Category Archive: Uncategorized
When I was young and the world was wide open, I thought that it would be enough to be able to tell people who asked, that I was a photographer, that I took or made pictures for a living. It seemed so perfectly succinct and circular. I am a…..photographer. The word ‘photography’ is the joining together of two Greek words: ‘photos’ meaning light and ‘graphe’ meaning drawing. Going by these definitions ’photography’ gives us ‘drawing with light.’
Then I got older and, fortunately, I got a career. What fell by the wayside though, was the idea that I could just be a photographer. So naive. I’ve had all kinds of work in my portfolios. People, landscapes, still life, reportage. Never any watches though. I couldn’t think of anything I’d like to do less than spend a life photographing watches. Literally seeing your life tick by at work. I did once photograph the stopwatch that timed Roger Bannister’s sub-four minute mile but that was different. That was a watch with a unique history and a charisma of its own.
As the years have gone by I’ve slowly evolved and narrowed my field of expertise down to one singular element of practice within the wider field of photography. That now slim vista consists entirely of portraiture. Nowadays, when people ask, I say that I am a portrait photographer. If the subject has a pulse then I am your guy. Even the photograph I made of that stopwatch, with its cracked glass and hands stopped at 3min 59.4sec was a portrait.
So here I am, twenty years in, and I’m a people person. I’m in the people box. I don’t get calls to photograph ice cream or cars or electronics or fashion still life. No, I’m a people person. This is a good thing because without it I’d never meet anyone. It’s been said that the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is that an extrovert enters a roomful of people and feasts on the energy in the room. An introvert enters a roomful of people and the room instantly sucks all the energy from them. Without the job, I’d be stuck alone in a roomful of people feeling exhausted, so I’m thankful for it in more ways than one.
Which brings us to Ray Winstone here. Not in a million years would I have known how to engage with him had we been pitched together, say, in a small soiree of a dozen people. Put a camera in my hand though, and all that goes away. I have a role and with it a licence to say or ask almost anything. The camera is the catalyst for the conversation.
I walk a strange line with these encounters. On the one hand I want to get my subject in to a place where they feel like the whole thing is nothing more than a light stroll down a promenade of moderately stimulating conversation and engagement, so that when they walk back into the real world they think, “that was nice, he was nice, not too demanding, I enjoyed it. What shall I have for lunch?” On the other hand, I’m really trying to nail them in a lightning flash moment of self reflection and revelation. I try to quietly push and coerce, wait a bit, lighten it up a touch, wind it back in suddenly, just like fishing. I want it to feel like the whole universe has momentarily dissolved and they are left there utterly alone with themselves and nought for company.
My whole method revolves around constant conversation, talk talk talk, what about this thing you did, what about that thing you did, did you expect that an image of you in a pair of yellow swimming trunks would become an iconic image? All that. There’s a line joining the subject and me. Each of us at opposite ends. For it to work, I HAVE to meet them on that line somewhere. If they won’t come far down the line it means I have to go all the way up it. Other times, they come the whole length and I barely have to stand up for the connection to happen. There are some where you can feel that you are only inches apart, yet you’re just not going to make it. Those are the worst. They torture me for days afterwards, blaming myself for an imagined oafishness or missed opportunity. When the meeting on the line does happen, that becomes the moment where I can stop speaking, they can stop speaking, and no one needs to say anything anymore. Oh, it’s a cloud nine moment, the most intense feeling of relief. The adrenaline settles and it all becomes flat as the calmest ocean. Everything seems, I don’t know, it seems so balanced. I once had it with Paul McCartney for two frames and it was enough.
So, Ray. These portraits were shot in the Riflemaker, an art gallery in Soho, London. I didn’t have long, perhaps half an hour at the most. I would have liked it to have been longer. Given another hour I think he would have delved deeper for me and we could have gone higher than second gear. He is an underrated and mesmerising actor when it comes to conveying the nuance of emotion and that’s what I would have worked on with him but when it comes down to it, it’s not going to come in half an hour. Time, we’re back to watches again. The great thing that he asked me though, was “What d’you want? What sort of thing you after?” – a collaborator, a dream to direct. I loved him for his willingness to try to go somewhere for me. It was real honey, he knows it’s about something more than just showing up in a double breasted blazer. He used his whole body. His hands, chest, shoulders all affected the weight of the pictures. He came all the way down the line, then he was out the door and into the streets of Soho, off for lunch.
