Archive: Feb 2010
These portraits of Andrew Lloyd Webber were shot last week at the Jerwood Space in London. They were commissioned by a British magazine but for reasons I’m not sure of, the feature has been dropped.
So, here they are, available for purchase. First world rights, first UK rights, first, first, first. All up for grabs. If anyone out there wants to pick them up then you know where we are.
Now, let’s get on to the subject of photographing this man. I’ve been working as a professional photographer since 1993 and I’m not sure that I have ever photographed anyone who was as uncomfortable and awkward in his skin as Lord Lloyd Webber was last week.
When we arrived at the Jerwood they gave us a big empty rehearsal room to use as the shoot location. For anyone that doesn’t know about it, the Jerwood is a fantastic rehearsal space for theatre and dance companies. I think he was there overseeing the rehearsal of a new show, Love Never Dies, it was never established.
The room was empty, save for a wall of mirrors at one end and a piano. I had brought a 9 foot colorama with me and on sight of the piano I decided to put up the white backdrop and wheel the piano on to it. I had no idea if he would be into it but I had the idea of getting him to play it like an old school pub/music hall singer. Back half turned to the audience and with a lot of look backs over the shoulder while camping it up, I thought it’d be funny to get him to play it like one of those old fellas. It might also loosen him up for the portrait I wanted to do later. I always like to do something that will loosen the subject up first. It helps me to relax and find my feet while the boiling cauldron of fire inside plays chicken with my confidence
A friend who is the features editor at Britain’s biggest selling monthly men’s magazine knows how all this works. He swears the biggest compliment you can ever be paid as a photographer by any celebrity PR person is if you are referred to as ‘quick’. “Oh yeah. He’s great. He’s quick.”
We’d been told that we had him for 45 minutes but it NEVER turns out like that. Whatever time they tell you can have– take that figure, divide it by 2 and then subtract 15% of the originally allotted time period. Thus 45 minutes becomes 15 minutes. The way to deal with these inevitabilities is to come with enough equipment for 3 set-ups ready to go simultaneously. That way you wheel them through it, spending 5 minutes on each one and at the end it looks like you’ve had half a day or more with the subject. And when they see the finished results and all the great shots you pulled off they say, “Wow! That guy was great. So quick!” This means that, as long as you’re not unpleasant, they’ll invite you back.
The man enters at the allotted time of 12.15. We shake hands. It is perfunctory. He asks me what kind of picture I want. Our discussion on this proceeds thus:
CF: “Well, I’d like to produce something that conveys some sense of intimacy but I’m also acutely aware, bearing in mind our actual levels of intimacy are zero, based on the immutable fact that we have never met before and that we have several people with an overly sensitive awareness of time and it’s passing standing immediately behind me, that this may be unlikely.”
ALW: “Where shall I stand? Here?”
CF: “Well, I’ve put a piano there for you. Why don’t you sit at the piano”
ALW sat at the piano and remained still.
CF: “I thought you might play for us. It would be nice. While we’ve got you here I might as well get a private performance out of you. You know they’ve been paying us the same rates since 1992. We need a bit extra these days to, you know, make it worthwhile, so a piano recital might just do the trick today”
ALW places his fingers on the keys of the piano and leaves them there.
CF: “Actually, what I thought would be REALLY, REALLY GREAT is to get you to play it like an old pub singer. Would you play with your back to the camera and bash out ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ whilst looking back over your shoulder at us, the audience.”
ALW: “No, I’m not going to do that.”
ALW’s PA: “Actually you should really see Andrew’s rock n’ roll party trick playing.”
CF: “Brilliant! Can you play like Little Richard?”
ALW (quietly): “No, not here.”
So ALW played the piano quite inaudibly and half heartedly while I buzzed around him like an irritant. A grit of sand inside the shell of an oyster, with an extremely low chance of ever becoming a pearl.
