Archive: Oct 2010
This is Charlie Davies, a football player from Boston, and a strong fixture in the United States world cup squad prior to the tournament in South Africa. He plays for F.C. Sochaux, a French team from near the Swiss border. The club was originally founded by Peugeot factory workers in the nineteen twenties. On October 13 2009 Charlie was smashed up pretty badly in a car accident in Washington D.C., whilst back there for a world cup qualifying game against Costa Rica. A 22 year old girl, who was a passenger in the car with him died at the scene.
I was sent to France to photograph some of his scars for ESPN The Magazine’s annual ‘The Body Issue.’ He gave me far more time than was required and, in the day we spent together, he showed no signs of any of the behaviour that we have come to expect from some of our native football players here in England. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Charlie was an out and out gentleman. For a start, he only had one phone, as opposed to the usual two that most other players I’ve met seem to possess – one for the wife and one for their life, as the saying goes. And secondly, he seemed positively thrillled that his girlfriend, Nina, who he met in college, spent the whole day with him on the shoot.
At the end of the shoot we had half an hour spare, which just about gave me the time to shoehorn in a quick go at making something for my “How I Get Dressed” series that would allow to Charlie show us that he’s ready to get back out there and start scoring goals - 28 in 78 appearances prior to the crash. And what better way to do it than to ask him to put his kit back on. There was not the time, however, to get him to do a voiceover for me so I’ve gone a bit off piste here and done one myself, so as to explain the story behind the film.
The link to the film is underneath the picture below.
This the story of a shoot I’ve just done for American GQ and while we’re here, I’ll tell you straight what Chris Albrecht has done for you. Once upon a time, Chris was the chairman and CEO of an American cable television outfit called Home Box Office that you have to pay a monthly fee to get access to. I seem to remember that 15 years ago about the only thing that was on that channel that was worth paying for was the odd heavyweight championship boxing fight. But then Chris came along and during his tenure he brought you these:
Sex & The City, The Wire, Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, From The Earth To The Moon, Extras, Deadwood & Curb Your Enthusiasm, among others.
Quite a feat. Wait though. There’s more.
He once told his friend Robin Williams that he called his Sicilian grandparents his nana and his nanu. Hence “Nanu Nanu” from Mork & Mindy.
He co-founded the American arm of Comic Relief.
And he more or less discovered Chris Rock. From the piece in GQ by Amy Wallace: “In 1989, when Rock was a 24-year-old no-name comic with crooked teeth and “a fucking weird haircut,” he says Albrecht gave him a development deal at HBO. The reason: He’d heard that Rock’s father had died, leaving the family in debt. “This guy figured out a legit way to put some money in my pocket. He really took a chance on me,” Rock recalls. “Shit, we still ended up losing the house, but God bless him.” ”
Quite some guy. However, Chris then went and did a bad thing. In May 2007, outside the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, he tried to choke his then girlfriend in the middle of a drunken row. He was arrested. After he was bailed he sent an email to all of HBO’s staff to apologise for what he’d done and that he would be taking a 6 month leave of absence to seek help from Alcoholics Anonymous. Not long after that, the Los Angeles Times reported that 16 years earlier he’d had an affair with an HBO employee that finished up with some behind closed doors physicality and a payoff settlement to the woman herself. Almost immediately, the Chairman & CEO who had turned the channel into the most consistently brilliant producer of original, quality programmes was fired.
He has since spent a couple of years in the wilderness and last year quietly raised his head from beneath the parapet to take over a smaller and far less well known rival of HBO’s, called Starz, where it is hoped he will be able to do for this channel what he did at HBO.
I was commissioned by Justin O’Neill at American GQ to photograph Chris in Dublin, where he was visiting the set of the first production he’s given the green light to since taking over the helm at Starz. The show is called ‘Camelot’. I don’t want to give too much away but I can reveal that it stars Eva Green, Joseph Fiennes, a lot of swords and an hombre named Arthur, who becomes some sort of king.
I’d wanted to work for American GQ for a long time and the call from Justin came totally out of the blue. When I lived in New York he worked at New York Magazine and we had worked together a couple of times then, so it was peachy to hear from him now that he’s at GQ. To get to Dublin for the shoot, however, would entail my assistant and me having to travel directly from another assignment I was doing in Switzerland the day before this one. It seemed to be no problem. We planned to leave Basel after that job and fly to London Gatwick, where we would stay in an airport hotel for the night before climbing onto a plane bound for Dublin at the crack of dawn the next day. What I didn’t take into account though, was the capability of the French public to drop everything at a moment’s notice and shove it’s hands in it’s pockets for a snidey little 24 hour national strike. As we walked into the airport check-in area we actually saw the departures info board go from everything showing as being on time and whatever the Swiss German is for ‘tickety boo’ to “cancelled cancelled cancelled cancelled…..” Included in the strike was the French air traffic control. Nothing can get from Switzerland to London without flying over France.
Ten years I’ve aspired to work for GQ and here I am, about to head off on the job, so the first thought that entered my head was not “oh, I’m so totally on the side of the French citizenry in their day of protest regarding President Sarkozy’s proposal to raise the national retirement age from 60 to 62.” It was actually a whole different thought entirely. The shoot was scheduled to take place at 11am the following morning in Dublin. Here we were, in Basel, 14 hours to get there, with 1600 miles and two bodies of water between us. Two words: no chance.
