Wednesday, 30 March 2016

BODY by Paloma Tendero

BODY by Paloma Tendero

14th January 2015 - The market in Brixton is a mass of colour and shape - shiny bulbous avocado pears waiting for your teeth to sink into its ripe flesh, thick orange rods of carrot, melons like rugby balls that, no matter how hard you try, will drip their sweet sticky juice over your chin as you try to suck and bite and swallow all at the same time, rows of fresh silver-green trout which even the fish monger has to pick up one at a time because of its protective cover of slime, crusty loaves of bread longing for a knob of butter to sink into the hot pillow of dough inside and, tucked away in between these delicacies, just to calm you down is a shop full of religious artefacts such as creamy birth candles, statues of the Virgin Mary, multicoloured rosary beads and bejewelled crucifixes. I find that I cannot rush through this throbbing palette of sensuality without wanting to buy something, anything, to take home and cut or peel, lick or swallow, hold or stroke. Somehow, I avoid sating this desire but it helps that I am late for a shoot at PhotoFusion and that I have forgotten to bring directions with me. I try to remember the last time I was here when I gave a talk on my project and the lovely Peter Dazeley, Jillian Edelstein, Emma Critchley, Laura Pannack, Jocelyn Allen and Clare Hewitt also spoke. Eventually, I find the building and the right door to the studio after asking the receptionist in the gallery for directions. I notice, out of the corner of my eye, that there is an exhibition which looks interesting. The shoot is with Amit Lennon which will be the subject of another post once I receive his photographs but Amit recommends that I take time to look at the photographs on show in the gallery and I do and there, amongst some excellent work, is a wonderful self portrait by Paloma Tendero. I am drawn to it immediately. It reminds me of my own self portraiture which it is not anywhere near as good as this but it is the shape of Paloma's body which is so arresting. It is not a picture of sexuality but of architectural form and, the more I look, the less of a body it becomes. It is a landscape of curves and shadows formed by flesh and bone and muscle, painted with natural light. I note down Paloma's name, thank the receptionist a second time and hurry back to the Tube station via the market which somehow doesn't feel so alluring.

The next day, I look at Paloma's work on the internet and it is all self portraiture. I question whether she will be interested after all but I write to her in hope and she replies a few days later, speaking enthusiastically about my project and, although she mentions that she does not normally work with other people, she suggests that we meet to discuss a possible collaboration. By this time, I am not well and this and other things get in the way of arranging a meeting. By this time, I am seriously thinking of bringing the project to an end and, finally, something tips it over the edge and I tell Paloma that we shall have to do it soon. Very kindly, she brings her suggested dates forward and she comes all the way down to Brighton to say hello and talk about her work. A week later, she meets me off the train at West Norwood and we go to her flat which she is sharing with a lovely man, Eduardo, who hugs me hello and goodbye after chatting briefly about acting and performing. As Paloma makes a coffee, she tells me that she has made a spanish omelette for our lunch and I tell her that I LOVE spanish omelettes. She then shows me the installation she has created in the sitting room made of wool and thread based on the image of brain cells she had found and, as she talks, she finishes off knitting a shawl of different shades of green. I take off my clothes and this is the tricky bit. I am not Paloma. Normally, she would nip into the installation, take the photograph with a remote control and nip back to the camera and move things about, change her shape, alter the settings but she now has another person to consider. Me.  

I begin to feel a tension as we both struggle with our new roles but, in a way, this adds to the excitement. I sit on the stool and bury my head on my chest and put my hands on the wall with fingers outstretched. Paloma asks me to clench my fists and Paloma murmurs her approval. I suggest that I step into the criss cross of threads and adopt different poses but it doesn't seem to work. Paloma is used to herself making little comments but not a second person. It must be like her working away on her own and someone suddenly striding into her studio and saying "Oh, why don't you do this?" just as a train of thought is beginning to form in her head. I don't know whether I consciously decide to stop suggesting but slowly we both relax and it is then that she asks me to return to the stool and my pose with head buried and fists clenched. This was the pose and we stuck to that as she re-arranges the crocheted scarf over my back and tucks it under my bottom. Suddenly, my body isn't my body - it is just a body being manoeuvred to produce the required shape. I'm not asked to think, I am asked to lift my arm, bend my back or hold some thread and it begins to work as an extended self portrait. 