However, as I buzzed, I became highly aware of how uncomfortable he was. He appeared as if he literally could not settle inside himself. I noticed that he wasn’t even playing a tune. He seemed to just be playing scales. I began to focus on what I call ‘the moments between the moments’ and that’s where I found my groove with him. I always know when I’ve hit it, my stride, my groove. I know when it’s peaking. It’s a wave and you ride it for as long as you can. You feel an external energy take you over but it comes from the inside, you can’t help it, you’re buzzing on it. And the thing is this: what you’re buzzing on is never the thing you thought you had come there to get. It’s always something you didn’t know there was until it showed itself to you. In this case, I had come hoping to unleash Andrew Lloyd Webber’s inner pub singer but instead, I found a man who, despite all those accolades and success, seemed unsure, nervous, awkward and most of all, fragile.
We soon left the piano and I put him by a window, which had it’s moments. Finally I gave him the forensic treatment. 18 inches from the lights. Camera as close as it could go and still stay in focus. 20 frames, talking all the time, cajoling, teasing, flattering, looking for a reactive flash in the eyes.
All the while, the PA is pushing me to “End it. Now.”
“It’s ok,” I say. ”We’ve peaked.”
CF: “Say ‘Lesbian’”
Done. Look at my watch. 12.32pm. 17 minutes.
Andrew Lloyd Webber gathers his things and as he heads for the door:
“Thank you! Thank you so much for doing this so quickly. Bye bye.”
A few postings back I put up a photograph from an ongoing project, The Consequences of Vengeance, which is my quest to photograph houses from London and it’s suburbs that were visited by the German weapon which was the cause of the most extreme fear and stress for it’s civilians during the Second World War. This weapon was the V2, the world’s first ballistic missile.
In this post I want to tell you about the project in a bit more detail.
Towards the end of 1943 the population had become accustomed to frequent and regular bombing from the air by the Luftwaffe. However, these actions were predictable, almost always took place at night and thanks to a good early warning set-up along the coast, the inhabitants of London often had enough time to find shelter, frequently in one of the city’s deep underground stations. Nevertheless, approximately 65,000 British civilians were killed during the war, primarily as a result of German air raids.
By mid-1944 the bombing of London had more or less come to a halt and, with D-Day on 6th June, the British had good reason to think that the hellish days of the Blitz were over. Unfortunately a new kind of blitz was about to begin. On 13th June the first V1 flying bomb landed in Hackney, East London and killed 6 people. The V1 was exactly what it looked like – a big flying bomb. Launched from northern France, it was the first unmanned missile. It flew at 400mph and once unleashed it could no longer be controlled. The German army were aiming them in the direction of London and they flew until they ran out of fuel, whereupon the engine would cut out and they would dive down to earth and explode on impact. In the 3 days following that first one a further 73 flying bombs had hit London and on the 18th June, 5 days after the first one, a V1 hit the Guards Chapel in St. James’s during the Sunday service and killed 141 people.
Within 3 months, however, the Observer Corps and the RAF had begun to develop techniques to deal with the V1 and using aircraft that could match the speed of the V1, barrage balloons and anti-aircraft fire, 4,261 V1′s had been shot down or destroyed before impact. In September the launch sites on the French coast were engulfed by the advancing allied armies and, with a few exceptions, the threat of the V1 had ended – just in time for the opening of Hitler’s final attempt to force the allies into submission.
The ‘V’ in V1 & V2 stands for the German phrase Vergeltungswaffe – vengeance weapon. These weapons were, in the end, of no military significance. Their real impact was psychological. The allied advance on Germany: the Amercians, British, Canadian armies from the west and the Soviet Red Army from the east already had Hitler in an unbreakable vice grip. No, the vengeance was designed to cause such trauma and fear in the civilian populace that Hitler deluded himself into believing it would be strong enough to trigger a withdrawal at least.
