Tuesday, 12 May 2015

SAME DIFFERENCE by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Number One


On her website, Louise Haywood-Schiefer (officially one of the nicest people I have ever met) says that, through working with with photographers like Pal Hansen and Gemma Day, she found that she was able to marry her sociable nature and fascination with people' characters with her love of photography and so began to specialise in Portraits. And her nature is sociablE with a capital E. It is interesting that I found her in Time Out because that is where all this started in May 2007 when I answered an advertisement placed by Graeme Montgomery who wanted models to pose for a book of "real" nudes (as opposed to professional models). I looked up her work on her website and I loved her portraiture, often if not exclusively using natural light and in every photograph, the subject appeared to be having a great time. And I thought, I want to have that sort of great time too and so I wrote to her. 

Number Two

She replied positively and pointed out that she had assisted Pal Hansen quite often but, for some reason, she had not done so on the day of my shoot with him in 2011. She said that she would give the shoot some thought and then come back to me. Well, she kept me waiting for another ten days but then came up with what turned out to be a brilliant idea. This is what she wrote:-

.......It seems to me that so many people have taken your portrait and imposed their own ideas on you, but maybe the way they picture you isn't necessarily the way you see yourself so I would like to explore that idea a little and thought that perhaps we could take your portrait together. Yesterday I had some spare time before a job in Margate so visited the 'Self Portrait' exhibition at the Turner gallery. Whilst there it struck me that it could be an interesting experiment for you to take your portrait of how you see yourself, and then I could take a portrait of you that is either displayed side by side or double exposed on top.

Perhaps we could set up the camera in a fixed spot with fixed focus, then I would leave the room and you could have as much time as you need to take 5 images of yourself, of how you see yourself I suppose. You could be clothed on one or all, nude, wearing different guises, standing or sitting, crying, laughing, whatever you wanted. Then you would return to exactly the clothes you were wearing when I left and I would then proceed to take my five frames without looking at what you had already taken, again I might change your outfit midway through if it was relevant. The images would be used in sequence either side by side or double exposed over the top of what you had already taken.

It's kind of an experiment really, to see if my fleeting understanding of you after meeting just once, is similar to how you see yourself. We could impose a time limit of  up to an hour, for me to complete my five frames, which would allow us time to have a chat in the interim.
I would want it to be collaborative though.......

Number Three

And collaborative it was. I gave this suggestion a great deal of thought (about three seconds) and replied that I would love to do and we set up a shoot at the house of a friend of hers who lives near Crystal Palace. I felt it should be somewhere neutral and she felt that it should have the feeling of "home"and this fitted both bills.

Number Four

So, the day I walked into this flat, I met Louise for the first time although she explained that, in fact, she had seen me o the Tube a few weeks previously. She gave me a very warm welcome and we were friends immediately. We both admitted that we were nervous but also that we were very excited. We had a coffee to help us calm down and we talked about what we were going to do. She had set up a mini studio in her friend's sitting room and had taped a small area in the corner by the window where I was to stand - she then checked the focus again and finally, eventually, well, she left me on my own (gulp). 

Number Five

I had thought about my poses and all I had decided was to dance in one and be nude in at least one other. I plugged in my ipod shuffle and found "Dreamer" by Supertramp which I love to dance to but when I pointed the remote control at the camera, it didn't work. It tried it again and again and then it clicked and so the first shot shows me looking genuinely worried - not posed at all - and so it is completely unique in that respect. The next shot was ok and by then I was dancing although I felt slightly constrained by having to point the remote control at the camera. For the third and fourth shots, I thought I would first lean against the wall, clothed, and then adopt the same position naked.  The fifth shot was also naked and for that I pressed myself against the wall. All the time, I was conscious of Louise waiting in the other room and also I had this feeling that the camera was watching me so, even when I wasn't pressing the shutter, I felt like I was being examined. Then I moved the chair into the taped off area and crouched and looked into the lens. I knew I should try to relax but I was driven on to the next shot where I turned my back and tensed all my puny muscles into a sort of agonised pose flicking the remote control over my shoulder. The next shot was more of the same but this time I knelt down on the floor. 

Number Six

That was enough nakedness. I put on my jeans and tried to look powerful and menacing and that was it. It could only have taken about fifteen minutes at the most. I felt very strange - as if I had been caught out and that there was nothing I could do to rectify the situation.The pictures were on that camera and Louise would be exposing them to the world very soon indeed. And yet, how exciting is that? Through Louise, I had taken some of the most honest self portraits I had ever done and, when I called her back into the room, I felt almost euphoric.
Number Seven

Of course, then the pressure was on Louise. It was odd that I had had my photograph taken by 339 photographers and Louise had taken thousands of professional photographs and yet here we were in a real state over this. Louise asked me to put on the jacket I was wearing when I arrived and to hold my bag and so that was her first picture. Then we chatted. Before, over our coffee, she had started to ask me about how the whole project began but then stopped me and said that could wait until later and so she asked me again to talk about the beginning but of course, she had to rein in her normal practice of clicking away as I talked. She restricted herself to three of those clicks and then asked me to put on a different jacket and trousers and to come to the front of my little space and lean forward. Then she liked the way I put my hand to my face and she asked me to do that again but to be menacing. I removed my jacket at her request and leaned back against the wall and I think this was when she captured me making a funny face about the awkwardness of the situation. The last two were more normal. One leaning against the wall and smiling and then finally, looking out of the window and thinking of something very pleasant. And that was it. 

Number Eight

Of course, we were desperate to look at them and so we skedaddled back to the kitchen like a couple of kids to look at them on her laptop. It was fascinating and even more so when she put our respective shots side by side in the order in which they were taken at the same time discovering that we had taken the same number of shots. They all seemed to work so well together. I tried to choose one set that I liked best of all and so did Louise but I realised that they all had to be included and, if they are ever exhibited, they should be together in one frame. Well, we had done it. We both felt a real sense of achievement but there was one more thing to do - take a picture of us both together. We returned to the space and Louise suggested a Kung Fu Kick Boxing type pose. 

Number Nine

And that was it - a thoroughly fulfilling experience with a thoroughly nice person. I am so bloody lucky meeting and working with people like Louise. We had a quick look at one of my films, with her friend who by then had returned from her pregnancy yoga class, and then said goodbye and wandered back to Gipsy Hill train station. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and I was smiLing.......with a capital L. 

Me and Louise

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