Sunday, 29 March 2015

PERFECTION by Marta Kochanek

PERFECTION by Marta Kochanek

Marta has now sent me the remaining images from our shoot in March including this beautiful photograph. This says everything about her skill and and love of her art and of people and our professional relationship. She is fearless and committed and she makes me feel so in tune with her during a shoot that I relax totally and I know for certain that she will produce perfection - not in every shot but each shot is taking her closer to the perfect image and this is it.

I would travel any where and at any time to be photographed by Marta. I shall never forget seeing her lovely smiling face as she opened the door of her studio and let me in - I had not seen her for about 4 years but her eyes and her smile were infused with enthusiasm and excitement. And look at this photograph. The light is gorgeous and my skin looks beautiful. My thoughts seem to be looking beyond the room but in reality they are there intermingling with Marta's vision which is being fully realised in this one shot. 


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Marta Kochanek, one of the great photographers.




I wake at about 5.30am and take my medication, "my little beauties" as I used to call them, I go downstairs to watch the highlights of the England football game which was played last night but which I missed, willingly sacrificing the pleasure of watching Harry Kane, "one of our own", making his debut in order to take Jane out to dinner and have a serious talk. Of course, our 'Arry scores. I creep back upstairs to wash and the bedroom door is open. Jane wants to be sure that I say goodbye before I leave to catch the train to Birmingham.  I wash, I shave, I clean my teeth, I dress and I smell the soft familiar mugginess of sleep on Jane as she stretches up that elegant neck of hers into a soft farewell kiss. There is wisp of warmth in the air as I step outside and run to catch the Number 6 bus to the station where I collect my tickets to Birmingham New Street.

Why Birmingham? Because over the past few weeks I have nagged away at Marta to photograph me again. She photographed me in 2011 and we had such fun that day with flour and water and complete and utter abandon. Yet, no matter how delirious the shoot is with Marta, she is always running to a well thought out plan; a plan that still allows some improvisation, some high jinks and laughter. 

The rest of my journey is unremarkable except that I read that the Agnes Varda is coming to the Brighton Festival and I try in vain to book some tickets over the telephone. 

As I emerge from the packed New Street station in Birmingham I feel Marta pulling me to her like a magnet. I am a little lost and so I ask a flower seller to direct me to Snow Hill where I am to catch the Metro to the Jewellery Quarter. A man handing out MacDonalds vouchers near a surprisingly small cathedral redirects me (in return for a voucher) and, for a return trip to the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham, I pay the princely sum of £2. It feels like a special gift to me to charge that small amount to travel where I want to go. I arrive and share the lift with a fellow passenger, an old woman, whom I ask to direct me to Vyse Street - it is the road abutting the station exit. I find the address within moments and Marta comes tumbling down the stairs to hug me. She shows me into her studio and immediately it feels right. She introduces me to Barbara, another Polish photographer, who shares her studio and I accept her offer of a cup of tea. As I settle down on the bright green setee, the tea arrives in the most exquisite cup and saucer with jug and sugar bowl to match. Marta explains that these were a gift from her grandmother and immediately I want to be transported to Poland to meet her and the rest of Marta's family. Marta is ready to go but she has allocated time to catch up on the last four years. She talks about the development of her work and finding the studio with the magnolia paint on the ceiling and I talk about the the progress of the project. Marta asks after Jane.

But we both want to get started. Marta has asked me to bring a coat and a hat and I assumed incorrectly that some of the shots would be clothed. However, she asks me to undress and, as four years ago, I do not put on my clothes until the last shot is taken. Every shot is pre-planned and logged in Marta's head and she introduces each pose with a glint of delight in her eyes. She loves what she does. She talks intermittently of directing clients who come to her studio and I realise that the student I met before has become the teacher. Marta Kochanek was always going to succeed. I make the odd small suggestion after she shows me how she wants me to sit, to stand, to lean, to lie, to look whilst she and Barbara move props and platforms, a curtain and the setee around the room. 

