Friday, 12 June 2015

FITZROVIA CHAPEL by Claude Savona

FITZROVIA CHAPEL by Claude Savona

One evening in 1962, when I was 11 years old, a stray dog walked into our front garden of our house in Finchley. My mother was on her way back from work as a hairdresser in Fetter Lane and, as usual, my eldest sister Janet was looking after the rest of us i.e. my twin, Sally, and my younger sister, Corinne. Anthony was away at boarding school. We were very excited about this dog. It may be because our own pet dog, Dinah, had died not long before. When my mother returned, Janet was telling her all about it in the hall as we listened over the bannister and my mother told Janet to go upstairs and get us into bed. We all charged back to our bedrooms but, as I dashed across the landing, I tripped on the threadbare carpet and fell smack against the side of my door. Janet came up to me. My nose was bleeding heavily - Janet said it seemed to be broken. My mother called a taxi and I was taken to the local A & E and they confirmed it was broken. Shortly after, I was taken to Middlesex Hospital and a surgeon said he thought it was ''worth a tweak'' by which he meant resetting it - normally they waited until a boy stopped growing at 18 before resetting it. When I was admitted for the operation, I was introduced to the Matron who happened to be a cousin of my mother's, Priscilla Cooper. Whilst I was there, on Sunday I attended Holy Communion in the hospital chapel. This chapel. Years before, my father had been treated in the hospital for his lung cancer but no avail. He died in 1953 when I was two years old. Then, years later, in 1996, my sister Janet received some disastrous laser treatment for her breast cancer, again to no avail. I remember walking past the chapel and recalling my visit there some 34 years previously. 

The old Middlesex Hospital

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, Claude's idea initially was to photograph me in a hospital and he suggested The National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Queens Square in London where I had my Deep Brain Stimulation operation but I didn't feel right about that somehow no matter how much I had enjoyed my stay there. We then discussed a museum as a possible location perhaps with a medical connection but that came to nothing. Finally, I suggested a church on the basis that Jesus was a saviour and DBS had saved me and also we could keep the medical connection if we were able to shoot in a hospital chapel. Then I had a brainwave - there was a chapel in Middlesex Hospital with which I had so many connections and so I googled Middlesex Hospital but found it had closed in December 2005 (a month after my diagnosis)  and had subsequently been demolished.........apart from the Chapel! I then discovered the Chapel had been restored and was to be taken over by the Fitzrovia Trust and that the Chairman of the Trustees was a guy called Edward Turner whose email address and telephone number were on the Trust's website. This sort of personal contact information is not always made public and it indicated that Edward was an approachable person. How right I was. He answered my email immediately and then passed me on to Craig Peniston who worked for the company which had developed the site and he said they would very happy for Claude and I to work in the Chapel. 

An early service

Within a couple of days, we were there. It was weird walking down Mortimer Street and for the hospital not to be there. I met Claude in the reception of the new office building which had replaced it and then we both met Craig, a tall friendly man who took us round the corner to this utterly beautiful building. Everything in it had been meticulously restored - the stunning marble walls and alter,  the mosaic floor and the amazing ceiling covered in gold. I felt so privileged to be there. Claude photographed me on his film camera and, over a period of almost three hours, we tried various shots and angles. Afterwards, we had lunch and enthused over what we had achieved. Claude sent me some rough contact sheets and the photographs were universally excellent but gradually I realised that the more relaxed poses and close-ups, however good they were (and they were very good), were not right for the project. It had to be a shot which reflected the magnificence of the Chapel and its significance in my life and so this was the one. My pose is relaxed, not too formal but respectful. The Chapel looks incredible. I could not have planned the shot better and we were both very pleased with this. 

The Hospital site after demolition with the Chapel remaining

Some times I am approached by photographers rather than the other way round and so it was with Claude who was recommended to me by Christina Theissen, another great photographer who had assisted Jillian Edelstein on the "Brook Shoot" and who had photographed me herself (we have not yet decided on which image of hers will be represented in the project).  He was born in Malta which coincidentally is where my DBS surgeon came from. We met in a Shoreditch cafe and I found him to be an interesting companion. He is quite reserved but quite quickly sheds his diffidence and opens up, his conversation becoming more animated as he begins to express himself. I like him a lot. During the shoot, he worked carefully and methodically  and welcomed any suggestions by me very readily and selflessly. And he produced a superb image as you can see. 

The Chapel on stilts

Who would have thought that the 11 year old boy kneeling in the pew in the Chapel in 1962 nursing a recently tweaked broken nose, would return 53 years later and be photographed there, in the one part of the old Middlesex Hospital that miraculously still exists? And all because of an old stray dog. 

WEBSITE: http://claudesavona.com

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