On Friday 8th September at 6.34pm outside 5 Staveley Road, Chiswick, London W4 an enormous explosion ripped half the street apart. It killed a little girl who was asleep in her cot and a passing soldier, home on leave from France. For quite some time people believed, and the government propagated the myth, that it was a gas main explosion. What had actually happened was that the first V2 had just arrived. The rocket was the brainchild of Werner von Braun, the German scientist who, after the war, was captured by the Americans and went on to work for NASA and create the Saturn V rocket which carried the first men to the moon. His 12 tonne baby was launched from Holland and followed a parabolic flight path that reached it’s apex about 60 miles above the Earth before heading in a downward direction at a peak of 3,000mph. Think of it as the world’s first Predator drone missile.
As it travelled faster than the speed of sound it would arrive silently and too fast for the eye to see, exploding it’s one tonne warhead on impact. In a final post explosion smirk, those still alive would hear the double crack of the supersonic boom and the sound of a very heavy object crashing through the air – a short sadistic trip back in time to the moments when those now dead were still alive.
My own personal interest in the story of the V2 is entwined in the fact that at 7.21am on Tuesday 27th March 1945 134 people were on the receiving end of a V2 that hit Hughes Mansions, a tenement building in Vallance Road, Stepney, London. Of the 1402 V2′s that struck the British Isles this was the 1401st. There was one final rocket on the same day which killed a woman in Orpington, Kent. The entire population of the building were eastern European Jews who had fled persecution and death before the war. Abraham & Annie Mordsky of No.83 were two of them and they were my great-grandparents. They had come to Britain sometime just before the First World War thanks to persecution in Russia. If Hitler, in this last throw of the dice, believed that vengeance was his then he certainly got it by wiping out the 134 Jews that were on the receiving end of this futile final gesture. My mother, who was 3 years old, was due to be staying with them that day. Only because the rocket struck the building so early in the morning, before her mother had dropped her off, was she not the 135th person to die in it. And now I am here and alive and I do not forget that.
What I see in these photographs is the calm, quiet, untroubled suburban order that would have been in place in the moments prior to the total and utter devastation that was visited upon the houses in them, without warning, in those last few months of the war. For these people and places, the war was almost over. They had got through a marathon of endurance and survival. The Luftwaffe had long been smashed and the idea of it reaching them now was not in the running. And yet, while we are looking at these scenes, a missile launch crew somewhere in a Dutch forest have just unleashed something that will deliver all this to eternity. And in 3 minutes time this eternity will pick it’s companions and it will be arbitrary. This is how it was then and this is how it is now.
To see more of this project please visit my website www.chrisfloyd.com
One of the things I don’t like about shooting on the medium format digital back I have is that setting it anything higher than ISO 100 causes a most noticeable decline in quality. This makes it difficult to work with my favouritte kind of lighting – the given to us from on high by God himself Kino Flo. This is because, as gorgeous, lustrous and sexy as the light they bestow on us can be, they are also devastatingly low in output. You need loads of the buggers to get the pace of your game on, they have to be really close in to the subject, specifically placed and angled and once achieved it can feel a bit like being inside a mass light sabre brawl on the Death Star.
Nevertheless, just yesterday I decided that no longer could I allow the digi-wall to come between my beloved Kinos and me and that the day had come to withdraw the heavy artillery that is flash from the battle and deploy my Delta Kino force of Snipers and a 2 man SAS HMI outfit. Enough of the military metaphors, I’m a lover not a fighter. Here’s the finished picture from a previous shoot using the same stuff - Naomi Watts in an eighteenth century East London corn merchant’s house. He wasn’t present on the shoot though. I believe he was otherwise disposed in another dimension.
Further down this post is an email reply to somebody I know in New York who used to work at some very big American magazines as a photo editor and decided to jack it all in and pursue other photography related activities. My reference to the greyhound is in response to an alcoholic beverage she has offered to make me if I ever visit her in California.
