventually, we met in the Barbican Centre  - her idea was to photograph me there which surprised me as I thought we were just going to meet for a chat. It is interesting waiting for someone you have never met before - as each person comes in, you think "That could be her.." but when Tereza came in, I knew it was her straightaway. Maybe because she came up to me and said she was Tereza and I must be Tim. Seriously, she is quite tall and slender and she was wearing a long black coat. She looked like the person who took her photographs. Well, we talked for well over an hour and agreed that she would come down to Brighton for the shoot. We arranged a day in December 2014 but then at the last minute, she had second thoughts because it was just before Christmas and there were other small problems but I managed to persuade her to come as planned and we were both so pleased that I did because we had a lovely day talking about various things and, at the end, as a special treat, I showed her some of my silly films. Lucky girl!

The photographs were taken on a film camera and so it took a while for Tereza to get them scanned but it was well worth the wait. I really loved the light and the connection which was borne of her sensitive personality. The pictures were all very gentle. Like Tereza. She is gentle but she is also someone who is determined to develop her skills. I know that she will continue to grow to be a supreme artist and it is nice to think that perhaps, one day when she is sitting with her grandchildren looking through her old photographs, they will ask "Who is that man sitting looking out of the window, smiling? What is he smiling about?" and she will answer "Oh, what was his name? Oh yes, Tim" and she will smile too. "Why is he smiling? Well, he's smiling because he is thinking about his home and all the things and people in his home which make him happy".


Monday, 1 December 2014

MY TIME HAS COME by Jacqui Booth

MY TIME HAS COME by Jacqui Booth

............and I said to Jacqui as we made our way back to her house,
" I have always wanted to be photographed on a railway track...". 
She looked at me and smiled. 
"There is one on the way home" 
I smiled back.
"Let's go and have a look" she said.
And we did.

As it was a Monday, the line was closed and so there was no danger of being run over by an old steam train. Nor was the Fat Controller on duty. We reached the railway and passed through the gate leading to the pedestrian access over the line. A couple of schoolchildren and a man with a dog walked over the track to the gate on the far side throwing cursory glances at a photographer and her model further up the track, the former with a camera and the latter first crouching and then lying on the sleepers. I thought about lying with my head on the track and even of undressing but my nerve failed me and anyway, I thought being clothed would be a better shot. And it was. The hand says it all. It rests gently on the cold metal as I stare blankly up to the grey December sky. The last dregs of the fading light catching my skin and highlighting the different blues of my clothing that contrast so beautifully with the stones pressed down between the concrete sleepers. Luck has been defined as when preparation meets opportunity and what a stroke of luck this was.  We were both ready and took our chance.

I had come across Jacqui through Twitter. She had a quirky way about her that was very appealing. I saw that she was a photographer and asked to see her work and she referred me to her photostream on Flickr. The pictures there spoke to me of a love of life and an interest in things whether they were stones balancing on others or insects - they seemed to remind her of important thoughts and feelings and events in her life. Each one had a resonance. Eventually, we arranged a shoot on 1st December 2014. Jacqui met me at the railway station. She looked slightly awkward and shy but that wore off pretty quickly as we walked to the building where the shoot was to take place. We talked some more and then got started. The first shots involved some wool which was twisted around me in a full body version of 'cat's cradle'. Then we went into the garden without the wool for a few headshots and afterwards, we went round the corner to a huge deserted church next to two beautiful town houses and wandered into the churchyard where I quickly undressed and posed against the beautifully old stone and flint walls. 

By then, the light was going and it was at that point I mentioned the railway shot. 

The shot above of my legs is beautiful and I love the light on my face in the close-up below but I had to choose the railway shot for my project didn't I?

Look again at the hand on the track. Wonderful. These were all part of one of the most inspiring set of photographs I have ever received. They all had something - something loving and earnest and real. You cannot just pretend to be like that, you have to feel it in your bones as Jacqui does.

We have talked of working together again. Yes please.