Paloma sent me two images. They both worked but I asked her to choose the one for the project and she did. She said afterwards that she enjoyed the challenge and that it was interesting to experience this with another person. I really like the image. It is a nude of shape. My arms could be deformed legs. I could be balancing on my neck. The more you look the more strange it becomes. And yet, this image contains an emotion and a spirit that is completely absent in the portrayals of nudity in fashion, advertisements and the glamour industries. Our body-house, as Paloma has described it, is all we have, with its faults and blemishes and diseases and we have to do the best we can with it as indeed Paloma did with mine to produce a great photograph of beauty and light, colour and shape, passion and strength.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

TENDERNESS by Peter Zelewski

TENDERNESS by Peter Zelewski
On 12th November 2015, I went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Taylor Wessing Exhibition. Normally, I have a quick swish round and then I start again and I take my time to look at each of the pictures and let them sink in. This time, however, I screeched to a halt, mid-swish, when I saw a beautiful photograph "Nyaueth" by a guy called Peter Zelewski. It was almost the perfect portrait; the face of the subject at first appeared blank and devoid of emotion but, I wondered, if that was the case, why was I drawn to it? I realised that there was a huge emotive force behind her eyes which the photographer had somehow brought out by blotting out the background apart from its colours and vague shapes, in order to concentrate on her eyes, her mouth, her skin, her hair. Everything about her breathed out from the photograph. I was seriously impressed. I noticed that it had been awarded Third Prize in the competition but for me, this, this was the winner.

So, what to do? I hummed and hesitated and wondered whether I should contact I didn't - I wrote to him straightaway telling him he should have won and, of course, asking him if he might be willing to photograph me. He responded positively and enthusiastically. His first thought when he received my email was to shoot me in the same way as he had shot other people for his "Beautiful Strangers" collection. It was my admiration for these pictures which prompted me to write to him in the first place so this was fine by me. Then in the middle of emailing back and forth, we met at the opening of the Portrait Salon exhibition but as with all those occasions, it was short and sweet.

Finally, on Sunday 20th March 2016, we had our shoot. I travelled up to London from Brighton and, because of weekend improvement works, partly by bus and train which I found quite relaxing i.e. I fell asleep on the bus and the train. We met near Goodge Street station where, several decades ago, when I was seven years old, I was brought by my sister, Janet, to have physiotherapy on my right hand after I had contracted Polio which fortunately only affected the muscle in my right thumb. For those who have always wondered (no-one, I guess), that is why I bat right handed and bowl and throw left handed. In all three cases, not very well. Peter approached me in the cafe where I had been waiting with a lovely smile. He is a very winning person. He exudes goodwill and positive vibes. He dresses well too, wearing a neat close fitting jacket, neat trousers and very attractive brown shoes (sneakers?). He was very attentive about my ability to walk to the location but genuinely so but I told him I was fine and talked about the shoot I had had nearby with Claude Savona in Fitzrovia Chapel. The location was perfect - a small cul-de-sac of mews house. We spent about 15 minutes there and then moved on to a small narrow passageway for about another 15 minutes. Finally, we ended up here wherever here is because, by then, I had lost my sense of direction but it was somewhere near Tottenham Court Road. We were interrupted by a man who described himself as a celebrity chef who also wanted to be photographed but Peter suggested, very kindly and gently, that the guy moved along and waited round the corner until we had finished but we never saw him again. Then, a pretty girl walked past who Peter recognised as someone he had photographed a couple of years before. She was pleasantly surprised but Peter's love of his work is such that he would remember. He again focused his attention on me and his murmurs of approval about these shots were appreciably higher than in the previous two locations and he showed me the pictures on the camera screen. They looked wonderful. He had intended to move on to a final location but, as he told me with a very satisfied smile, he had already got what he wanted so there was no need - it was in the bag. 