Bearing in mind the total feeding frenzy of vitriol that rained down on me the last time I got into a public discussion of this sort – the January 2008 back & forth with Andrew Hetherington on What’s The Jackanory? over the state of the UK editorial market – it would probably be wise of me to shut my damn mouth and look away right now. But, that’s never really been my nature and it does go someway to explaining why during my life I’ve been involved in public physical altercations more often than I would have liked.
So, having recently launched this blog, I feel it important to say it how I see it under my own banner. Considering that, as of this morning, I still do work for a considerable number of esteemed publications I would like to state here and now that I love you all. I just wish that the people who owned you loved you a fraction as much as the contributors who you have paid the same day rates to for the last 20 years do. And I only say this stuff because I love you. Unfortuantely, because this love has gone for so long now unrequited, I’m no longer in love with you. You (emphasis on publishers, not editorial staff) do not love the people that create your products or the people that buy your products. You’ve made the fatal political mistake of ignoring your base, which is now leaving you for other parties.
It sounds good that you got out from under the 9 to 5 cosh. Magazines as a species are dying and they are not doing it in a dignified way. They are hanging around like an unwanted guest at a party. With a few excellent exceptions, they’re not even trying to make themselves into something that can compete with free internet content. They have no USP. I don’t blame the editorial staff. These are all talented and commited people. It’s the paucity of investment, belief and cojones within managements that is the problem. They did not man the f*** up when they should have and as a result we are left with content that has been parlayed by fear into inoffensiveness. This was, for a while, the cause of a great deal of lachrymosity on my part. But now I have realised that the relationship between us is over I feel ok about it. I’m no longer in love and I’m in the market for a new girlfriend and I’m really really enjoying being single. How the future might pan out, I don’t know, who the hell ever did….but I’m actually very excited. It’s made me think a lot more deeply and laterally about my photography and about what it is I should be doing and it sounds like you are doing the same.
Save me a greyhound.
Keep on keeping on.
I also have no wish for this blog to radiate negativity, whch is why I leave at the end of this post an image of Donald Sutherland as Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes – arguably the world’s first hippy and whose cathphrase “So many positive waves, maybe we can’t lose” is a pointer by which to approach the future as a photographer. Or anything else for that matter.
Last year I was commissioned by The Guardian Weekend Magazine in London to shoot a series of portraits. The magazine had run a competition for children asking, “Want to be a journalist? If so then who would you most like to interview, why and what would you ask?” I was to photograph the winning children with their nominated interviewees.
One of the winners was a 5 year old boy called Oscar whose hero was John Terry.
The Guardian contacted Chelsea FC and, to my surprise, JT agreed to submit himself to the little fella’s questions and have his picture taken with him.
My assistant and I drove down to Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey one miserable & wet Friday morning. Actually, training ground is an understatement. Sport & Media complex is how I would describe it. Security, valet parking, cafe. It was like an LA film lot but with grey light. As far as the eye could see the car park was filled with six figure priced automobiles.
We set up while JT gave Oscar the grand tour (no cash exchanged hands on this occasion) and then the 2 of them, Oscar’s dad and a beady eyed, mean spirited Chelsea press flak came over to where we were waiting.
JT was, on that morning, the epitome of how we would like our heroes to behave. On that morning he would have put Biggles to shame. He was patient, charming, funny, interested, gracious, eager to please and, dare I say it, heroic. He played one on one with him for a good 15 minutes – non stop back & forth. He let Oscar score goal after goal against him whilst maintaining just the right level of competitive spirit, taking into account that he was the captain of England and his opponent had yet to visit a school uniform outlet. It was cold, really cold, wet and he had just come off an intensive 2 hour training session. I’ve got to say it, based on my experience he was a thorough gentleman.
Oscar even got his own, inadvertent scoop which you can read fully here but this is the killer extract that caused a nasty little storm in a teacup for Terry and the Chelsea press man, who was none too pleased at the Guardian’s use of it, believing that this was going to be a nice soft piece of PR puff for everyone and not some trojan horse operation to see how much JT and Big Phil Scolari did or did not hate each other.