Marta and me by Barbara Gibson

There is nothing negative about Marta - everything is possible. We have a cup of coffee, again served in her grandmother;s cup and I make a joke about stealing them before I go. It is time to go and I hug Marta once again, even harder than before. I need to take some of her positive energy away with me. I hug my new friend, Barbara, too and wish her well with her English which she is slowly but surely finding the confidence to speak. As I leave, Marta asks me to give her love to Jane whom she has never met although I know they would like each other. I arrive home and text to tell her that I have reached Brighton safely as she insisted I did. Before I turn off the computer, there is a rush of tweets with two photographs of the day and then, in the morning an email with her thanks and, as she promised, a photograph of the cup and saucer. The wind rushes and whistles against the window as I write this. Marta is waking and maybe has already got up to look at the photographs from the shoot that she has decided to edit. I feel a connection across the country from my brain to hers. I feel a deep friendship. A respect. Love and understanding.
Our Selfie

Monday, 16 March 2015

SINKING 1 by Elissa Jane Diver

SINKING 1 by Elissa Jane Diver
(Direct Positive Silver Gelatin Paper. Unique print, 5 x 4in)

Sometimes, I sink under the weight of irrational thoughts and fears, and I write about them. Rarely, if ever, do I read them again but if I do, I hardly recognise myself; by then I have moved on and the action or words or rather, paranoia, which caused the mental aberration have slid away. It is the act of writing which helps me deal with the situation - the words are not significant. I file these pieces in a folder under the title "Sinking" and, when I was searching for a title for the final images produced by Elissa, "Sinking" seemed apposite. I do sink from time to time but it doesn't last long and eventually I emerge from the darkness. 

Elissa Jane Diver must be one of the most committed artists I have encountered during this project. She will not stop until she has produced the image which satisfies her, until she has been able to fully express her feelings about the subject.We met after our initial introduction by email and we talked at length about her ideas

We arranged the first shoot on the beach very early one morning. Elissa set up her camera on a tripod on the end of a stone groyne leading into the sea. Unfortunately, the groyne was also occupied by a fisherman and, as I was going to be naked, I felt I ought to ask if he minded if we took some photographs. ''Yeah, I do'' he replied rather gruffly. I told Elissa and she moved her camera off the groyne and onto the pebbles. I walked into the sea and waited for her to take the photograph which she did. She was intending to take more but, by this time, our angler friend had packed up all his kit and I saw him approach Elissa as he began to engage her in an unwanted conversation, the duration of which continued to lengthen until I felt I had no option but to come out of the sea. The guy turned out to be quite personable in a quietly weird sort of way but the spell was broken and Elissa and I agreed to abandon the shoot. 

I felt responsible because I had effectively asked his permission to take the photographs although afterwards I did think that perhaps he thought I might have been asking if we could photograph him and that was why he minded. I apologised to Elissa and she said that it was a strange shoot but she didn't see it as my fault that it didn't go to plan. She explained that the way she looked at things was that if they don't go to plan, it is for a reason and this led her on to thinking that maybe it was a sign that she should have followed her original instinct to photograph me emerging from/merging into the darkness. She felt now that was what she would like to do. 

I had no idea how wonderful those images would turn out.


SINKING 2 by Elissa Jane Diver

SINKING 2 by Elissa Jane Diver
(Direct Positive Silver Gelatin Paper. Unique print, 5 x 4in)

Why did I choose Elissa to photograph me and why have I included a second photograph by her in my project. I shall answer the second question first - because I could not choose between them both. They were each of them too good to reject. This one tells more of being submerged, of falling, of sinking.

After our false start on the beach (see previous post), Elissa decided to go into the studio to replicate what she had been experimenting with already. She had developed the photograph of me in the sea but her initial reaction was "What is that man doing in my seascape??" I liked it when Elissa showed it to me but it did not work for her. So, in one of the coldest studios I have ever been in, we started working on these images but Elissa was not satisfied with the results so we moved on to another studio, this time at the University where Elissa had recently completed her BA. Immediately, I could see that Elissa was more relaxed and in the groove in an environment she knew and loved. I think we tried some shots standing up against a black backdrop and then lying down and it was when I was lying down that I adopted this pose. Again, Elissa felt that she could improve on what she had done and we returned to the same studio some weeks later but by this time, Elissa knew just what she was after and I knew that she knew and Elissa knew that I knew that she knew. Enough.

