I shot the portrait of David Bowie, above, in New York City in 1999 on a scorching August day. He invited me to photograph him at The House Of Chung King recording studio on, I think, Varick Street. He was one of the best tellers of indiscreet and funny stories about equally famous people that I’ve ever met, with each story honing in on some small but pointed observation related to the subject’s ego and vanity. I only met him for an hour but it was everything that I wanted it to be.
On the day he died I went to see my friend Helen Downie. Helen is an artist with a huge Instagram following and goes by the username @unskilledworker. The passing of The Dame, as Mick Jagger called him, cast a sombre mood across the winter’s day and I made this film of @unskilledworker creating a painting of the boy from Bromley.
Also in January I shot a lovely piece for Wallpaper* with Vollebak, a new extreme sportswear brand founded by brothers and former joint creative directors of ad agency TBWA, Steve and Nick Tidball. Their clothes are made using the most advanced textile technology and are designed to keep the wearer alive for longer than anything else, should he or she find themselves in a situation of particularly fierce extremity. Seen below, Nick Tidball is wearing ‘Condition Black’.
Next, a cover for American Men’s Health Magazine with actor John Krasinski – also known as Jim from The Office. John is married to British actress Emily Blunt and knows his way around London pretty well, so we had a hilarious afternoon shooting in a studio and then out on the streets of Westbourne Park in west London. John had buffed himself to the high heavens for his part in the movie ‘Benghazi’ so we were regularly heckled by women leaning out of windows as he changed between shots in full sight. I’m not afraid to admit it, I really wanted him to be my new best friend.
One hundred days before the 2016 Olympics began I photographed the first, current and reigning women’s Olympic boxing champion, British boxer Nicola Adams for the cover of Stylist Magazine. In a London studio at 6am Nicola pummelled the living filth from a punch bag that we had hung from a scaffolding bar while the Stylist team repeatedly set off smoke grenades behind her, until none of us could breathe anymore.
In January I was approached by Media Arts Lab, who had seen a portrait by me on my Instagram account. The black and white image of a young girl with freckles and cake crumbs around her mouth, taken at a birthday picnic was, apart from some hurried snaps of my gas meter readings, the first ‘proper’ picture I had taken on an iPhone 6s. I’d only acquired the phone the night before. As anyone who works in this business knows, Media Arts Lab only has one client – Apple Computers – so it didn’t take me long to work out on whose behalf they were calling. The portrait was one of 227 pictures chosen by Apple, from a starting pool of 74,600 images, to form their 2016 iPhone campaign. It appeared on billboards in 86 cities globally and I was thrilled to receive regular snaps of it from followers on Instagram and Twitter all around the world.
In February I was commissioned to make some portraits of Hunter Boots creative director, Mr Alasdhair Willis……
I love travelling by train. I’m in no rush to get there or anywhere. After all, we’re only likely to end up back here again, so why not spin it out for as long as you can? I also love the idea of travelling towards a productive undertaking whilst enjoying the fact that I’m required to do absolutely nothing other than look out the window. So this is how I found myself, the day after the Brussels airport and metro bombings, on a Eurostar to Brussels Midi with Cologne as my ultimate destination. The assignment I was heading towards was a photographic commission with a 16 year old Syrian Kurd, Nujeen Mustafa, who despite her wheelchair bound existence with cerebal palsy on the 5th floor of an Aleppo apartment building had decided that her future may be brighter if she were to make the 1000 mile journey via land, sea and people smugglers to Germany.
So leave she did, crashing on to the European shore of a Greek Island in a small boat with her sister late last year. My shoot with her in that Cologne studio was for the cover of a book about Nujeen, written by Christina Lamb and commissioned by Harper Collins.
As we pulled into Brussels that morning, ski-masked, plain clothes policemen with machine guns stood on every platform. After changing on to a German train we were accompanied by more machine gun toting policemen all the way to Cologne. At 11am the conductor announced that there would be a minute’s silence for the Brussels victims.
In April I set off from Belvoir Castle in Lincolnshire on a 1000 mile trip around Britain on behalf of Dunhill and Esquire’s ‘Big Black Book’ on the trail of the Flying Scotsman Rally with Simon and Nick, the driver and navigator, of a 1928 Le Mans Bentley as my subjects. From mile one, generously kitted out in beautifully made reissues of Dunhill’s original pre-war motoring attire. The rally is a competitive event made up a whole series of time trial and distance heats that also feature an array of complicated and quirky rules for pre-WW2 classic cars. It wound up after 4 days of open topped hail, sleet, rain, sun and wind at Gleneagles in Scotland. The boys crossed the line in a respectable final position shattered but elated at their achievement.
Later in the year I went to the Aston Martin car factory in Warwickshire to shoot some of their joint menswear collaboration with Hackett. It was a Friday and the whole factory knocks off at lunchtime so we had the run of the place for the rest of the afternoon. I tried to drive home in a different car to the one I’d arrived in but, funnily enough, security stopped me at the gates.
In May, a European/American ad campaign from Grey for Beluga, a fabulous Russian vodka. Over three days, art directed by Grey Moscow’s Eric Groza, we shot a host of related scenes at Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, a beautiful house owned by my friend James Perkins, who in another lifetime made a name and a fortune for himself with the Fantazia raves and DJ compilations of the early 90s.
