People's faces are intriguing, beguiling, challenging. All have their beauty and mystery. Some are classically beautiful. Others express their beauty through the eyes, whilst another group of people may do so when they smile and a seemingly passive face becomes suffused with an inner light. Sometimes beauty emerges from under the vulnerability of shyness as a face is turned away to avoid eye contact yet a sense of mystery surrounds it like an aura.
When I take portraits, I look for this deeper, some might say more subtle beauty.
I have found that many people, especially in cities, feel the need to hide their true nature and 'wear' their face as if it is a protective mask. Others, however, can reveal a great deal about themselves in a fleeting glance. So I always carry a card that explains I am a photographer who, amongst other interests, specialises in classic black and white portraits. Consequently, if I see someone in the street, or across the tube carriage, or sitting beside me in a concert or at a play, or across the room at a party and I am drawn to an indefinable something about the way they look, I give them a card. Almost everyone accepts it. Understandably, many are wary at such an approach from a stranger, and never contact me. However, some email me and ask for more details. A number end up having their portrait taken.
My aim over the next twelve months is to photograph 52 'perfect strangers' - one for each week of a year. Seen together at some future date in a gallery, I hope the portraits will express the fact that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but something we keep as a gift inside all of us. We just need to find the look or the word or the circumstance to give it freedom of expression.
If you are looking at this part of my website and are interested in being a 'perfect stranger', please email me: email@example.com
Dancing on the Glass Ceiling
GRACE AND POWER
Dancing on the Glass Ceiling
A proposed exhibition of portraits of powerful women
I wonder how many of you, having broken through the so called ‘glass ceiling’, have felt frustrated, even irritated, when you have found yourself written or talked about using terms usually reserved for masculine power, as if only by clothing yourself in masculine traits have you been able to achieve your success?
Even today we stereotype those women who break moulds as a means of placing them somewhere secure in our collective perception, rather than seeing them as individuals with their own unique, essentially female traits. A hundred years ago, the Suffragettes were branded, collectively, as mad, hysterical or criminal as a way of avoiding facing up to the real issues they stood for. Yet their courage and perseverance won through. However, many men instinctively still want to place women who have succeeded into positions of authority and power which they regard as their traditional preserve into a construct that is built of male values.
Which is why I would like to do a series of portraits that reflect the true individual behind the woman who has succeeded, some would say cynically, ‘against the odds’, AND the private person she is when away from her ‘work’. Furthermore, my understanding from talking to one or two of you is that this latter individual not only has to demand to be given space during the week, but can sometimes find it hard to release her sense of joy, relaxation and playfulness. Moreover, from what I have been told, determination and resilience, the staying power of the marathon runner, is often the crucial element that brings success in one field, yet can slowly stifle the private individual within.
The aim, therefore, would be to take TWO distinct portraits: one which expresses the qualities that makes each of you a successful businesswoman and, next to it, another which captures the person away from the day job.
I believe a portrait session is about an emerging understanding between photographer and sitter in an attempt to blend how the sitter sees herself and what the photographer, as he listens to her, wishes to express about her uniqueness.
As with all art, it’s inevitably a slightly artificial construct, but I believe that the photographs, taken sensitively, will reflect something important about each sitter beyond mere appearance/looks that is true to both their business and private personae.
People at work
A new project for June 2016 onwards.
As the Cigar book project comes to a close I am embarking on a new one - people at work. Portraits taken of people who do a range of different jobs photographed in their workplace and therefore surrounded by the tools they use and the objects and works of art they make. I hope to start predominantly with those who work in the arts and crafts but will take any opportunity as it comes to capture people in different professions and jobs.
Stephen Melton is a sculptor of considerable renown. One of his most recent commissions is to produce a sculpture of Amy Johnson and he kindly allowed me to visit him at his workshop/foundry to take a series of photographs on an afternoon when the furnace had been lit and molten bronze was subsequently poured into various moulds, some of which contained parts of Amy, some the work by other sculptors.
This is very hot, exhausting work which requires precision as well as strength. I was particularly struck by the way he 'rehearsed' the pouring sequence with his assistant first so that this potentially dangerous operation would be accomplished successfully.
At the end of the afternoon I took some close up portraits of Stephen's hot, sweat-drenched face and hands in an attempt to capture the amount of physical and mental energy expended during this particular process.
Dan is one of the builders converting my attic into a space that I will be able to use as a natural light portrait studio. He was left by the others at the end of the day to clear up and lock up (hence the keys). A bit like Stephen, I wanted to capture that feeling of a moment of peace and satisfaction after a hard day's work before setting off home. He had just finished the coffee I had made him which he had been drinking in this sitting position so I asked him to hold on a moment and took the shot.