The photograph he sent me was the last one he took - the one which was exactly what he was aiming for. As he said, I chose this one because it is simple, direct, impactful and very honest. When I first received an email from you months ago, and checked out some of your previous images, this shot represents exactly how I knew envisioned photographing you. I’m thrilled that yesterday that became a reality. Funnily enough, it is the last shot from yesterdays shoot which doesn’t surprise me because I knew when I saw this one in my viewfinder there was no point in taking any further images."

He is right. He seems to find the essence of the person he is photographing and without any frills or props or poses, he draws that out and presents the almost perfect portrait. I pondered on using the word "almost" but I guess that Peter, like all truly great artists, is continually searching for the perfect image and that, if he ever found it, he would have to give up because he had achieved perfection. I don't want him to stop and he clearly doesn't want to stop so "almost" it is but it is mighty close.

We had a coffee in a nearby cafe which he very kindly paid for and we talked about his work and my project and twenty minutes whizzed by. And then we went our separate ways and I gave him a hug which I hoped said "Thank you, that was a great shoot and you are a lovely person and I think your work is supreme" but, if I failed to indicate that, then all I can say is Thank you, Peter, that was a great shoot and you are a lovely person and I think you work is supreme.



Friday, 18 March 2016

A DAY OUT by Eleanor Hones

A DAY OUT by Ellie Hones

So, there I was on a grey day in March, sitting in my armchair on the beach with my gumboots on, minding my own business when this photographer comes along and photographs me - bloody cheek! If you can't do a bit of sunbathing without a camera being shoved in your face, what hope is there? I blame the EU.

Actually, I was there at the invitation of Ellie Hones, an extremely talented photographer who I found through Free Range, the collection of Degree shows comprising images displayed at the Truman Brewery Building by the final year photography students at various British universities. Her work included a collection of nude photographs which explored the idea of identity and how it is affected by social and environmental factors; by presenting the nude in nature, she intended to remove the constructed elements of one's identity. This was a collaboration though - everything was her idea but I brought my wellies to wear as I wanted to keep my feet dry after a recent attack of Cellulitis.

Ellie was very conscientious following my original approach and clearly she had carried out a lot of research before asking me to answer some searching questions about my life, work, the project and nudity. In fact, her main idea was to photograph me clothed but said that it would be great to try a few shots of me in the nude - apart from the boots of course. She intended to use a medium format camera as she loved not only the square format but also the feel of shooting in film. She noticed that, with the previous images on Identity, water was a key factor. She explained that this came about following a talk by Grayson Perry when he said that we are like cliffs and that every time the sea hits the cliff, it removes a layer and gradually reveals our truer self. 

I gave Ellie some information about the beach at Southwick which she thought sounded perfect as a location. On the day of the shoot, she went there ahead to set things up and very kindly arranged for me to be collected from home by Hayley Wroe who was assisting her that day. When I arrived at the beach,  Ellie came up to say hello and, as we shook hands, I really felt that we were all in this together. The armchair looked wonderful down by the sea (courtesy of Ellie's father who then disappeared to allow his daughter to get on with it all) and so we were all ready to go but it was bloody cold. Ellie photographed me both in and out of the chair and in and out of the sea and then we did similar shots but with me naked. It was all over quite quickly and I was very touched that they had come all the way over from Bournemouth with an old armchair and all the equipment for little old me. Hayley gave me a lift home and I was able to warm up.

A while later, this photograph arrived from Ellie. I  thought it was quite magnificent. There I am, sitting regally in my armchair surveying my little kingdom with the sea about to arrive and possibly wash away me, my chair and all that identifies me. It looks both bizarre and commonplace. It has a touch of romance and it speaks of hope and endeavour.  And the colours blend perfectly - the grey of the sea and the sky, the rich pointillism of the pebbles, the musty beige armchair, my pale skin and the black of my boots. It all combines to create an image both of grandeur and humility. 


