|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 Peter............no 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.