Jane is a psychotherapist so I wanted to keep the focus on the intelligence in the eyes and the feeling that here was a good listener. The finger up to the side of the head implies a listening pose but also that what she does is to try to cure the brain of its psychoses. It is as if she is saying what we are is all in there if we could but find it and, having found it, help it to find a balance.
Malcolm, a now retired head porter at an independent school, was the epitome of loyalty and devout service. He had a strong sense of tradition. However, that didn't mean he was afraid to embrace the new.
A very gentle , humble man whose father and grandfather and great grandfather had all held the same post, he seemed always to have a smile on his face, a good morning on his lips and was held in deep respect by both the teaching staff and his colleagues. Even as he neared retirement, he would roll up his sleeves to do the most demanding of physical jobs and had an uncanny ability to appear to be able to be in two places at the same time
Early one very cold, January morning when it had snowed the night before and a good foot or so lay on the ground, seeing I was carrying my camera, he asked whether I would like to go to the top of the flag tower to take some shots. In the end I took a 360 degree panoramic view of the school and its environs whilst the snow still lay pristine on the ground. as I turned to thank him, Malcolm's face told me that he had enjoyed giving me this opportunity as much as I had in being able to exploit it.
Mickael is a barman in a top London Hotel. He prides himself on creating unusual cocktails for his clientele, a number of whom are cigar aficionados. His bar is immaculately laid out, as is his appearance - it is almost like a throwback to the 1920s with its mirrors and polished surfaces. The cocktail he is holding is one which incorporates a hint of nicotine, an unusual ingredient in such a drink. I didn't try it myself, but my friend did and was pleasantly surprised. And don't ask me for the recipe - he keeps it a carefully guarded secret.
Carl is a plasterer. He had just finished rendering my garden wall, hence the specks of white on his hands and T shirt. I wanted to capture the unusual combination of tattoos he sports on his arms, head and back, but also the specific type of strength and touch which a plasterer needs to attain the silky smooth surfaces on which can paint with confidence. Hence the hands behind his head which weald the tools of his trade and the upper body strength that means he can plaster ceilings above his head as well as walls with equal facility.
Sarah is a nutritionist for the private jet industry, providing high class food for wealthy clients who are often very particular about what they eat. She is meticulous about her choice of produce and is clearly on a mission to encourage healthy eating, even at 30,000 feet!
Tattoos, modelling portfolios, a virtual catwalk, elements of the surreal. People find news ways of making a statement and, in doing so explore their own identity further.
Statuary can be found everywhere: in museums, churches, public places such as squares, parks and markets, in private houses and their gardens. From the classical to the baroque, from the Victorian sentimental to the modern, in marble and in bronze, in stone and wood, anything that can be carved or cast will be used. Many have religious overtones or capture religious figures, others were commissioned as portraits by wealthy men seeking immortality, or were supported by patrons who saw in art a form of or redemption.
Just as when we look into living people's aces we recognise the emotions flitting across them instinctively, in statuary the expression, because it has been captured for ever, can have an even more overwhelming power. Sadness in the eyes is there for ever and therefore seems to deepen each time one looks at them. A haughty look will always be associated with that individual when it was nobility the sitter hoped for. Sensuality, especially in marble, becomes amazingly tactile whereas strength in bronze seems magnified many times. And so it goes on.
A statue is closer to a poem about the person being sculpted than a biography but in many ways is all the more compelling for giving us that tantalising glimpse into the person's existence.
BERLIN,GIRONA, BARCELONA, ST PETERSBURG, MOSCOW
First week in December 2016. A revealing trip to Berlin which incorporated a day in Leipzig.
BERLIN. So different from London. Far fewer cars. The bicycle rules. Graffiti everywhere, a legacy from the challenges which defacing the wall instilled in the Berlin young. Hence it often expresses a political slogan or is intensely tribal.
It feels like a city dominated by the young. It is also very multicultural. And, at times, it appears unable to find a balance between complete freedom of expression and some acknowledgement of authority or acceptance of laws such as no smoking in indoor public places.
GIRONA & BARCELONA
Visited in April. GIRONA: medieval, Romanesque, beautiful to stroll through and around, marvellous vistas down from magnicent cathedrals, from bridges across the river, up narrow alleys bordered by high walls, from the ramparts panoramic views across the city. And, in amongst all if this sudden small gardens like oases. A slow pace to life
BARCELONA: couldn't be more different. Bustle. Much more cosmopolitan. Confused at times about its identity. As much expressed through graffiti as it us through wide avenues, the docks, the larger, less private gardens. And dominated by Gaudi.
ST PETERSBURG: rivers, canals, reflections, a city at home with its grandeur, its identity, that copes with its history effortlessly whilst at the same time, just around the corner, as it were, having a bigger underbelly than it would probably like to advertise. It's challenge to the photographer- find a different way to photograph me...