Category Archive: Awkward Intervention of Facts

  1. 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?'

  2. This Is Why I’m Not A Hotel Receptionist

    All Original Inspirator: David Bailey

    1982

    It was the last day of a family summer holiday in France, I was 14 years old.  My dad finally let me do the thing I had been itching to have a go at all fortnight.  He actually let me hold his new Pentax ME Super camera and take one picture with it.  One single picture, film was expensive and not something to be trifled with or wasted.  Make sure you look before you leap.

    I loved it.  I loved the buttons and dials and metallic feeling of it, the strange symbols, the odd, illogical numbers and markings, the way I could frame the world to my liking through the viewfinder and bring things in and out of focus.  I was a shy kid, confident in my thoughts but nervous physically.  I didn’t like the way I looked.  I thought my sleepy eyes made me look dozy.  Even now people think I look tired even when I’m wired to the sky.  Having the camera up to my face allowed me to both hide from the world and confront it at the same time.  The camera had a gold sticker on it with the logo of the Asahi Optical Company of Japan that said “PASSED” in block capital letters, as if to say that this item was of such complicated and vital construction it required extra approval to leave the factory from those whose name it bore.  It was relevant.

    All these years later I have no recollection of what I photographed that summer’s day in Brittany in 1982.  I only remember that I was dying to do it again.  Bit by bit my dad began to trust me with the camera and I was allowed to use it more often.  Eventually, he seemed to stop using it altogether and it became mine by osmosis.  At that point it was a hobby and nothing more.

    My dad had a Pentax ME Super that eventually became mine.

    Sometime later, months or years, the memory and recollection of time and place is compressed by the passing of time itself, I was in the school library and came across a book, ‘Black & White Memories’, by a photographer called David Bailey. I cannot tell you enough what an evangelical, Saul on the road to Damascus moment this was.  The pictures in that book were the key to a door that opened into a room that I didn’t even know existed.  A room that was both unmistakably familiar and wholly new.  I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole into a fantasyland that was more real than the future that had been ascribed to me up to that point, which was probably school, university and some sort of white collar, possibly professional career of security and mundanity. I know I wanted the security because I still crave it now, but I couldn’t face the mundanity. That day in the library flipped my future upside down by confiscating the security altogether and replacing it with the kind of possibility that would entail having to keep my eyes on the road for all time.  For someone who looked so sleepy, there was to be no sleeping through life for me.  The room that the Bailey book unlocked was a place where photography didn’t have to be weddings and repetitive family portraits. Oh!  You can do that.  You can do that.  You can do this.  You can go there.  You can meet these people.  You can meet those people, who, incidentally, are quite different to these people.

    The way he cut off the top of peoples’ heads and went straight to the eyes. He had a style of photographing pairs of people and getting their heads to tilt in opposite directions to each other, which created a symmetry that was almost hypnotic.  All that starkness.  As Ian Dury once sang about Gene Vincent:

    White face, black shirt

    White socks, black shoes

    Black hair, white strat

    Bled white, died black

    All extraneous details eliminated.  No ambiguity. No frills, no fuss, no flim, no flam.

    All the time it’s important to remember that this took place before the internet existed.  Finding stuff out involved physical effort.  You couldn’t just sit in your bedroom on your arse.  No, you had to go to places: libraries, bookshops, museums, art galleries, the cinema, record shops.  You had to want to find it badly enough to actually get dressed.  Starting with Bailey I learned about lineage, about Penn, Avedon, John French, Cartier Bresson.  From there to others.  Ralph Gibson, Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton, Jacques Lartigue, August Sander, Paul Strand, Joel Meyerowitz, William Klein, Arnold Newman, Elliot Erwitt, Lee Friedlander, each one opening another door to their influences and persuasions.

    When you’re a boy in your mid-teens in the home counties of England in the early to mid eighties, things like this are the punch in the face you need if you don’t want your life to be something that begins at 5.30pm on a Friday every week.

    In time, although my interests and tastes in photography have travelled across a lot of ocean, Bailey’s work and story have remained as the Greenwich meridian of my photographic core and even now, when I look at his work all these years after first finding it, I feel that I am back in my home port.