I wrote this last year for the website It’s Nice That and I thought it would also be nice to place it here too. So, these five, among many, many others are some books I love.
Lee Friedlander: American Musicians
My all time number one favourite book. A masterclass spanning 30 years, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, in how to photograph not only musicians but the greatest musicians of the 20th Century at that. Apart from my children, it’s the first thing I’d save in a fire. Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, in studios, on the road, in their homes, boarding houses, hotels, buses, cars, city streets, country juke joints, gospel, jazz, country, blues, it goes on and on and on.
The intimacy of the work is astounding. It could only have been achieved by someone that was liked and trusted, as well as brilliant. Only Frank is missing. You like soul music? This is soul photography.
Richard Avedon: Evidence
The diametric opposite of Friedlander’s work – detached, aloof, deadly. See his portrait of Marilyn Monroe, lost to the world in her solipsism. Avedon is the first place you should go if you want to be a photographer. The restraint, discipline and surgical preciseness of his work still awes me 25 years after discovering it. His technique – stark white backdrop, daylight, black & white – is the photographic equivalent of three chord rock ’n’ roll. Anyone can do it, only a few can do it well and no one can do it like Avedon.
David King:The Commissar Vanishes
A shocking and riveting compilation by King that reveals, in the pre-digital age, the falsification of photographs and art in Stalin’s Russia, as well as the phenomenal skills of the retouchers that did the work by hand. To remove a man from a photograph, by hand with a scalpel, and replace him with more of the building he was standing in front of really is quite a special gift. The cover is a grid of four images, each a variation on a single original. The master is a photograph of Stalin with three comrades beside him. The other three images are altered versions of the original, where one by one, the other men have been removed by the retoucher’s hand as they fell out of favour with Uncle Joe, until we are left with the final image of Stalin alone.
My favourite is a photograph of a humble working man indicating to Stalin where the microphone is located as he prepares to address a huge crowd. In the published version the man has been removed. The Boss must never be seen to be needing anybody’s guidance when it comes to knowing which way to go.
Stanley Booth: The True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones
Booth accompanied the Stones on their 1969 American tour which culminated in a free gig at the Altamont Speedway in California. The band asked the Hell’s Angels to do the security and this, combined with a batch of terrible acid that did the rounds of the crowd on that cold December day kicked off a chain of events that ended just yards from the front of the stage with the murder, by the Angels, of a man called Meredith Hunter, as the Stones struggled to make it to the end of Under My Thumb.
Booth’s book is a Heart of Darkness for the sixties, as the pampered and childish boys from Dartford begin to realise that the chain of events they have triggered has ended in a place that none of them wish to remain. The prose is elegance incarnate.
There is a companion documentary (Gimme Shelter by The Maysles Brothers) that is as compelling as the book and which also shows Mick Jagger in the editing suite being shown the footage, shot from a camera on the stage, of the victim as the Angels descend on him with pool cues and baseball bats. The last thing we see, as the Stones make their getaway by helicopter from the crime scene, is Stanley Booth’s tan leather jacket clambering aboard, as he becomes the last guy out of town on the chopper with them.
Craig Taylor: Londoners
A collection of first person narratives on London from people who, love it, hate it, live in it and left it. This passage from an airline pilot, who describes the approach into Heathrow, perhaps explains it best: “You’ll be flying back in across from France, say,…….past that nubbin sticking out south of Calais…..it’s all nice and relaxed. Then you hit the London frequency on the radio and suddenly everyone’s jabbering away. There’s a million and one voices and the controller’s not got five seconds to take a breath…..they’ll tell you what you need to do, and then you get out of the way. All those planes are heading to London for a reason, and the people on board want to be there for a reason.”
Reading it back now gives me a shiver. It’s my home too. When I walk round Soho I don’t just see a load of old buildings, I see and feel history, everything that came here before me. I hear, smell and taste the ghost of lunches past. Laughs, ideas, boozing, eating, moaning, life being lived. I love this city. I’ve lived in other cities in other countries, this one though, she’s my soul mate and this book reminds me of that.