I called Justin in New York and gave it to him straight. I was out of the game before I’d had a chance to get in it. His reaction, however, was that which only an American is capable of.
“There’s no other flights?”
“Justin, nothing is getting out. There are no planes, no trains and we have a Swiss automobile that we have to return to a Swiss company.”
“Could you fly from there to Dublin directly in the morning if I can persuade Albrecht’s people to put back the start time?”
“I don’t know. I can have a look on the internet and try and find something.”
“Great! Then you do that and I’ll get our travel people here to look too. Lets talk in a while.”
This stuff was only made possible by the internet. Ten years ago we really would have been stuffed but there we sat, in the Swiss half of Basel Airport (half the airport is in France and the other half is in Switzerland, each side has it’s own customs posts etc) working it out on a laptop while a few yards away the French half of the place sat inert, sullen & moody. Incredibly, we found a Swiss flight from Zurich to Dublin at 9am the following morning, with seats available. Arriving at 10.30 in Dublin, we’d need an hour to get to the set and an hour to rig up our lighting etc. Conceivably we could be ready to go by 12.30 at a push. My assistant, Ben, and I left Justin to set about enacting the plan in New York while we jumped back in the rental car and started out for Zurich, an hour’s drive away.
Justin put the call in and Albrecht’s PR came back with a willingness to co-operate which is, honestly, not particularly common when dealing with PR people, who often seem to think that their role in life is to self generate a crisis which they can then rescue their client from, thus making themselves appear to be indispensable. This time though, they couldn’t have been more accommodating.
Ben and I bedded down for the night in a Zurich hotel room and got about 5 hours sleep before exiting the city of discreet banking practices and assisted suicide clinics via its airport and onwards, to the more earthly pleasures of Dublin.
After hightailing it all the way round the city’s ring road, the M50, to the set at Ardmore Studios, south of Dublin, with an extra assistant that we picked up on the way, we arrived to find the place swarming with hundreds of extras dressed and made up as the dregs of 6th Century Arthurian legend. Mostly sitting around they were, doing nothing but sudoku, crosswords, sleeping and tweeting. It was exactly like how it looks in ‘Extras’, another one from the HBO canon.. The production is using three enormous sound stages, one of which they had set aside exclusively for our shoot. This set is known as ‘The Great Hall’ and was built entirely from scratch. I’m sure you can imagine the scenario. Flaming torches, moss, a throne, even the stone floor was shipped in from somewhere else. Our plan was to make a portrait of Albrecht on the Great Hall set and have him surrounded by some of the cast. It wasn’t made clear which ones it would be until we arrived, though they were quick to tell me that it was to be Jamie Campbell-Bower who plays Arthur and the six hail fellows who form his gang of knights.
After the co-operation of Albrecht’s PR, the next best thing to happen was that the producer of the series gave me full loan of the Best Boy to help with lighting the set. The Best Boy is number two to the Gaffer. The Gaffer is the head of the electrical department on a film set and is responsible for the execution of the lighting plan, under the command of the D.O.P. (Director of Photography). I had thousand and thousands of pounds worth of lighting equipment at my immediate disposal with a Best Boy who was not only willing to help but positively game on for the idea of making the frame we wanted to construct rivetingly glowy. He then called on half a dozen other sparks and together we began to light up this 6th Century, Arthurian construct.
Primarily I wanted to employ the heavy, warm tungsten lights, that they are using across the production, to light the set and the characters of Arthur & Co. I would then pick the spot where I wanted Albrecht to stand and mask that area off from all the red/orange light that was illuminating everywhere else. For the lighting of my main subject I would be using 3 or 4 Profoto flash heads that give out a much cooler, daylight balanced light. We had had these delivered first thing from a rental company in Dublin. So, visually, the warm, soft, diffused, continuous light that bathes the set & characters is completely different in tone and colour to the icy, crisp, sharpness of the electronic flash that is directed onto Chris Albrecht. A man from the 21st century inside the world of the 6th century that he has been fundamental in instigating.
We did all that in about an hour. Chris Albrecht strolled in, followed by a retinue of courtiers and the only thing he asked me was “Do you think this tie? Or something less lilac?” The lilac is fine.
We shot the whole thing in maybe 20-30 minutes. To be honest, the time goes by in a blur. I’ve written about this before in a post on the subject of photographing Andrew Lloyd Webber. Everything that my assistants and I have worked towards is concentrated into this one machine gun burst of intensity where you spray the target with everything you have in the way of energy, focus, determination, chutzpah, charm and chat in order to nail the subject to the cross. Anything to prevent him from wandering off, literally and metaphorically, to somewhere else. “Someone call 999, this place is on fire!” I seem to remember bellowing at one point. When I ask them all to sing the theme tune from Dirty Dancing, ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’, which I often do, it’s not because I necessarily want them to actually sing it. It’s because I want to see what kind of reaction I get from asking them to sing it, and from that reaction will come something that will be it’s own unique thing. That is about throwing them off balance, but in a creative way, a way that causes them to realise that they need to be in the here and now in all it’s forms, not physically here but mentally on a beach. And all the while I am doing this there are about 20 people standing behind me, watching the images float in on a computer screen and they are saying things like, “Meh, his mouth isn’t quite right in this one, you’ll have to fix that in post.” If you let it, that stuff will eat up your confidence in seconds. We are working towards a peak, a mountain top here. Don’t get halfway up and tell me you don’t like the view.
