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.




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