Monday, 14 March 2016

HERE TODAY by Strat Mastoris

HERE TODAY by Strat Mastoris

18th February 2016 - the evening on which Clare Best and I presented "TAKE ME WITH YOU: the Museum of Friendship, Remembrance and Loss" at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS). The event went really well, hampered slightly by the fact that the computer crashed which meant that we could not show the films or photographs or play the music which we had prepared to illustrate the project. Nevertheless, it all went incredibly well because it suddenly became more intimate and, due to the goodwill of the members of the audience, they seemed to identify that much more closely with the issues discussed and explored in the project.

Strat knows Clare and had accepted her invitation to attend and, when I clapped eyes on him, I thought immediately "I know you". He thought the same and we tried to work out where we had met before and finally established that it was probably at the First Night of a play at The Emporium in Brighton where Strat was overseeing the lighting. he had also seen the "Over the Hill" exhibition at Create in the Brighton Photo Fringe in 2014 so he knew about my project already and said that he would love the opportunity to photograph me. Now, normally, I like to look at a photographer's portfolio before I approach him or her but, now and again, I meet someone whose enthusiasm makes the decision for me and so it was in Strat's case although, after agreeing to be photographed by him, I did look at his work and liked what I saw. 

He wrote in some detail with his ideas for the shoot. Basically, they were derived from "Over the Hill" and my collaboration with Clare Best in that what I was trying to achieve in both was to leave some trace of my existence which would survive my own personal mortality. He felt that many people had this need (which he sometimes calls "Pyramid Building") including himself and that was one of the reasons he has a website and a photo archive and why he archives the theatre reviews and other writing he does. So, Strat's idea was to photograph me on the shore with the cliffs as the background which would represent the immensity of geological time and place our short mortal lives into some kind of perspective. 

So, here we are, Strat's take on my mortality. Having recently succumbed to a second bout of Cellulitis plus the fact that it was freezing bloody cold in the north easterly wind, I  really felt in touch with my mortality, especially when we tried the nude shot.  The first pictures were shot on the beach at Peacehaven and then we moved on to Rottingdean for a few more followed by a welcome pint of Harvey's in front of a open fire where we looked back on what we had done that morning and how much we both enjoyed it and we chatted about Strat's father, his Greek heritage, his interest in the Theatre and the written word. It really lifted my spirits after a rotten few days.

Then the photographs arrived - dropped through my door on a memory stick - and my spirits were hoisted up again. I am not entirely sure that I chose the one which Strat liked best but this one just pipped the others post-wise. I felt that a close up was better but I am still dwarfed by the cliffs the luminous white of which contrasts so wonderfully with the deep blue of the sky and the age and structure of the cliffs are also at odds with the man-made concrete steps behind me, placed there for health and safety reasons below a cliff similar to those further to the East where, without any thought of health and safety, some people have decided to end their lives when they wanted to without waiting for the day of a more natural death. My expression has a spontaneity and a directness that challenges the viewer and says "Yes? So, it's a Guardian, so what?" but it also achieves what Strat wanted  - placing me in that spot at that particular moment - my whole body says "Here. Today." and yet I am framed by a different order of time. Wonderful. 

And if I say I really knew you well,
What would your answer be?
If you were here today
                           - Paul McCartney


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

CONTROL by Anja Barte Telin & Moa Thörneby


Incense, singing 'Kyrie Eleison', delivering newspapers, selling ice cream on the beach in the summer, collecting driftwood for the fire on the beach in winter, rushing to get to the pub before 'Time' is called at 2pm, Roast lamb, potatoes and gravy, running to the church with my daughter to shake hands and say "God be with you". Shops closed. No cricket, no football. 

Sundays from my past.

Sunday 6th March 2016. Jane drops me off outside Number 20, Wellington Road, Portslade Harbour at 1pm. I press the buzzer and announce myself, a voice answers but is drowned out by the noise of the traffic. I assume it says that someone will open the door and I wait. After about 40 seconds, the door opens and there are Anja and Moa; strangely, I feel that I know them already. They offer kindly to take my bag but I refuse politely and I follow them down several flights of stairs to their studio. It is compact and ready for our shoot. Their faces betray a curiosity about me and also enthusiasm and excitement. They offer me some tea or coffee and we sit in the communal area normally used by the other artists who occupy the building. Today, it is empty. It is Sunday. The cleaners arrive but we speak above the noise of washing up, sweeping and dusting. We talk for quite some time and their mood is infectious. They are so young. 