From: jon rubin
Subject: Inquiry: Shoot in Oxford Circus tube
Date: 2 July 2013 19:28:24 GMT+01:00
I am an American artist who is doing a project for The Thing Quarterly and Levis and I am looking to hire a photographer in London for a shoot.
I got your info from Geoff Chadsey who is a photo editor for Time Inc.
Basically, I need to have photos shot of one man waiting for a train in the Oxford Circus tube station. The photos from that shoot will go into ad spaces throughout the station (without any branding on them). Each weekday during rush hour, for the duration of the images display (late August), the actual man depicted in the photo (in the same clothes as he wears in the photo) will be in the Oxford Circus underground waiting for a train that he never boards.
As people arrive at the platform they will see the photos of the man in the ad space(s) and might recognize him waiting on the platform. As everyone boards the train and empties the platform, the man would be left standing there alone (much as in the picture). By destabilizing the viewers perception of both the image of the man and the man himself this project creates an uncanny simultaneity between the space of advertising and the space of life, what is past and present.
I saw your website and love the work you do. The project is on a really fast track and needs to be shot late this week, early next. Let me know if this might be of any interest to you.
I can be available via Skype or email to give you more details if you’d like.
From: Chris Floyd
Subject: Re: Inquiry: Shoot in Oxford Circus tube
Date: 2 July 2013 19:54:54 GMT+01:00
To: jon rubin
I love this idea!
It’s good that you wrote when you did. I had a few different jobs come in today and I’m in the process of getting them scheduled but I would so love to do this that I can bend everything else around it.
Do you have ‘The Man’ cast yet? Do London Underground know about it? They are very strict on shooting anywhere on the tube. If we have permission then that is great but it’s always possible to guerilla it.
Would we see the man from the back? From the front? With the track behind him or would our POV be from the track looking towards him?
Would he be the only man in the picture or would there be many other people?
I have so many questions though it might be easier to talk on the phone. It’s no hassle for me to call you. If you’d like to talk then send me your number.
So, here’s the bigger picture:
San Francisco-based publication THE THING Quarterly has partnered with Levi’s® Made and Crafted™ to produce Moment to Moment, a magazine (of sorts) that happens in real time throughout the summer, across a broad spectrum of mediums and geographic locations. Through a series of independent but related contributions—all built around the central theme, ’Good Things Take Time’, Moment to Moment reminds us about the good things that happen when we slow down and experience the details around us.
Moment to Moment is based on visual artist Dan Graham’s interventions from the 1960’s in which he purchased advertising space in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Arts Magazine in order to create art pieces. The title comes from 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who envisioned a three-dimensional book entitled Moment to Moment. He saw it as something that would be performed, rather than read.
The project will consist of over 15 different commissions including online videos, text pieces, paintings, animated gifs, photography, and essays. Some of these pieces will appear on billboards, bus shelters, subway stations and other outdoor advertising spaces in cities around the world. These public interventions propose a more pleasing visual alternative within the urban landscape and prompt viewers to take time for the good things around them. Some pieces will be inserted into the paid advertising space of magazines as standalone works of art. They will be pages from the Moment to Moment project, extracted and repositioned as pages in other likeminded publications. The remainder of the publication will be featured online at www.goodthingstaketime.com and in the free printed newspaper which, like the official website, will document and share the entire project.
The man on the platform is London based artist, Michael Crowe, who is doing a great project of his own called Mysterious Letters. In order to get far enough away and realistically photograph him on the platform of the southbound Bakerloo line platform at Oxford Circus required permission to go into the station at night, after 1am, when it had closed, the power had been switched off on the track and position the camera there. An underground station is an eerie place when it’s closed. All I could think of was ‘An American Werewolf in London’.
Jon Rubin has created a site for the project here.
This is his statement:
Dates: July 29th through August 12, 2013
Part One: Multiple advertising spaces in the Oxford Circus Underground will show a photograph of a man seemingly waiting for a train. The photo will be stark and beautiful, the man’s face filled with gravitas. No one else will be in the photo but the man.
Part Two: Each weekday during rush hour, for the duration of the images’ display, the actual man depicted in the photo (in the same clothes as he wears in the photo) will be in the Oxford Circus Underground station waiting for a train. He will not board any train. As people arrive at the platform they will see the photos of the man in the ad spaces and might recognize him waiting on the platform. As everyone boards the train and empties the platform, the man will be left standing there alone (much as in the picture). As their train pulls away from the station people might recognize the lone figure as the lone figure they saw in the ad spaces.