After about 350 frames I can feel that we’ve topped this one out and I should let these guys get out of all that iron and leather, just leaving me with a few minutes to grab what I call the ‘rejection shot.’ The rejection shot is the one that I give to the client that allows them to believe that I have enabled them to make a choice, rather than forcing them into a corner with no option but to go with the one and only set-up that I presented. In this case it was a tight, half length portrait of Mr. Albrecht tying his tie, whilst looking all mogulish.
The risk with this smart political move, however, is that in the words of the late, great Bob Richardson, “You give ‘em a choice of two photographs and you KNOW they’re gonna pick the wrong one. Fuck that! They get one and one only.”
The British GQ website has posted this interview with me about the Republican-Mexican photo saga. They have also added the original story that Sanjiv Bhattacharya wrote back in 2006, so you can read the whole thing as it was originally published. It really is a great piece by Sanj and well worth the read.
Interview with Andy Morris of British GQ
Sometimes photographs originally taken for GQ develop a life of their own after publication. But no-one could have predicted that when Chris Floyd and Sanjiv Bhattacharya travelled to Mexico in 2006 to document the tale of US vigilantes known as “Minutemen” that Floyd’s shot (above) of Mexican farmers would end up being used by two separate Republican candidates to illustrate the threat of “illegal aliens”. After two candiates (Sharron Angle and David Vitter) both used Floyd’s picture, GQ.com contacted both Floyd and Bhattacharya to discuss their thoughts on the abuse of their photos.
GQ.com: What do you remember about reporting the original story on the Minutemen?
Chris Floyd: We were using the Congress Hotel in Tucson, Arizona as our base, where John Dillinger, America’s Public Enemy No.1, engaged in a big shootout with the police in 1934. The distances you have to travel to see anyone in that part of the world are vast so, more than anything I remember spending a lot of time in the car with Sanjiv travelling to see all the various Minutemen, as well as to Nogales to join up with the Border Patrol. To be honest, as an outsider, I found it easy to empathise with both sides of the story. You have one of the very richest countries in the world immediately next to one of the poorest. The people on the poor side of the fence see what’s over there and are naturally drawn to it. On the other side, a lot of people who live right in the border region have had their property damaged by the incessant passage of migrants over their land. We met a cattle farmer. He had a huge water tank installed for the irrigation of his animals, cost him a lot of money to put in, and it had been wrecked by strangers passing in the night. One of the most active Minutemen, was south American by birth but had become an American citizen legally and served in the U.S. Marines.
On top of the actual human traffic, lots and lots of drugs are brought into America by the migrants who earn their passage by acting as mules. I have pictures of a room where the Border Patrol store recently seized stuff prior to destroying it. There were bales and bales of drugs in it. They’re cube shaped hessian backpacks, 60-80lbs, with homemade straps on them. So I understand why some Americans are angry and feel that the government does not do enough. But the problem is that it’s a 2000 mile long border that runs from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. How do you police that?
However, after visiting Altar, the town in Mexico where the offending photograph was taken, I also felt compassion for the people we met there. I can’t speak for all of them but when we stood in that square at 6am what we really saw was just a lot of very poor, depressed, tired, hungry-looking people. They were enduring it stoically. The people we did talk to all said the same thing. They just wanted to find some work. It was exactly the same story as what took place in The Grapes of Wrath but with darker skin.
The irony of all this is that until the late Forties there was an annual migration of Mexican workers travelling up to California, under a system called the Bracero Program, to do all the agricultural harvesting before journeying back down south. Much of California’s agricultural lushness can be credited to the work of the Mexican workers that built it up. That was brought to an end by a need to provide a lot of jobs for returning servicemen after World War 2.
When did you first become aware of the film being misued?
Sanjiv Bhattacharya: I saw the ad on CNN – they were talking about how both Sharron Angle and David Vitter were using the same photo, as if that was the real scandal. And I recognised it at once. Obviously I got very excited, because it was my story, but once that died down, this episode doesn’t surprise me really. This is one of hundreds of examples of just how degraded the right wing has become in America. Vitter has been exposed as a hypocrite – he appeals to values voters while using escorts in his private life. Angle wants to abolish the Department of Education and has advocated an armed insurrection. It doesn’t surprise me that characters like these might misrepresent imagery for propaganda. And it doesn’t surprise me that they don’t care. Watch this story blow over. Corrections are always buried in the small print – it’s the lie that people remember.
CF: What’s interesting though is the question of how two independent campaigns alighted on the same image. Is this stuff filtering down from Republican Central Command?
What was your initial reaction on seeing the video from Sharron Angle?
CF: I was angry that she had used a picture of 3 Mexican citizens taken in Mexico and slapped the words “ILLEGAL ALIENS” all over it. That is my picture. I own that and it was taken in the context of a wider story. Even the caption information states that. There’s no doubt about it. Does she have proof that these guys are Illegal? Does she have a release from them allowing the use of their likeness. Maybe they are in the States now. I don’t know that because I met them and left them in Mexico. She’s just found something that fits her needs and bent it’s meaning entirely out of shape in order to fit it in to her agenda. I think that’s what they refer to as “fixing the facts around the policy.”
What actions have you taken since you found out about the photos?
CF: We are still trying to establish exactly how the two campaigns acquired the image, so I don’t want to jump to any conclusions yet, or start throwing around accusations of copyright violation. My beef at the moment is the misrepresentation of the men in the picture. However, we haven’t yet established the existence of a signed and paid for release allowing the image to be used in the way that it has by either campaign.