“Having already drawn from the England captain the revelations that his favourite toy was a Gordon the Gopher teddy, and that he sticks his hair up because otherwise his teammates “give me a bit of stick”, Witt moves in for the kill: “Who do you like best – Jose, Avram [Grant, the manager who replaced Mourinho] or Big Phil Scolari?”
Terry replies: “Er, when Jose was here he was very good, and we won a lot of trophies. And we came close with Avram Grant. Now Scolari’s the manager, so because it’s too early to say on Scolari, I’m gonna say Mourinho is the best.”
And here we are today, in a nasty situation, with Oscar’s hero stripped of any glow, in unpleasant rising waters and out of the job that almost every English schoolboy dreams of at some point in their life. But on the day I met him, silly JT really was a giant of a man to one star struck little boy.
Read the story as it appeared in The Guardian.
These photographs were taken in Memphis in 2002. I learned some lessons. Maybe some of these lessons are true. My dad did a good job of raising a cynic by constantly reminding me to believe half of what I see and nothing of what I hear. He is an accountant and I am his son. Accountants do not have ideas. They have doubts. I suppose he didn’t want me to get let down by the limitations of life. Memphis neutralises that though. It makes me a believer. This is what I learned.
I learned from Ike Turner that there really are 2 sides to every story. I learned from Jim Dickinson that they hated Elvis in Memphis when he was alive and now that he’s dead they love the money that he brings in. I saw that Phineas Newborn Jr lives on in the disposition of his brother Calvin. How shattering it can be to wake up every day, late in life, with a sense of loss. Rendered dour by the knowledge that atonement can only come on judgment day. I learned that Bob Dylan was as excited as any kid to have found a lucky penny on the stage of Humes High School (Elvis’ place of education) when the principal let him stand on it while the kids were in class. Gatemouth Moore taught me that you should always leave something on the plate, especially when you’re in his church. Willie Mitchell likes to use the word motherfucker. He also doesn’t like to pay a drummer more than $75. Solomon Burke preached the lesson of concession control. When you tour make sure that you’re the one selling the popcorn. But Cozy Corner’s Cornish game hens taught me how close to God food can be. I learned the value of a good hat from Pinetop Perkins. If you are a photographer who shows up and asks to photograph Ernest Withers he will be flattered and sell you one of his prints for a 20% discount. Withers was the photographer with Martin Luther King in the days leading up to his murder. And I learned from James Alexander that he is a lucky man. Alexander was the man who missed the flight that killed Otis Redding and all but one of the Bar Kays.
Those are some good lessons for a four week investment paid in installments. However, the biggest lesson I learned came from the city of Memphis itself. God, food, and music. The order can change depending on one’s mood and what day of the week it is but it’s always those three things. I’m not from there, you’d be right to tell me that I know nothing and that I have no right to make these pronouncements. I’m from London and I’ve lived in New York for over 4 years. In that time I’ve been to 38 states. It is the only place in America I have seen that is not prostrating itself on an orgy of aspirations. Aspirations that are of no nutritional value. Memphis has a nobility about it’s demeanour. It’s yearnings are human.
When I tell people that I have been to Memphis they say to me, “Memphis? Isn’t Elvis from Memphis?”. As if that’s all it is. My answer is always the same. Yes, Elvis is from Memphis. But it wasn’t Elvis that made Memphis. It was Memphis that made Elvis and everybody should get to taste what made Elvis. Good and Bad. Then you will know.
It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, if you wanted to discover, find or look for new things you would have to leave the house and burn pavement. Alright, you could read about stuff in magazines and newspapers but to see these things (and I’m talking about photography specifically) you’d need to go to a bookshop or a gallery.
It’s all changed since then and now it’s possible to open a whole new vista just by leapfrogging from one link to another. Hell, you can do it on Twitter.
So seeing that Mr. William Eggleston has a new show at Victoria Miro (www.victoria-miro.com) until 27th Feb takes me all the way back to those pre-historic days and the opening of a door into a whole new room that, at once, seemed only to be inspirational. It was as if a whole new dawn had emerged in front of me. And it was very heaven to be alive.
