Archive: Oct 2011

  1. The Way I Dress: Mr Douglas Friedman

    This is the second of five films for Mr Porter - click here to see how it looks on their site.  This was shot on a 99F day in Brooklyn, New York in July 2011.  My subject was Douglas Friedman, a New York based photographer.  If we allow ourselves the space then the minutes when a man gets dressed can be the most calm and reflective of the day.  That’s what I have tried to evoke in these films.

  2. What is England?

    'Work': From the series 'What is England?'

    Last year I took part in a project entitled ‘What Is England?’, curated by photographer Stuart Pilkington.  The idea was that each of England’s 50 counties would be represented by a single photographer and, over the course of one year, through a series of fixed assignments the project would build a pictorial idea of what England is today.  I represented Surrey.

    'Person': From the series 'What is England?'

    When I volunteered to take part I was asked to write something on the county and what it meant to me.

    “I wasn’t born in Surrey but I was made in Surrey. In the same way that Elvis was made in Memphis. It’s the place that stamped itself on me whether I wished it to or not. I love it and I loathe it. But being a born nostalgic, where the past is always better than any future on offer, I mostly love it now. I love it’s civility, it’s decency, it’s emotional constipation. Nobody in Surrey would dream of burdening you with a need for a solution to a personal problem. It’s a county of Hugh Grants. When people ask me where I’m from I say “Surrey. God’s County.” I leave it to the questioner to decide how that answer is intended or received. Surrey is where I discovered photography, where I bought my first record, where I lost my virginity, where I first got drunk and where London and the future was never more than 20 miles and never less than 20 light years away. It was my home for 9 of my 41 years, less than a quarter of my life and diminishing by the day, but when I think of it I think of Tania Wild in a navy blue v-neck tank top and a half return to Guildford for 55p.”

    'Group': From the series 'What is England?'

    These pictures don’t reflect the kind of place I grew up in, they are the place I grew up in.  As a child I lived in what I can now see was, for me today with children of my own, an existence that is utterly unattainable.  The people in the two pictures above now live in the house in which I spent my teenage years.  Particularly in these pictures, I have realised that I’m fetishising the 1980′s England that I knew.  The village I grew up in was a classic Home Counties  English village. There were old school, pre big bang City commuters and locals who were born and bred, with a definite accent that would place them here, with a working life that had been agricultural, although even then you could see that it was dying and the fields were being replaced with ‘Executive’ style estates.  The Surrey I grew up in was comfortable, not out and out rich.  It had something of John Betjeman about it, something of Agatha Christie, the miners’ strike didn’t come near us.  For my Dad, whose childhood was one of  wartime evacuation, lonliness and bitter London poverty, this was everything he had dreamed of and worked towards.  In one generation our family had moved up from the misery of what had come before.  Half my friends went to private schools and half went to ordinary comprehensives.  I went to a private school till I was 14.  When I begged my parents to take me out of it because I was so unhappy they relented and sent me to a comprehensive.  There were idiots and good people in both systems.  Any night in one of the five local pubs would have allowed you a view of the social mix.  The Public Bar and the Saloon Bar were not so segregated that they couldn’t tolerate cross pollination.

    'Rural': From the series 'What is England?'

    My trip back to Surrey to take part in this project was a selfish one.  I have to admit I made no effort to represent the county in any modern or objective way.  Parts of it are a million miles from this part here. No, my sole motivation was to travel back to a time when I felt safe, secure and more certain than I do today.  However, as welcoming as the current occupants of my house were, I have to confess that I don’t like what the place has become.  The lawn, immaculate in these pictures, seems to represent the massive gulf between the haves and have nots in our country today. It’s the same piece of land on which I spent my formative years, but it doesn’t look anything like the garden I knew, which was a more messy and natural affair.  This is an English garden on steroids, the introduction of a banned substance in the form of too much wealth.  It seems unhealthy, prone and vulnerable to disease or attack.  Looking at these pictures has made me realise that I grew up in an English idyll that doesn’t exist anymore.  It was a place where the gap between the top and bottom was not obscene, where the top and bottom mixed in the pub and where the local amateur dramatic society was the place in which they all came together to put on idyllic plays from their own pasts.

    'Play': From the series 'What is England?'

  3. Paddy Considine & Peter Mullan Aren’t Dinosaurs

    Peter Mullan (L) & Paddy Considine (R)

    This was one of those ones where you just want to hang around with them all day and listen in to what they’re talking about.  Paddy Considine & Peter Mullan, both fantastic actors and, it seems, human beings too, but wholly uncomfortable when it comes to having to do the kind of thing that they think an encounter with someone like me entails.  This was taken for The Daily Telegraph on a junket – a day of publicity in a London hotel suite.  Interview after interview.  Blah blah blah.  Having to promote and talk about the film that they have just made together, in this case it’s ‘Tyrannosaur’, Considine’s first film as a director.  He also wrote it.  I haven’t seen it yet but I will.

    I was the last one of  the day which makes it dodecahedrally worse.  They were not at all into ‘posing up’ and all that.  What kind of pictures did I want?  I explained that the way I view a situation of this nature  is to regard it as an encounter, a conversation, and the photograph that comes from it is merely the record of the conversation.  I told Considine that I learned that from a photographer called Steve Pyke, at which point he said, “Yeah? Steve’s a mate of mine.”  I also told him that an image of mine that was used on a single release by The Verve (Lucky Man) had been ripped off and blown up into a huge poster which appeared on the wall of  a flat in ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, the Shane Meadows film in which Considine plays a former soldier returning to reap revenge on those who killed his brother.  He asked me if they’d asked my permission and I said no.  Then it wasn’t all so bad and I just encouraged both men to stand in front of me and continue the conversation that they had been having as they walked into the room together.  I began to take pictures and the frame above is one of them.

    For me to get the kind of pictures that I want, I try to create an environment that allows the subject(s) to forget where they are.  Fundamentally, I am trying to reveal intimacy and some kind of a truth from a scenario that is innately artificial and demonstrably false.  Some people thrive in this situation.  I have photographed Hollywood actresses who have no problem doing anything you ask in front of 20 people.  With Considine & Mullan though, it was clear that less was once again more.  As they talked and seemed to relax into the scene I had no trouble just reaching in and quietly pulling one of them away so I could then concentrate on capturing them individually.  By now everything in each of them had relaxed and all was right with the world for the rest of the day.