What has it taught you about political campaigns and American politics?
CF: It boils down to what Jon Stewart said. “Two groups of people shouting at each other in a wind tunnel.” Whoever shouts the loudest (spends the most) will probably win. It’s not constructive and it subsequently makes consensus more difficult than ever. I don’t imagine the Senate to be the clubbable place that it probably once was. And I speak as someone who is a great admirer of what can be achieved by the American method, both in politics and in society as a whole.
Why do you think both political groups were drawn to this particular image?
CF: Good question. I have no idea. I don’t think their faces look particularly intimidatiing at all. If anything, it’s the angle the picture is shot from and the way they are grouped that gives it the subliminal effect of a threatening imposingness. The camera is quite low down. I shot it on a Mamiya RZ, which is a camera with a waistlevel viewfinder. So you hold the camera at waist or chest height and look down into the viewfinder. That way you get a picture that, when shot quite close to the subject, creates the impression that the viewer is being imposed upon. They are looming over you. So that’s one aspect; the unstoppable advance of the Latino hordes trying to swamp us. The other is the way they are physically grouped. The viewer views the image as a lone individual. In this picture there are three of them and they form a solid wall from which there is no real escape if you were inclined to feel threatened by them in the first place. That’s all cod psychological theory that occured to me as I contemplated your question but maybe someone in a Republican campaign office felt that as he trawled the internet.
What would you say to those three men?
CF: I would say sorry and I would urge them to vehemently assert their rights to their own likenesses.
So this is the third time that I’ve photographed Lily Allen. Pregnant this time. She never gets any easier, she never gets any less addictive. I know that my camera really does love her, or maybe it’s just me that loves her. When she wants to she will give herself entirely to the camera. The room goes heavy and I can feel it peaking. It doesn’t last long. Maybe five, ten minutes, tops, but in that time it’s like she’s turned up her internal wattage to the tune of a thousand times and one after the other, beautiful portraits tumble into the camera. Then, when it’s gone it really is gone and what’s left is a bored, distracted 25 year old girl with no interest in any of it at all.
She seemed to arrive in front of the camera fully formed the first time I photographed her for The New Yorker in May 2006. Totally confident, totally there.
Soon after, I was asked to do a publicity shoot with her for the record company. We did it 4 or 5 months after the first one and already she seemed to have physically evolved way more than was possible. Her hair was straighter. The make up was better and the styling had totally changed. The first shoot she wore a polka dot prom dress and trainers. For the second shoot she was in 4 inch heels and stuff that was from a fifties French New Wave film. So many times people have told me that she looks like she’s stepped out of ‘Amelie’ in one of the finals from that shoot:
These new pictures were shot for Stylist, a magazine that has a great design and photo team. Tom Gormer, the photography director just wants good pictures. He’s loose, easy and knows good photography. I love working for him. In his own words – he runs ting. The design team seem to love white space on their covers. Old school indeed. Square, vertical, horizontal, it doesn’t matter, just bring them good pictures and they’ll make the page work for the picture. Looking at their covers is like being thrust into the open space and fresh air of the Scottish west coast after being stuck in a July traffic jam in Moscow. You can breathe again.
So here we are 4 years later. She’s opened an incredible vintage shop in Covent Garden, London, with her sister, Sarah Owen. She doesn’t seem to be bothered about making any more music. The first set of portraits are an era ago, at the start of her career. I suppose they are. She’s 25 now. All pregnant and over it.
“The thing that concerns me the most is that because we now live in a world where we know that political campaigns are big, high profile, professionally-run operations, people might also then assume that the same thoroughness has been applied to the acquisition of promotional and advertising materials, including campaign imagery. If you follow that assumption to it’s natural conclusion, then you might include in it the thought that someone like me has given his full and informed approval to the use of the image because who would be mad enough to run an extensive television advertising campaign without actually clearing the imagery used in it? Now, those same observers could then think, ‘well that guy is quite clearly not an informed and impartial journalist at all. He’s covering everything from the position of what could, subjectively be termed, an extremist agenda.’ And, suffice to say, included in that smattering of observers of the situation would be the kind of people who previously thought that they could commission me to cover a story for them and, in the process, be impartial enough to photograph/report both sides of it in, ironically enough, a way that could be termed ‘Fair and Balanced’”.
Above is a quote from an interview I recently gave to Olivier Laurent from the British Journal of Photography on the subject of Getty Images ongoing tussle, on my behalf, with the Republican Party over a portrait I made in 2006 of three young Mexican gentlemen in the town of Altar, Mexico. For those of you who don’t know, the photograph appears to have been acquired questionably by the Republicans. What there is no doubt about, however, is the corruption of the facts behind the image once the campaigns of Sharron Angle in Nevada and David Vitter in Louisiana inserted it into different political TV ad campaigns. Angle stated that the men were illegal aliens and Vitter implied such. I also discussed with Olivier my sincere hope that Getty Images will do the right thing and defend the editorial integrity of the image in the light of these perceived violations, as their corporate editorial policy implies that they would:
“We believe that photographs are the visual communication of a story and should be held to an equal level of accountability, responsibility and integrity as the written word in journalism. Images illustrate and reflect the events of our world today and therefore have a responsibility to be delivered to the customer with accuracy and impartiality.”