    2011

    The last time I got a pay cheque that didn’t come from photography was in 1992.  I’m in my 20th year as a photographer.  I’m as excited by taking pictures now as I was in 1982.  The worry of earning a living never subsides though, it’s a burden and it’s the catalyst that keeps these somnambulant eyes open.  It’s my daily sharpener.  It’s about getting the call. I love the buzz of the call.  The gig, the job.  I’m not an artist and I have no wish to be an artist.  I’m a curious person who feeds his curiosity by taking pictures.  After doing this for 20 years I know that there’s no type or class of person that I couldn’t hold a relevant conversation with if I needed to.  Sometimes I have to sit at tables next to people whose eyes glaze over when they realize I can’t do anything for them, that I have no relevance to their idea of personal advancement.  I have a certain level of self awareness.  I try not to be boring.  My granddad had a great way of putting this.  “Try not to be the kind of man that lights up a room by leaving it”, was what he said.

    A call comes.  From Lucy Davies.  She runs Telephoto, the Daily Telegraph’s online photography blog. I love Lucy. She loves photography and, incredibly, she also seems to like photographers.  She knows what she’s talking about.  Her knowledge has depth and breadth.  A conversation with her will always involve me learning something.  She reminds me of a much younger version of Elisabeth Biondi, who recently retired from The New Yorker and from whom I have been lucky enough to have been thrown some very juicy scraps now and then, including the one that allowed this story to happen. Lucy has a proposition.  Would I be interested in taking part in a one to one conversation with another photographer for the Telegraph that will be recorded and published as a transcription?  She wants it to be me with an older photographer and she wants us to talk about the nature of magazine photography and the way it has changed over the last 50 years.  Of course, I say.  Who will I do it with?

    She says, “I was thinking it would be good to do it with Bailey. What do you think?”

    A little piece of me stumbles inside. I retain composure, attempt slight ambivalence and proceed thus:

    “Yes, in principle, but I don’t know him, I’ve never met him and he will have no idea who I am.  If you can persuade him then I’d be glad to do it.”

    In my head I can see the 14 year old me in the school library again and I have a thought.  In 2007 The New Yorker ran a profile of Paul McCartney entitled “When I’m Sixty Four; Paul McCartney, then and now.”  The opening spread and the “then” part of that headline was Bailey’s iconic 1965 portrait of him and John Lennon.  On the turn page, as the “now” picture they ran my portrait of him, taken in the early years of the 21st century.

    I call Lucy back and suggest that this use of mine and Bailey’s work in the same magazine story could be the perfect hook for us to get together.  We could begin by talking about photographing the same subject 40 years apart and go from there.

    McCartney profile in The New Yorker with Bailey's 1965 portrait as the opener.

    My portrait of McCartney on the turn page.

    Two weeks later, an email:

    From: Lucy Davies

    Date: 16 February 2011 18:18:45 GMT

    To: Chris Floyd

    Subject: Fwd: McCartney – New Yorker

    See below. Can you email Danielle and arrange a time to meet? Fngers crossed we are almost there.  You will have to charm your way to the last post CF.

    xx

    ———- Forwarded message ———-

    From: Danielle Edwards

    Date: 16 February 2011 18:15

    Subject: Re: McCartney – New Yorker PDF

    To: Lucy Davies

    Hi Lucy

    I think Bailey wants to meet him first to have a quick chat before he commits.

    Can we organise a quick chat at Baileys studio? Let me know if you want to schedule with you or direct with him.

    Thanks

    Danielle

    Studio Manager / Personal Assistant to David Bailey

    ‑_____________________________________________

    Him & Me

    Tuesday 1st March is the date we agree to meet.  It’s a ‘quick chat’.  Meet and say hello.  It’s St. David’s Day but I’m certain that the David I’m going to meet is no saint. Somewhere on the walk from Euston to his studio off the Gray’s Inn Road I step over a crushed daffodil on the pavement.

    Of all the people I know in this business, every one of them seems to have worked or spent time with him.  They all have their stories and most of these involve extreme language or confrontations of one sort or another.  I’m the only person I know that has never met him or worked with him or have any tales to tell.

    Ascending the stairs into his skylight flooded studio I’m immediately struck by the life that emanates from it.  See, the thing is, I don’t know anybody with a studio, a proper studio.  These days people have ‘spaces.’  When I need to shoot in a studio I go to one of London’s many rental operations.  To a one, they are all sterile, white, cold, soulless blank canvasses that are not intended to inspire anything.  I find them torturous places to spend a day in.  The idea is that you bring the concept with you and fill the space with it temporarily. The thing is, I make it all up as I go along.  Fundamentally, I’m bringing nothing of my own to a vacuum that has nothing to offer.  When you leave, a little army of assistants come in like Oompa Loompas  and eradicate any memory of your presence there.