Part Three: Each day the man will write in a notebook things that he hears other people on the platform saying, including any questions or statements directed at him. This writing will be presented on this blog.
This is as heavy as any piece of armour worn at Agincourt. Created by Fee Doran of Mrs Jones in London. Among her other creations was a pair of trousers made for Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. The unique thing about those was that they were made entirely from pairs of knickers thrown at him onstage by female fans. Tasty.
These photographs were taken in Memphis in 2002. I learned some lessons. Maybe some of these lessons are true. My dad did a good job of raising a cynic by constantly reminding me to believe half of what I see and nothing of what I hear. He is an accountant and I am his son. Accountants do not have ideas. They have doubts. I suppose he didn’t want me to get let down by the limitations of life. Memphis neutralises that though. It makes me a believer. This is what I learned.
I learned from Ike Turner that there really are 2 sides to every story. I learned from Jim Dickinson that they hated Elvis in Memphis when he was alive and now that he’s dead they love the money that he brings in. I saw that Phineas Newborn Jr lives on in the disposition of his brother Calvin. How shattering it can be to wake up every day, late in life, with a sense of loss. Rendered dour by the knowledge that atonement can only come on judgment day. I learned that Bob Dylan was as excited as any kid to have found a lucky penny on the stage of Humes High School (Elvis’ place of education) when the principal let him stand on it while the kids were in class. Gatemouth Moore taught me that you should always leave something on the plate, especially when you’re in his church. Willie Mitchell likes to use the word motherfucker. He also doesn’t like to pay a drummer more than $75. Solomon Burke preached the lesson of concession control. When you tour make sure that you’re the one selling the popcorn. But Cozy Corner’s Cornish game hens taught me how close to God food can be. I learned the value of a good hat from Pinetop Perkins. If you are a photographer who shows up and asks to photograph Ernest Withers he will be flattered and sell you one of his prints for a 20% discount. Withers was the photographer with Martin Luther King in the days leading up to his murder. And I learned from James Alexander that he is a lucky man. Alexander was the man who missed the flight that killed Otis Redding and all but one of the Bar Kays.
Those are some good lessons for a four week investment paid in installments. However, the biggest lesson I learned came from the city of Memphis itself. God, food, and music. The order can change depending on one’s mood and what day of the week it is but it’s always those three things. I’m not from there, you’d be right to tell me that I know nothing and that I have no right to make these pronouncements. I’m from London and I’ve lived in New York for over 4 years. In that time I’ve been to 38 states. It is the only place in America I have seen that is not prostrating itself on an orgy of aspirations. Aspirations that are of no nutritional value. Memphis has a nobility about it’s demeanour. It’s yearnings are human.
When I tell people that I have been to Memphis they say to me, “Memphis? Isn’t Elvis from Memphis?”. As if that’s all it is. My answer is always the same. Yes, Elvis is from Memphis. But it wasn’t Elvis that made Memphis. It was Memphis that made Elvis and everybody should get to taste what made Elvis. Good and Bad. Then you will know.
I’ve recently become obsesssed with the significance of trajectory in my career. This has been brought about by a book I’m reading on the Apollo 13 moon mission that went wrong. There is a point in the story where, with what little fuel they have available and 250,000 miles from home, the astonauts have to fire their engines and adjust the ship’s trajectory so as to put them in line for a good earth re-entry position. Their current trajectory is in line to send them 40,000 miles past the earth. To correct this the engines need to be fired for six minutes. Six minutes is not much to effect a difference of 40,000 miles over a distance of a quarter of a million miles. The point of this is that over such a long distance, the slightest wiggle has a massive effect at the other end and I’ve recently been thinking about the fact that I’ve realised I set myself on a course 17 years ago that was easier but possibly wrong – though barely perceptible at the time – and the upshot of the story is that 17 years later I’ve arrived at a destination that I’m beginning to think has me 40,000 miles away from where I wanted to be. So now, I may have to burn my fuel & my engines for a good deal longer than 6 minutes to get me back on what I think is the correct course for re-entry.