What is it about this photograph that I like so much? I am completely bare, giving myself up to my fate, sinking into oblivion in slow motion.but, at the same time, luxuriating in the moment as my left hand drags across my chest. My body twitching at the sensuality of the fall as my skin brushes against the darkness and an invisible force drags me down into the abyss. Indeed, is it my hand on my chest or is it the hand of one of those who inhabit the underworld waiting for someone like me to fall and be swallowed up like a dead leaf being dragged into the earth by a worm? It is a gorgeous image. I love it. I love them both. For what they say and what they do not say. For what they show and what they do not show.

This is the answer to the first question. 

The photographs were taken on Direct Positive Paper loaded into a 5 x 4 camera. The exposures were long as the paper reacts more slowly to the light than film.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


BOX by Liz Orton
I am giving a talk on my project, "Over the HIll" at 6.45pm on Tuesday 17th March 2015 at The City of London & Cripplegate Photographic Society a St Joseph's Church Hall Lamb's Passage London EC1Y 8EL. 

I shall be showing about 30 photographs and 3 films during the first part of the evening and then there will be a Q&A session and discussion in the second part.

Non-members are welcome but there will be a small charge (No, I don't know how much but it will be small) on the door

Friday, 6 March 2015

TRANQUILITY by Celine Marchbank

TRANQUILITY by Celine Marchbank
I liked Celine's work a lot when I first looked at her website after coming across her name on Twitter but it was the way she talked about her late mother that affected me particularly. I wrote and told her so and explained that my late sister had died in the month of October, although many years before her mother who had also died in the month of October. Nothing especially significant in that except Celine loved her mother and I loved my sister, Janet, and when one knows that someone else has experienced the same loss, there is an immediate connection. I don't know. Somehow, it was important.

The shoot was arranged quite quickly and on 6th March 2015, Celine arrived on our doorstep. Her eyes said a lot about her sensitivity and calmness and it did not surprise me to hear that two of her photographer friends were Laura Hynd who had photographed me in 2011 and Briony Campbell who had photographed me in 2014 as both Laura and Briony are thoughtful and empathetic people. We chatted with Jane for a short while and then I showed her around the house and she plumped for our sitting room as a suitable location. I am in the process of making a special film for Easter one scene of which was going to involve a jigsaw - I say 'was' because I am not a jigsaw person and so, based on my progress so far, I think this jigsaw scene may have to wait until 2016. Anyway, Celine was happy to record me puzzling over it whilst I chatted about various things - family, possessions, previous shoots. 

It was a very laidback and quiet shoot and we both knew when it had come to the end. Normally, I can be quite frustrated that I have to stop but this time it didn't seem to matter so much. The morning just rolled out like a rug and when the last bit flopped down with the last click of Celine's camera, we stood back and thought "Yeah, that will do". Celine indulged me by watching some of my films afterwards and then she left as quietly and unobtrusively as she had arrived.

A couple of weeks passed. I received a set of five photographs all the same, all different, all beautiful. I could have chosen any one of them and it would have been the perfect choice. I wrote to say that I was very pleased and very proud of Celine, her work and the image that I had chosen. She replied approving my choice and she ended her message by saying that she hoped our paths cross again at some point. They might do. They might not. But what a nice thing to hope for.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

ROGER A. DESTROYER by Stewart Weir

ROGER A. DESTROYER by Stewart Weir

Many years ago, Jane and I were having dinner with two of our greatest friends, whose names will not be divulged in order to protect the innocent. Anyway, these two friends, Helen and Nick, produced a book of weird real names one of which was "Roger A. Destroyer". So he is out there somewhere. Following this discovery, I began to write to to Helen and Nick as Roger who gradually evolved into this ex-Army colonial guy with a bad-tempered, suspicious wife. Then I discovered You Tube and Roger became an overnight sensation over night, racking up as many as 45 views per film. Viral was not the word - in fact more of a small sniffle than a virus. Nevertheless, Roger carried on undaunted and soon he became the regular host of the Christmas and Easter specials produced by Ravenswood Films and, in so doing, cornered the ex-Army colonial market in seasonal film specials. In fact, I don't know why I am bothering to write all this as he is now so well known.