Back in 1999, when I had never heard of William Eggleston, my book was called in for a job by a long gone band from the Britpop era called Gene. I dutifully sent my finest collection of band and music portraits in a 12”x16” book. A few days later I got a message back that the book was fine – yeah yeah yeah – but haven’t you got anything else? Anything different? More personal?
I did but it had never really occurred to me to send it out for a professional commission, the reason being precisely because it was personal. But, I did have it and it was a little 8”x10” book of photographic doodles. It was representative of the way my eyes framed the world when I wasn’t thinking about it. It was unselfconscious. I dropped it off at the band’s management office in Fulham, London.
A day later I was asked to come in and meet the band’s singer Martin Rossiter. He had been looking at my little 8×10 book and come to the conclusion that I was massively influenced by someone whose work he greatly admired – William Eggleston.
I had never heard of him. Martin didn’t believe me and it took some reassuring to convince him. But when I did he loved it even more – it was unselfconscious – and he then offered me one of the greatest commissions a photographer could ever ask for. The band were going to Los Angeles to play some shows and record and release a live album. My job was to go there with them and spend 7 days just roaming around LA shooting pictures of anything I felt like, to be used as the album’s artwork.
The picture that eventually made it on to the album cover was also the picture that gave the band the inspiration for the album’s title – Rising For Sunset.
Of course the story doesn’t end there, it kind of begins there. The introduction that Martin gave me to Eggleston’s work opened a door onto a room that contained Joel Meyorowitz, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Lee Friedlander & Garry Winogrand. Indeed, Friedlander’s book ‘American Musicians’ is the single greatest exponent of the photographer/musician dynamic that I have ever seen and of all my books it is probably the one I would save first in a fire.
Looking into that room convinced me that I had to go and live in America and in 2001 I did. For a few years Eggleston, that son of Memphis, became something of an obsession and at around the same time I discovered the writing of Stanley Booth. Although Booth grew up Georgia, it is the writing he produced during his years living in Memphis for which he will leave a mark on my heart. Two books y’all need to check out. The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones, which is a Heart of Darkness style journey into the Stones ill fated 1969 American tour that ended with the murder by Hells Angels of a man called Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Speedway. There is also a companion documentary called Gimme Shelter by The Maysles Brothers (Grey Gardens, Salesman,) of that tour and the last thing we see as the Stones make their getaway by helicopter from the crime scene is Stanley’s tan leather jacket as he becomes the last guy out of town on the chopper. Also, check out ‘Rythm Oil’ – a compendium of his journalism, much of it for Esquire & Playboy in the 60′s.
In March 2002 I took an overnight sleeper train from New York City to Memphis and spent 4 weeks checking the place out. With the help of some contacts down there I had a mainline into some of the people that Booth had written about and who made the place what it is. Many of these people were musicians and between them had played on the greatest soul and blues records of the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s.
I’ve heard Jurgen Teller, talking in a documentary about Eggleston, say that, for him, Memphis was ‘totally boring…I mean there’s nothing there.’ But for me, it was the opposite. I got taken into the life of the city and I like to think that momentarily, I got it. So much so that I wrote a piece about it called “Damn Right I Got The Blues” for Flaunt Magazine in 2003 and along with my photographs sent it to Stanley Booth – see the text & photographs in the following post.
He replied, inviting me to stay with him in Georgia and like a rat up a drain I did. Him and Eggleston have been friends for 30/40 years and his house is stuffed full of vintage Eggleston prints – “my pension” he called them. When I asked him how they came to be friends his elliptical answer came thus: “Bill? Oh, yeah, well, he was the best man at a wedding of mine once.” Apparently, after the wedding Stanley & Bill left the ceremony together in a powder blue convertible of some sort while the new bride followed behind in a pick up truck full of dogs and shotguns.