I’m looking forward to Getty utilising the moral and legal high ground, that it seems to occupy in this case, to bring to bear a satisfactory conclusion, not only for me but for the honour and dignity of the three men in the photograph.
Stay tuned for a gripping and righteous conclusion to this tale, with Getty Images acting as the symbolic knight in shining armour, fighting for small and insignificant copyright holders, wherever they may rest.
This is the second week in a row that I’m gracing the cover of the Sunday Times Magazine. I know how it looks but it’s one of those things where perception and actuality are quite different. Last week’s Michael McIntyre cover was shot a couple of months ago before this one of Amanda Foreman and through the whim of the editor they’ve ended up running on consecutive Sundays. I am not down at Wapping every week, on my knees behind The Paywall, begging for all they can give me.
Amanda Foreman is a historical biographer. In 1999 she published the book ‘Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’ and this went on to sell in the millions. Subsequently, the film rights were sold and it was turned into a film -’The Duchess’ starring Keira Knightley & Ralph Fiennes. Amanda is now about to publish a new book, on a subject that I’m particularly drawn to, the American Civil War. However, she’s tackling it from an angle that I have not much considered before; Britain’s role in it. Bear in mind that the years the war lasted , 1861-1865, was also the period when Britain could be considered at the absolute peak of it’s empirical power. Consequently, we literally had our industrial and political fingers in every facet of the conflict’s pie. I’m yet to read the book but in a nutshell we seemed to be selling guns to one side (The Enfield Rifle Co. sold over a million) and bullets to the other. The most obvious facet is how inextricably linked the British cotton industry was to the cotton based slave trade of the American south. Why do you think they’re called ‘dark satanic mills’?
Anyway, back to the photography. The idea was originally pitched to me by Monica Allende from the Magazine. It was not, she emphasised, her idea. It had come from higher up and she was unsure of from where. The concept involved sourcing the three flags of the book’s main actors and wrapping each one of them around Amanda Foreman’s naked torso. I’ll be honest and say that I was doubtful it would work. The concept of trying to make a portrait of a woman in her early forties, wrapped in the three flags that represent the participants in her book, struck me as the classic end product of the thought processes of an old school, Fleet Street, male newspaper type of bloke. Frankly, it sounded like a terrible idea. Would they have done this to Simon Schama? Niall Ferguson? David Starkey? No, definitely not David Starkey. I thought it was a quagmire of old school, Fleet Street sexist and flesh obsessed juvenility.
Somewhere between the idea and the execution the woman was going to get separated from her dignity.
The problem for me was that I had already said yes to the assignment. They hit me with the concept later. I could have reacted in two ways. My emotional instinct was to throw a complete hissy fit and pull out there and then, claiming ‘artistic differences.’ Believe me, we don’t do these jobs for the money. We do them for exposure and credibility. As soon as you realise that you’ve become committed to something that threatens that credibility then you better understand what’s personally at stake. A million people will see this and I can’t afford to allow one of them to look at the end result and say “Wow, that’s a bit shit.”
Alternatively, I could take the whole thing as a challenge and draw upon my technical experience as much as my aesthetic instincts to try and pull it off. So in my head I started to break down the components I’d need to make it work and allow Amanda to not only keep her dignity but, also, to acquire some photographic nobility.
The easiest place to start was to write down a list of what I didn’t want. That began with the names of half a dozen photographers who might have done a job like this in the past and who would, I believed, make a right hash of this one. Then came the flags. They had to be old, knackered, proper, thick cotton ones. They just look better, feel better and are better. They represent longevity and authenticity over disposability and fakery. If I see a single fibre of polyester then I’m walking. Finally, Amanda herself. Here’s my tip to anyone reading this of how to get through a potential nightmare of naffness such as this; always, always, always defer to simplicity. When in doubt, simplify. Take things away, don’t add more. Less lights, less mess, less fuss, less ostentatious, less fancy, less showy, less make up, less wind machines, less funny angles, less less less. In other words, just let a pine cone be a pine cone. It’s beautiful as nature made it. It doesn’t need any glitter.
Next thing is to formally ask myself why we are doing this. Here’s why. This woman is a historian. She writes books. The reason she’s here today is because of a book she’s written on the British role in the American Civil War. The magazine, as they have for a long time, like the literal approach to a photograph. The editor’s decision is final and the editor likes the picture to serve as a form of visual affadavit to the words that accompany it. The image serves the words, not vice versa, and neither is there a mutuality of service between words and pictures. The words hover over the images in a coat made of haughty, detached superiority complex. I think it’s because, in a magazine, the words are actually deeply insecure. They know they need the picture but they hate that reliance. So they behave in a way that says “Make sure the reader looks at me too. You’ve got to tell them about me !” It’s as if they’ve lost the confidence in themselves to trust the reader to go there without the thuggish, strong arming attitude of the accompanying photograph. Hence, in a situation such as this, subtlety is not the watchword.
Therefore, a cover image of a female historian who’s written a book about Britain and the American Civil War must feature the following:
1) The woman as attractive and desirable. Clever and pretty. A boy’s subject presented by a girl. Wow! A treat for the thinking man on a Sunday.
2) Some form of symbol depicting the book’s subject, just so he doesn’t need to ask.
3) A representation of the fact that the woman was immersed in the subject for over ten years which means she really knows her stuff.