    Bailey’s gaff, on the other hand, has all the timely grime of his 30 odd year occupancy.  Polaroids, one signed by Jarvis Cocker that says “I am Jarvis xx (it’s true)”, bits of weird equipment, postcards, a cage of exotic birds from who knows where, skulls, human skulls, animal skulls, a skull that looks like it was designed by George Lucas, a picture of Mao (is it a Warhol?  I don’t know), Bailey with Ronnie Wood, Bailey with Macca, Penelope Tree as a sort of Mickey Mouse King of Clubs, a picture of Bailey’s assistant, Mark, pulling onto the back of Bailey’s trousers as he leans over the edge of a freight container to take a picture in Afghanistan last year.

    Wall of Polaroids

    This place is consumed with life and vitality.  I haven’t been in anywhere like this for years.  I don’t know anyone that can afford it.

    My first sight of Bailey is of him sitting on a stool with a cape around his neck as a young, dark, good looking guy cuts his hair.  His voice has that familiar, slightly high pitched old school Cockney lilt to it.  He sounds exactly like he did in the Olympus ads he used to appear in on the telly when I was a kid.

    “Hello, are you Chris?”

    Yes, I say, I am indeed.

    “Siddown, siddown, has anyone offered you a drink? Tea? Coffee?  This is Kashmir, he’s cutting my hair. What’s that book you’ve got?  Is it any good?”

    I’m made to feel welcome as Bailey includes me in the ongoing studio conversation with Mark and his P.A., Danielle.  It goes on like this for a while.  People come and go.  His wife Catherine comes in for a while and we all have lunch.  Their daughter, Paloma, is floating around the place, doing various bits and pieces.  It’s people sitting around talking about stuff.  Bob Dylan is on the stereo.  Bailey loves Dylan.

    He says something about the Kray twins (“Ron and Reg”) and their mother, Violet.  I mention that my granddad was from Vallance Road, the same street as the Krays, and that his parents were killed by the last V2 that hit London in March 1945.

    “A V2 hit my local cinema when I was a kid.  I remember being very upset.  I thought Hitler had killed Mickey Mouse.”

    Kashmir finishes the haircut, packs his scissors away, is the recipient of a warm farewell from all and leaves.  I make a comment to Bailey about what a great name ‘Kashmir’ is for a hairdresser.

    “Oh that’s not his real name, that’s just what I call him.”

    “What’s his real name then?”

    “Oh fuck it, I dunno, Gianni or something.  I just call him Kashmir because he looks like a Kashmiri carpet salesman.”

    The conversation goes back to my great grandparents and Bailey asks me if they were Jewish and I say that they were.

    “So you’re Jewish?”

    “No. After the war my granddad anglicized his name and my mum was brought up Christian. We are the black sheep of the family on my mum’s side.”

    “You married?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Your wife Jewish?”

    No.  English.  Posh English.”

    “Hmmmm. Shiksa.”  (A Shiksa is an attractive gentile girl who might be considered a temptation to Jewish men or boys.)

    “Christ! I’m not even Jewish.  How can I be married to a shiksa?”

    “I once thought I might be partly Jewish.  Turned out I’m not.”

    He asks me how I got into photography.

    “When I was a kid, in the school library I found a copy of ‘David Bailey’s Box of Pinups’.

    “Really? Did you nick it?”

    “No!”

    “You should’ve done.  That’s worth about twenty grand now, a complete set.”

    I realise I’ve made a mistake.  It wasn’t ‘Box of Pinups’, it was ‘Black & White Memories’.

    “Oh. Nah, that’s not worth anything.  Terrible printing.”

    I go on to explain that photography for me was not the end in itself.  It’s always been the conduit that has allowed me to meet and talk to interesting people.”

    “Yeah?  Well you’re in the wrong job then mate.  You should’ve been a fucking hotel receptionist.”

    A bit later on:

    “I like you Chris but I think you’re a bit too fucking serious.”

    “It’s hard not to be when I’ve been assigned the straight man’s role in this relationship.”

    The time passes and the ‘quick chat’ has turned into 3 hours.  I’m getting anxious about the fact that I’ve got to go and pick up my daughter from school.

    “Bailey, this has been great.  It’s been such a treat to come here and meet you.  Thanks for having me but I’ve really got to go.”

    “Go? You haven’t seen my darkroom yet.”