Eventually, we move back to the studio and they explain briefly their idea to me. There will be two photographs combined to form one image. For the first image, I am asked to undress to my underpants and they tie strands of wool to my wrists and forearms. Moa takes this picture but Anja is right behind her, her chin sometimes resting on Moa's shoulder. It is clear that work closely together. and they look at each shot together. I am wearing my grandfather's silk top hat. It doesn't fit but it doesn't matter. I hold up each hand as they direct. After about 20 minutes, I dress for the second image. This time, Anja takes over the photographing duties. They tie longer strands of wool to my fingers; they need to be taut and so I suggest that I hold the end of each strand between my knees and it seems to work. I tell them stories of other shoots. We discuss the subject of nudity about which there is a much more relaxed attitude in Sweden, where they come from. 

Then, suddenly, it is over. I have told them already about my films and we watch my stop-motion film, "Good Morning", followed by episodes 7 and 8 of my series, "Morse". The last episode makes them emotional. Of course, I could sit there all day and show them one film after another but I don't. They walk me to the door, again having offered to carry my bag. We kiss goodbye and I catch the bus home. I feel uplifted by the whole experience and I still have this lingering feeling that I knew them before. Maybe we have passed in the street, sat near each other on the beach or stood together at the bar of a pub. Who knows.

Just over 24 hours later, the photograph arrives. I adore it. It is serious, it has humour, it works. I am so impressed. It is a great image, worthy to stand alongside other great photographs in my project. It harks back to the photograph by Natalie Dybisz but this time examines another aspect of my relationship with the child within me. Control. How tenuous is that hold over that part of my nature? Playful, headstrong and immature but, at the same time, fun, free and innocent. Also, my lack of control due to my condition is hinted at. Maybe more than a hint. Maybe not. But, when it comes down to it, it is just a bloody good photograph taken by two talented artists whose youth and enthusiasm for their profession will ensure that they will continue to achieve great success together.

Sunday 6th March 2016. Now past but not forgotten.


Saturday, 5 March 2016

SHADES OF GREY by Martin Usborne

SHADES OF GREY by Martin Usborne

It is Jane's birthday and she has been given a book by her lovely sister, Lisa. They are very alike in some ways, Jane and Lisa - both beautiful, both devoted to their children and both married to really nice guys! There are differences too but they get on very well. Well, this book was about Joseph Markovitch. I can't tell you the title because I cannot type ½. Yes I can because I copied and pasted it. The book was called "I have lived in East London for 86½ years" and was produced by Martin Usborne. I looked at Martin's work that day and it was beautiful. Full of light, full of love, full of interest in his subject. And, yes, you've guessed it, I wrote to him telling him that Jane had been given the book by her sister and that their family on their father's side hailed from Shoreditch and Hoxton and on their mother's side from Stoke Newington. I also bunged in a mention of Muir Vidler because I thought there was a chance that he might know Muir who is based in Hoxton and who, incidentally is a very nice person. 

Well, Martin responded with yes but not yet. I followed this up some months later and he wrote apologising for his rubbishness and saying that he was crap except that he wasn't crap; he was hugely busy and yet still wanted to take time out to photograph me. We agreed to wait until February - as it happened, he kept me waiting until 5th March. The nerve! But, joking apart, it was worth the wait. Look at the photograph above and say that it wasn't. No, say it and mean it. You can't can you? No and that is because it is a wonderful, tender portrait and there is a lot of Martin himself in there. It is him who I am looking at, not the viewer or the camera but Martin. And he has asked me to look that way. 