And that is how we ended up with the picture above. Once all the elements were in the frame it then became a question of arranging and organising them in a way that went back to what I said earlier about deferring to simplicity. I didn’t ask her to do anything silly or be hammy in any way. The slash of red lipstick is enough. The three flags tell us what it’s about. There was also an interesting little consideration that popped up on the day of the shoot concerning the fact that the American people have quite a deeply held dislike of their flag ever touching the ground. I’m not sure but it may even be illegal in the U.S. Thus, not wanting to upset 300 million people on a Sunday morning we sacrificed ourselves and just let the Union Flag do the dirty work on the floor, not inappropriately, bearing in mind some of the skullduggerous things Britain engaged in during the Civil War. And finally, the fact that she is utterly wrapped inside them tells us that this is a subject she knows about from the inside out.
What’s more, none of this would have been possible at all without the complicit cooperation of Amanda Foreman herself. In fact, I rarely speak to a subject before meeting them but in her case I decided to call her the day before the shoot and check with her to see if she (a) knew about the concept in advance and (b) was willing to do it. Her answer to both questions was not only yes but a complete jolly hockey sticks kind of a yes.
The end product is the result of following a narrow path, surrounded by booby traps and man traps, that requires the satisfaction of the client that I have made a commitment to, perhaps initially unwisely, and also the fulfillment of my own need to produce something that I can put up on here, believing that it works because I also know that I’m self aware enough to be able to realise when something I’ve done’s a bit shit.
If you’re that way inclined then today’s Sunday Times features my portrait of Michael McIntyre, Britain’s ‘current King of Comedy’ (Lynn Barber), on the cover of the magazine. The opening spread inside the mag also hosts this exercise in digital manipulation, expertly performed by James & John at FTP Digital in London.
The Sunday Times is available from all news stockists and is priced, I believe, at £2.00 £2.20.
About 6.30 this morning, a series of persistent pings on my iphone woke me up. It was half a dozen emails from friends in America every one of which had a link attached. Each link took me to a different website but it was the same story each time. One of the e-mails was from Sanjiv Battacharya, a British journalist based in LA who I have worked with several times. He was convinced that a photo I took on a story we did together for British GQ in 2006 on The Minutemen, a citizen group concerned about the proliferation of illegal immigrants in the United States, had been used in two different Republican Party TV ad campaigns. The photo (above) is of three young Mexican men in a town square in Altar, Mexico. The TV ads, which are for the senatorial campaigns of Sharron Angle in Nevada and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, claim that these men are aliens illegally living in the United States. The fact that these men were Mexican citizens photographed in Mexico kind of negates their claims.
The picture was one of several used in the story that ran in British GQ in October 2006. Since then all of the pictures from that trip have resided in the Getty Images News Archive. I know that pictures from the story have been republished elsewhere from time to time but at this stage I do not know for sure if this particular one has been used anywhere else. I also do not know if the two Republican campaigns acquired the picture by legal means from the Getty site (we’re still waiting to find that out) or if they both just lifted it from somewhere else, maybe another magazine, or even my own website which has had the picture on in the past, but I think that is unlikely. Nevertheless, the issue that is bothering me is that the availability of the image via Getty, was supposed to be restricted to editorial use only. I would not classify the usage in these advertisements as editorial.
At this early stage the legal and usage issues are still too uncertain because the facts on how the photo was acquired are not yet known. My feelings on how the picture has been used, however, are quite clear. Fundamentally, a portrait of three Mexican men taken in Mexico, admittedly in the midst of a story about the Arizona Minutemen and their role in the illegal alien issue has been ripped away from the context of that story and used to portray the men in it as almost satanic modern day reds under the bed.
And to assuage any confusion about the picture, the caption on the Getty website that accompanies the image clearly states that these men were Mexican citizens photographed in their own country. Nowhere does it say that these men are illegal immigrants in the U.S. So even if the Republicans downloaded it from Getty they could have seen there and then that the purpose for which they intended to use it was off the mark.
Here’s the caption:
“ALTAR, MEXICO: Mexicans pose for a portrait whilst gathered in the town square of Altar, Mexico. Altar is located 40 miles from the US border and is the last major town that Mexicans reach before the dangerous crossing. Much of its economy is dependant upon these congregated Mexicans who can purchase numerous necessary provisions. The Minutemen, most of whom are white, retired, armed citizens devote much of their time to musters or vigilante border watches in the Arizona desert, preventing Mexican illegal immigrants flooding into the US. These Minutemen, who claim to simply watch and report to the border police, have received criticism for being a cover for white supremacists whilst others hail them as heroes. Either way, they have struck a cord with many Americans who sympathise with their mission to make an impact on the illegal immigrants that are flooding across the Mexican border at a faster rate than ever. It is estimated that around 750,000 illegal immigrants entered America in 2005, amounting to more than 2000 per day, joining the 12 million that already live there. (Photo by Chris Floyd/Getty Images)”
The men I met that morning in the Altar town square told me that they were farmers from the far south of Mexico and that that season’s crop had failed, leaving them with nothing to sell and no option, they felt, but to make the journey north to America to seek work. At the point that photograph was taken not one of them had ever set foot in America, and I have no idea if they ever did.
What would be great to discover now is that one or all of those dudes are working as gardeners for the Governors of Nevada or Louisiana.
The Washington Post have now written about this after calling me earlier today
I will try to update more on this as the facts are established.
