Wednesday, 10 October 2012

FOCUS by Jonathan Stead

FOCUS by Jonathan Stead

Jonathan was recommended by Alex Boyd but nothing really prepared me for the incredible work displayed on Jonathan's website, especially the very moving pictures of his grandmother when she was suffering from Dementia. Jon specialises in Dry Plate Photography and all his photographs were just so exciting and innovative and so I had no hesitation in contacting him about my project. He had seen the pictures taken by Alex and was clearly impressed. No surprise there! And he said yes which was a real thrill. This was in September and, within a month, I found myself on a train to Sheffield for the first time in about 40 years. The last time was to visit Susan, my first serious girlfriend, who sadly died of cancer about two years ago. I was at Queen Mary College, London University at the time and she was at Sheffield University. I was so serious that I attempted to be transferred onto the Law course at Sheffield to be nearer to her and we even talked of marriage but then I thought of marriage to just about any girl who turned her head towards me in those days. I was, and still am, an incurable romantic but the relationship was doomed to failure because we were both young and I was incredibly immature.

But, I digress.

I arrived at Sheffield Station on 10th October 2012 and everything looked so different - all much more modern than it had been all those years ago. I was really looking forward to the day with Jon and that helped banish that heavy breathless feeling in my heart as I thought back to Susan (stop it!). Jon collected me from the station in his motor car and immediately he struck me as a very personable and warm man. He had admitted to me beforehand that he knew little about Parkinson's Disease and asked me for more information on the condition and how it affected me specifically so he could decide on poses etc although he did say also that he tended to work with what sees without making too many plans. Love it, love it.

Well, I had the most fascinating day at his studio watching him work with the dry plate method. He developed the photographs there and then and explained the whole procedure very patiently for me. He holds workshops on this way of working and I guess they are very successful because he is a born teacher because he has so much enthusiasm for his art and his craft. We tried various poses topless at first and then some naked ones at the end. He knew what he wanted and it all felt so easy. He was looking to capture the difficulties I had in keeping still particularly as the effect of the pills wore off during the afternoon and he chose the paper negative process as the slow speed made for longer exposures. 

COMING BACK by Jonathan Stead

He took me back to the station in time for the train to St Pancras and as the train pulled away, I was glad to have a new memory to replace the old ones. I leaned my head against the window and smiled as I thought how very lucky I am to have these days with people as nice as Jonathan. I have said many times that it is the shoot I love and the photograph at the end is like a bonus, a little present at the end of it all. However, in this case, I had had a preview of the final images and so I was very much looking forward to receive the photographs from Jon. They arrived shortly afterwards . He sent me three and all of them were just fantastic. He had displayed the images alongside the paper negative as, in his words, "they disorientate and, at first glance appear unconnected'' which he felt mirrored the disconnection I felt over my own body. I am always so touched by the thought and care invested by the photographer in the shoot and post production and this was no exception.

ONE MINUTE by Jonathan Stead

It was so difficult to choose just one image for my project so I asked Jon which one he preferred and between us we plumped for "Focus" but look at the others - see what a difficult job I had?

Jon has asked me to return to Sheffield which I shall do as soon as I can. Why? Because, Jonathan Stead is a true artist and innovator and all round nice guy. I am very honoured to be one of his subjects.


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