The house had all the elements required for the brief – a restaurant grade kitchen, a bronze topped bar that is the most chic you will ever see in your life and a magnificent drawing room for a party scene. The chef picture is now on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, opposite the the Chateau Marmont Hotel, mounted to an 88 foot high billboard.
I woke up on June 24th and was made sad and angry by the cynical, self serving actions of this man, photographed in the old County Hall by Westminster Bridge.
but trawling through an old hard drive I came across these pictures of Tom Hardy that I shot in 2009 and which I’d completely forgotten about.
That time I persuaded Tom Hardy to dress up as Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in ‘There Will Be Blood’….
In August I began work on a pitch for the Debenhams Christmas TV campaign with Stephen Gash of UnLtd Productions and after 6 weeks of treatment tweaks and rewrites was awarded the job by Russell Ramsey, executive creative director of JWT London. In late September I directed the ‘FOUND IT’ campaign with art direction from Jo Taylor of JWT in a house in Queen’s Park, London. The brief stipulated that the voiceovers would be the gifts themselves speaking, encouraging the viewer to ‘find me’ for that special person in their life, so we had to create a world where each gift lived in a space that was definitely not home but also not a shop either. With the help of some very clever set design, art department, lighting and props we created a mythical ‘other’ space for all our heroes which worked beautifully. Once we moved the production to a Soho sound suite, added in composed music by Small Press Music and brought in all our voiceover stars – Ewan Macgregor, Jennifer Saunders, Bruno Tonioli, Mel Giedroyc and Billie Piper – the whole thing really kicked up a couple of gears with Jo Taylor’s witty scripts, and we have made a series of spots that look and sound delicious. You can see an edit of all the spots here or watch my favourite, ‘Man Bag’, with Ewan Macgregor delivering one hell of a performance in the video below:
Late in the year Hungry Eye Magazine and Leica published a book compiled by photographer Peter Dench, ‘The Dench Dozen – Great Britons Of Photography’ and I was incredibly flattered and honoured to be one of Peter’s dozen. Some time a couple of years ago he came up to my house in Oxfordshire to spend the day with me on the pretext of a series of articles he was doing for Hungry Eye – photographers at home. Little did I know that it was eventually intended to be this book. The sneaky bugger.
Also featured in the book are greats Martin Parr, Tom Stoddart, Laura Pannack, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Harry Borden, Jocelyn Bain-Hogg and possibly the greatest of all, John Bulmer who seriously needs to be rediscovered by the photography market. If you would like to read more about this then there is a good interview with Peter Dench on the Huck Magazine website here.
October brought a commission to photograph John Pawson, the architect behind the new Design Museum in Kensington, or if you’re old enough to remember, the building that used to be The Commonwealth Institute. Looking for a position that didn’t include 30 builders in hi-viz vests forced me to a corner that I don’t think I would have noticed had I had the run of the place. And from such conditions arise serendipity. When it rises to meet you, embrace it.
In the same month, a cover shoot with Pixie Geldof for The Observer Magazine.
The day of the American election I travel to Cambridge and have one hour to make a film of Stephen Hawking. Hawking is to present The Smithsonian’s annual American Ingenuity Award for Science to four astrophysicists who have proven the existence of gravitational waves. This was something predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 and exactly 100 years later Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, Barry Barish and Ronald Drever did it, detecting waves from two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago. It is truly a magnificent achievement and it is the culmination of 30 years of work by the four men. Hawking, unable to attend the event in Washington DC wanted to send a filmed message to the scientists to be shown at the awards gala. I was commissioned by The Smithsonian to make the appropriate piece. Aware that Professor Hawking’s script was just under 3 minutes long I decided to incorporate some animation to break up the film a little. I have loved the cartoons of Moose Allain ever since we met on Twitter and have secretly harboured a desire to work with him. I saw in Hawking’s speech that it was full of witty imagery to be exploited, so I dropped Moose a line and sent him the script. 4 days later he sent me back 5 animated sequences, no questions asked, and we dropped them into the film.
The shoot with Hawking itself was calm, civilised and quiet. His two assistants brought him into a fairly bland room at the Centre For Mathematical Studies, Cambridge. The only defining element of the space was a huge blackboard covered in chalk scribbled equations. With a crew of 4 we tried to work as efficiently as possible, working out ways to shoot the Professor as we progressed.
The most difficult element was ascertaining an acceptable level of conversation throughout the hour. Obviously, Hawking does not, cannot, engage in any kind of chit chat, so all the normal indicators of how we are doing when we form a short working relationship with someone do not apply. The upshot of this is the subconscious feeling that because he is saying nothing in response, he must be of the opinion that you are (I am) a moronic oaf, not worth the time of a response.
However, after a while logic got a foothold in the self esteem department of my interior monologue and I established a routine where I would briefly explain what I wanted to do and how long it would take. I’d pause for a moment or two to make eye contact with him for a meaningful period of time and then get on with shooting the shot in question in as respectful and unfussy a manner as possible.
At some point Stephen’s assistant brought up the question of his birthday party on January 8th. Twenty minutes later, just as we had finished and he was being taken from the room, out of his speech box came the immortal line,
“ORDER FIREWORKS FOR JANUARY 7TH.”
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year.