22.24 BST – The news so far on the question of the licence of the image has become a little clearer, if not crystal clear. I just spoke to Aidan Sullivan a Senior VP at Getty Images and so far they have established that the picture has been licensed twice via the online system in the last 2 years. Once by AOL for a tiny news item and very recently indeed in 2008 by a design firm in Washington DC that do a lot of work for the Republican Party. However, we only know that the licence they purchased was an editorial one. For them to acquire a licence allowing usage in a TV ad of this nature they would have had to have contacted a real life human. Apparently, Getty do have someone in DC who deals exclusively with the political parties and they are looking into the question of whether or not anyone contacted this person for the rights to use it in a TV ad or if that licence was granted. The question of whether or not I was asked if I had any objections to this kind of usage cannot be raised until we are certain that the firm who licensed the image for editorial use did, in fact, make the right legal moves in gaining an advertising licence.
I’ve now added a wide selection of photographs from the original story, many previously unpublished, to my website.
13 Oct 2010: Woken up to discover that the Sharron Angle campaign has taken down her ad from youtube. Not sure about Vitter’s one yet.
To be a truly great fashion photographer you have to be obsessed with at least one element of the process. And by obsessed I mean clinically obsessively compulsively obsessed. This obsession could fall under boys, girls, shoes, buttons, sexual availability, sexual unavailability and a whole other basket of neuroses and insecurities, aesthetic and social, including but not limited to, Miuccia Prada, other peoples style, silly dollies, front row seating at shows, collars, buttons, skirt lengths, modernity, the new black, hopeless prs, It bags, shoes, shoes, shoes, trench coats, the new lip, It scarves, botox, plastic surgery, size zero vs curves, fur, the weight of people and women that are made to look like little boys, at least according to a quick poll I did on Twitter anyway.
Boys, girls, you might not stay obsessed throughout your entire career but you will, without any doubt, do your greatest work whilst in the throes of that obsession.
I realised at an early point in my photographic career that I just didn’t have any of those obsessions. Maybe girls but not to a point where I thought it would ever result in a glittering journey of photographic achievement. I wonder sometimes how fashion photographers that are not shooting at the very top of the industry keep themselves going. I’m 41 and am married with 2 children. Where is the thrill in spending 4 or 5 months of the year away from home, in a hotel near a beach with people who are less than half your age?
I just believed that for me to take good photographs I needed to feel it. My best work is the work that I wanted to shoot whether I was being paid or not. I call it method photography, to get it you have to live it, or create a scenario in your head that you’re so convinced by it can only be this way because this is the way it was always meant to be.
And by the way? One subject I am kind of obsessed with is history and it’s role in providing the prologue for what’s happening today.
As for this post, I was asked by Patrick Grant of the Savile Row outfit, E.Tautz, who I recently met on another commission and who features in my previous post on the blog, if I would come to their spring/summer 2011 show at Somerset House in London and make portraits of the models backstage before the show.
He warned me that I would not have long with them, perhaps only the time between them finishing in hair and make up and the start of the show. However, I could shoot it as I saw it, no interference or direction from him, totally up to me. As soon as I saw the clothes I knew I could do something with them. They spoke to me on a personal level and when that happens it becomes a labour of love and an inspiration.
Patrick was right about the time constraints. In the end we shot about 15 outfits in less than an hour, all in the heat of a running show. As each model was fitted I had no more than 3 or 4 minutes to get the picture before he had to make his entrance to the room of assorted buyers and press.
One thing I did have in my favour though, was the perfect compatability of the location and the clothes. The Navy Board Rooms at Somerset House were a perfect match for the collection that Patrick had designed. In 1725 the Navy Board, which was responsible for the material condition of the naval fleet and the health and subsistence of seamen, moved into this part of the building. The swaggering confidence of Britain’s naval power in the period leading up to the victory over the French at Trafalgar in 1805 can be credited to the work of the Navy Board, which had endeavoured to get her dockyards and fleet into incredible condition, seems to flood the ambience of the rooms and can be summed up by this quote from Earl Saint Vincent, addressing The House of Lords in 1798:
“I do not say, my Lords, that the French cannot come. I only say they cannot come by sea.”
Which leads me to another, more recent chapter, in our island history and it’s role in the creation of some fashion photographs.
The feel that seemed to run through everything in the collection was that this was the wardrobe of an off duty, 1940, Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot. Patrick knew this too, obvs, and as a result, had cast his models to reflect that. They were all young boys, in their late teens/early twenties and had full heads of hair. Nothing shaven or cropped too close.
By the time the hair and make up people were finished and had vacated the room, I had the space to work quickly and quietly. All the chaos had now moved to the room next door, which held the rails of clothes and beyond, the show room itself. As each chap came in, because in my mind that’s what they were now, chaps, I explained to him that in here it was early September 1940, outside we could see the Thames and in a few moments he was going to go back out from here to the registry office next door to marry the girl that he had fallen in love with earlier this summer. We are in a fight for the survival of our country and he is in the vanguard of that defence with a life expectancy of perhaps three weeks. This is the chance for him to take a few moments of quiet and dignified contemplation before pushing forwards in love, life and possibly death.
The final element in this tableau of emotion, history and fashion was the serendipitous role of the sun. The morning of the shoot saw the most glorious early autumn light. In fact we shot this only a few days after the 70th anniversary of the peak day in the Battle of Britain, 15th September 1940, which gives rise to my earlier thoughts on the importance of ‘method’. It’s the sun that makes these pictures work. It provides the optimism and, with 70 years of hindsight, the sensation that we know, in the end, it will all be alright for us, but for these men we are not sure.