Martin arrived at the house at 2pm on Saturday 5th March and we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon together. He had written in advance of the shoot, saying that he kind of liked the idea of not doing anything particularly contrived nor of doing anything nude or overly dark. He was looking for something more gentle in approach. When he got here, he said (a number of times) that this was not his normal way of working where he might have some sort of plan thought out in advance. I think that, as the day moved on, he was discovering little things about me as we chatted (and vice versa) which tended to dictate how we was going to approach each shot. It felt liberating to me and I hope it gave him a similar feeling. He said that he wanted me naked emotionally and that stayed with me all through the shoot as I endeavoured to open myself up to him. It wasn't difficult to do precisely because Martin is an interesting conversationalist. He has an easy way about him, the way he speaks, the way he walks and takes photographs. We chatted and then I showed him around the house and he chose locations where he wanted to photograph me.

Then we went down to the sea and I showed him the little concrete pier that juts out into the water near the bandstand and where I swim in the warmer weather. It was a beautiful day and some young kids were sitting around a fire on the pier and watched as Martin shot me at the other end and we tried some blurred movement shots. As we finished and walked away, the kids asked what the shoot was about and Martin told them about my project and, as he did so, it seemed that he was rather proud of it and he should be. And so should all the photographers involved for producing such incredible work. 

He came back to the house and collected his gear. I know I must have shown him some of my films. Not many people come to see me and avoid that although, in Martin's case, I cannot quite remember whether I showed them to him before or after the shoot. I'm guessing it was after and that he hurried away thinking "No more, please!!". Well then he sent me about a dozen shots. He told me his favourites and the reasons for his choices and I chose another one but then, as I was writing this blogpost and recognised the significance of our chat with the teenagers on the pier, I realised that he was right and I was wrong and I chose the image at the top of this page. It is beautiful. It is like a delicate watercolour spread thinly over the sky with the most gentle brushstrokes. It is intense and calm, strong and gentle. It weaves its way into your consciousness without you knowing and then sits there waiting to surprise you as you look for it and find that it is somehow different to what you saw before. It is all I could have hoped for as I looked at a book called "I have lived in East London for 86½ years" and thought "Now what is all this about?" It is about connecting with people, opening up and not being afraid of who you are with all your strengths and weaknesses. It is as much about Martin Usborne as the subject. Just like this photograph.

Friday, 4 March 2016

TIM 8, 9, 10 by Nikki Acott

TIM 8,9,10 by Nikki Acott

I met the lovely Nikki at Create Studios in New England House when I approached them to ask if I could present an exhibition of photographs from "Over the Hill" as part of the Brighton Photo Fringe 2014. I carried out most of the discussion with her colleague Siobhan but Nikki was a continual smiling presence and, bit by bit, we got to know each other and eventually I discovered that she was a photographer. I looked at her work online and, hey presto, within a short while, we were talking about the possibility of her photographing me which then became a probability and then a definivity (is that a wordity?) By the time we had arranged a date for the shoot, Nikki had decided to move Create to another location and so I am proud to say that I was the last person to be photographed in the old Create Studios.

Originally, Nikki had some very ambitious and exciting ideas for the shoot involving tarot cards but these had to be shelved as we got nearer to the date of the shoot because Nikki was so tied up in dealing with the closure and move of Create to its new location. And I think really that both Nikki and I were glad because, we had become friends during the exhibition period and I think that these more straightforward portraits are more representative of that friendship than a more grandiose concept.

On the day, Nikki shot on both film and digital and this triptych consists of three images shot on film and which were numbered 8, 9 and 10 - hence the title chosen by Nikki. I like them a lot - they are very comfortable images and go together so well. I like their crispness and depth against the black. I like the change of expression from a smile to a glance away to the warmth of the final shot which says as much about Nikki as it does about me. She is a delicate flower, but more hardy than one might think and with a deep intelligence and a thoughtful attitude to her business, her photography and her acquaintances. It was the last ever shoot at the old Create Studios where I met James McDonald at Chris Floyd's private view of the show "One Hundred and Forty Characters", where I was shot by Erin O'Connor, Patrizia Burra and Kenny McCracken and, finally, by Nikki Acott. Happy times.