    Now is my chance to turn the tables.

    “Oh alright then.  Come on.  Quickly.  Five minutes and then I’m going.”

    For a brief moment I feel like I’m Ernie to his Eric.

    We go downstairs and into the darkroom.  I haven’t been in one of these for about 5 years and the smell is like crack.  Immediately, I want my old one back.  We stand around in the red light while he prepares a neg for printing.  This is where he seems to really want to be more than anywhere, in the dark, on his own, making prints.  Outside, the exotic birds are squawking relentlessly.  The red light and the sound of the birds gives me the feeling that we are in a pet shop that doubles as a brothel on quiet days.

    I deliberately haven’t pressed him on the Telegraph question, the reason I am here in the first place.  I didn’t want it to get in the way of how much I’d enjoyed just hanging out with him and his crew and talking about photography and all sorts of other things.  It was, truly for me, a great afternoon, everything that this life can deliver on it’s best days and nothing like what it would have delivered had I become a hotel receptionist.  He seems to sense this and says one of the most generous spirited things I’ve ever heard from someone whose opinion, as hard as I might try and pretend doesn’t matter to me, actually matters to me.

    “I’ve enjoyed it today, Chris.  Before you came I had a look at your work and I like it.  I like your portraits.  It’s been a pleasure to spend time with you.  I don’t know if I want to do this Telegraph thing, not sure that I want to talk about magazines really. My feelings towards them aren’t warm.  So if I don’t do this it won’t be because of you.  I’d like to stay in touch and maybe we can do something else together.  Even if you are a bit serious.”

    “Oh fuck off.  Stop telling me I’m too serious.”

    And with that, we bid goodbye.

    Bailey with daughter, Paloma

    Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon

    The Something Else

    Lucy Davies contacts me a couple of weeks afterwards and, sure enough, Bailey does not want to talk to another photographer about magazines and the nature of magazine photography in the presence of The Telegraph.  This is fine with me.  I sort of had the conversation with him on our meet, so I feel like I got all the juice out of the orange without having to then deal with the pips.

    Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon

    Instead, he is going to talk to Andrew Graham Dixon, The Telegraph’s art critic, about his work in the context of art.  He would like me to take his portrait for the piece and it will take place back at his studio.

    I put the word out to my assistants and I have a queue of them offering to come and help for free.  I take two, Sarah & Andras.  We discuss what we are going to do before we arrive.  I tell them that, as a matter of pride, I do not want to get one derogatory, sarcastic comment from Bailey about the way we have set ourselves up.

    I realize this is futile when Mark, his assistant, wanders over to have a look at our lights.

    “Ooh, just you wait till Bailey sees this.  He’s gonna rip the piss out of you.”

    When he comes in he doesn’t quite do that but he does have a good prod and poke at everything, almost to see if our setup is going to stay up by itself or collapse and fuck up his studio.

    I give him a look and start taking pictures.

    “If you leave it alone it won’t fall over.”

    “What shutter speed you got there?”

    “Sixtieth.”

    “You sure?  Sounds like a thirtieth to me.”

    “No, it’s a sixtieth.  Stop trying to fuck with me.”

    One of the things about Bailey that a lot of people don’t realize is that he laughs.  He laughs a lot.  He’s got opinions and he expresses them, often to the contrary of other peoples’ opinions but in the process he laughs a lot.  He is very funny, which is why he thinks I’m too serious.

    We knock the whole thing off in 15-20 minutes.  I like doing it quickly.  It’s like a plateful of food.  Eat it while it’s hot.  Too long out of the oven and the glory goes.

    “That’s it.  I’ve got it.”

    “You sure?  You didn’t give me any direction.”

    “What would have been the point?  You wouldn’t have done anything I asked you to anyway.  I wanted you as you are.  I’ll work around you.  I like it like that.  I find things I didn’t know I was looking for.”

    Still a kid indeed.  Still learning.  Still fourteen.

    Read the discussion that took place between David Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon in The Daily Telegraph

  3. For Sale: One Newly Shot And Immediately Killed Portrait Commission

    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.”

    Last frame.

    CF: “Say ‘Lesbian’”

    ALW: “No.”

    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.”

  4. I love you. I’m just not in love with you.

    Shot on actual film.

    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.

    Dear  ***********,

    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.

    Chris x

    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.


  5. John Terry: does not mind doing it for the kids

    Oscar Witt bangs one in against John Terry.

    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.

    Goal Hangers