This slightly diffused, watery sun surges through the 18th century windows of the Navy Boardrooms and for an hour or so, as it mixes itself up with all the history in it and everything that can lay claim to the belief that all past is merely prologue, all I can see is a series of young men, both confident and reticent, wearing not only the clothes of E.Tautz but also the hopes of a pensive and expectant nation.
To see more of this work please visit www.chrisfloyd.com
Footnote: If you haven’t seen it then please watch the 1946 David Niven film ‘A Matter of Life & Death’ by Powell & Pressburger. All of these issues are wrapped up in one of the greatest films of all time.
This is my first post for about 2 months and like an unpaid bill or bank statement, I’ve really been putting off opening it. This blog business moves so fast and there’s so much coming at you that it often feels like you need to be out there showing off some shiny new project every damned day. The simple fact of it all is, however, that sometimes, in fact, for weeks at a time I don’t really have all that much to say at all. Like everybody else I’m just trying to get by, earn a living and stop the bank from getting too curious about what I’m up to. After that, I try to find the time to produce interesting things.
It’s now the first week of October and this post can trace it’s roots back to mid July when I was commissioned by The Sunday Times Style Magazine to photograph three men for the Mens Fashion Special. They were Patrick Grant, director of Norton & Sons and E.Tautz, a pair of Savile Row tailors; Joseph Corre, founder of Agent Provocateur and now the driving force behind A Child of the Jago; Theo Hutchcraft & Adam Anderson, who make up the duo, Hurts.
The original call was to simply produce a portrait of each man depicting his personal approach to the daily ritual of dressing. However, I had also been recently asked by Kate Suiter, the photography director of Style, to give some thought to the possibility of producing some short films for the Sunday Times website.
This story seemed to lend itself not just to the moving format more than the still one, but also to the audio format. I’m very aware, as a photographer, that if I want to make the move into film then it’s extremely important that I pay attention to the narrative and the sound, as much as, if not more so, the imagery. The mantra has to be ‘no story, no film’.
Kate and I agreed that I would photograph each of the men and also make a short film on the theme of “How I get dressed.” Apart from that, she had the grace and confidence to let me get on with it without questioning or dictating my methods and, remarkably, did not even ask to see anything until the deadline day, which was the Thursday before the Sunday of publication. I really do believe that it’s possible to do your best work when the client gives you the space to do the very thing that they hired you to do for the very reason that they hired you to do it, and Kate has done that consistently throughout the years of our working relationship. So, big ups to her.
Each of the men was scheduled to be photographed/filmed on a different day and in a different place and this threw up the most difficult part of the series, with the emphasis on the word ‘series’. I wanted all of it – the photographs and the films – to be of a piece. I wanted them all lit the same and shot on the same background and I wanted the men isolated from their daily environment and put into a neutral space.
I approached each of the three days in the same way. I and my assistants, Ben & Sarah, would arrive and while they loaded the equipment in, I would find the biggest/best space to work in and then leave them to get the lighting ready. While they were doing that I would spend the time talking to the subject and explain the idea behind our visit. I was looking to film a quiet, dignified study of a gentleman at the most contemplative part of his day – the time he spends dressing and preparing to face the world – and not, as Joe Corre put it, “poke around in my sock drawer.” The photographic portraits would come first and, if the truth be told, I felt that I could get those in the bag not necessarily with my eyes closed, but certainly much quicker than the time it would take for each of the films.
In the course of shooting each of the films, I felt that I was riding a learning curve that seemed to increase at a phenomenally exponential rate. Stills and movies are not the same thing but they certainly share a lot of the same genes, so after nearly 20 years as a photographer I have found that film making, for me, is like arriving on a planet with a lot of very familiar landmarks.
As filming progressed I realised that not only did the films need to be stylistically similar with regard to lighting and background, but also similar in composition, angle and speed/rate of cuts between shots. All of these were edited in iMovie, the main reason being that I don’t even possess a copy of Final Cut Pro and, also, speaking honestly, I find FCP scarily complicated. It’s a whole other kettle of fish to get into and I’m sure I will, in the same way that I did with Photoshop, organically and over a good many years so that it becomes something that I absorb by osmosis rather than in a concentrated, intense classroom way.
Once we had all the film in the can – well, digital footage shot on the 5D backed up in triplicate – we then spent about one day per film editing and then went back to each of the guys to show them their film and sit down to record their voiceovers. Patrick Grant recorded his in his basement studio at Savile Row by speaking it off the top of his head in sync with the film. Joe Corre watched his film in his office and used it as a visual springboard to express his thoughts on style, fashion and the power of make up, while Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, who make up the band Hurts, emailed me their monologues on the great white shirt and the importance of polishing your shoes from somewhere on the road, as they were touring and unavailable to meet me for a sit down. This is the weakest of the three. The voiceover they gave me, despite probably being the most romantic and evocative, was also too short for the film I’d cut so I had to stretch it out by inserting silences between each of their monologues. I’d like to have done it with them in person and teased out a bit more than what they gave me, I think it would have been stronger.
The final trio of films and series of portraits is, I hope, a good start for me in the world of the moving image. Documentary is what interests me and it’s the story that I want. I am not a conceptual photographer so why would I be a conceptual film maker? As ever, this is a conduit through which I can ask questions and learn about what makes people tick. From them, hopefully, I can discover something about myself on the way.