Seriously, I am very fond of Roger because he is a thoroughly likeable person. So when Stewart suggested that he photograph Roger, I was elated. So, where did Stewart come from? Well, unusually, I was approached by him rather than the other way round. First of all, in July 2014, he wrote to a photographer who had already photographed me and his message was forwarded on to me. But that was a slightly strange time for me because I had only come out of hospital about six weeks before and I was feeling a bit odd and lacking in confidence and so Stewart became lost in a morass of unanswered correspondence. But Stewart did not give up: he wrote to Jane asking her to ask me to contact him and contact him I did and we set up a meeting in cafe where we talked about the project and his enthusiasm for it. He is such a nice bloke and so I knew that we would have a good shoot. I cannot remember how Roger Destroyer became the focus of our collaboration but, in the weeks that followed, we exchanged emails about a possible location for Roger to be photographed but this never really came to anything and eventually, we ended up agreeing that Roger should be captured in his own habitat - my house.

On the day of the shoot, Stewart arrived, raring to go. I showed him around the house and he went for the basement first because of the lovely gentle light down there. He wanted to experiment and we talked about various poses, both topless and clothed and ended up with me naked and screaming silently, raging against my illness and we checked the images in the back of the camera and they really worked well. 

But Roger was waiting in the wings and we went into the sitting room for those and I have to say that these worked superbly. Stewart really understood Roger and my fondness for him and I think he has captured the essence of the man wonderfully well in this shot. And, by then, we were both more relaxed having got some good shots already under our belts. Stewart sent me a selection very soon after the shoot - in fact I  think it was the next day -  he doesn't let the grass grow under his feet - and they were good, very good but there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that Roger was going to be Stewart's contribution to my project. I am always impressed by how good photographers capture the inner truth of the person whose portrait they are taking and this is no exception. Yes, I am not really Roger but he is real to me and Stewart recognised this and has produced this wonderful image. I am so proud of this.

Stewart Weir :

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A PINTOF BEER by Kathy Archbold

A PINT OF BEER by Kathy Archbold

If I go into a pub for a drink, I have to order a pint of beer. Not a half pint, not a glass of wine or a soft drink but a PINT of BEER. There are some great London pubs and this was a nice one on Vauxhall Bridge Road in Victoria but I regret that I cannot recall its name. If I do remember or if I come across the pub again, I shall amend this post. 

I saw Kathy's work on Flickr in 2011 and I wrote to her and she agreed to photograph me but, at the time, we were right in the middle of moving to Brighton and so the email correspondence got buried under all the stuff that surrounds a move. But I saw some of her work again in early 2014 and I was reminded of her talent. She has an eye for people and places, a more colourful and optimistic celebration of today's Britain than that displayed by more celebrated photographers (I can think of one in particular) but maybe that has something to do with her own tendency to look for what is good and bright and hopeful in our world rather than for what is coarse, depressing and dull. Both attitudes are valid but I know which one I prefer. Kathy and I met outside WH Smiths on Victoria Station and went round the corner for a coffee where we chatted and got to know each other. She told me about her celebrity cat who paid for his keep with his pictures on Getty Images. She told me about how she got into photography in the first place and her subsequent career which took her to New York for a while. Now and again, she raised one of her cameras (she had both a film camera and a digital version) and clicked.  She asked me to stand by a glass partition. I didn't really feel I was posing which was fortunate because often I am uncomfortable when I am photographed in public. 
The Glass Partition shot

We then left the station concours and wandered down towards the river and stopped at various places on the way where Kathy took photographs of me in front of buildings which she would have photographed anyway, if I had not been there. By  now, it was getting a bit chilly and so we ducked into the nearest pub after a couple more shots and thereby abandoned our trip to the Thames. We both had a drink and this is where this shot was taken. What do I like about this shot? Well, I have my pint of beer. I am smiling. I like the red leather of the armchair next to me contrasting with the blues and the browns. My left hand is hovering at the edge of the table, ready to pick up the glass. I like the light coming in through the window but most of all I like the photograph because it reminds me of Kathy who was a real pleasure to meet and spend time with. She illuminates ordinary things and makes the world a better place in the process. No one else other than Kathy could have taken this picture because no one else apart from Kathy would have elicited such an expression on my face.

She sent me about five shots afterwards - she wasn't entirely sure about the shot in front of the glass partition on the station because of her doubts as to the layering and maybe because of this uncertainty on her part, I didn't choose it but looking at it again, it is an excellent shot. Kathy was particularly taken by the woman in the red coat behind me who, due to the layering, appears twice.

Well, there we are -  Kathy Archbold. Good isn't she?