I currently have some of my pictures exhibited at Fleet Street Press on London’s Fleet Street, former home of the national newspaper industry. Fleet Street Press is a wonderful independent coffee shop keeping the journalistic spirit of the street alive with rolling exhibitions of press photography. I am sharing the space with two other press photographers until the end of May. All signed A3 prints are for sale at £150 and can be ordered from the cafe or myself at email@example.com. Here are the stories behind each of my photographs exhibited.
This was a ‘one to one’ with Luciano Pavarotti in his incredible suite in the Hotel Vesuvio in Naples. I spent the afternoon calling his room to be told “I’m tired. You call later” and took this at 10PM. He was grumpy when I walked in but cheered up immediately when I gave him a portrait of his parents I had taken in his home town, Modena whilst trying to track him down after he left his wife for his PA. (Writer Julia Llewelyn Smith and I were way off the mark as he was in Barbados). Soon he was joking around and flicking his Hermes scarf at me. The lobby area had two enormous fridges brought in specially and his armchair was placed on books so he could easily get in and out. Immediately on returning to my room, I processed the colour film in the bathroom, dried it with a hairdryer after dipping it in some diluted shampoo, scanned the negatives and sent the pictures back to The Times through the bedroom’s telephone. I had to move the bed, unscrew the phone socket from the wall and use crocodile clips to establish the connection from the hotel switchboard to my modem, then program the modem to get an outside line. This was an almost daily event for us press photographers before digital cameras came along. I photographed Pavarotti one more time with the Spice Girls in Modena.
This portrait of actor Richard Harris was taken in the Savoy, London in 1990. I entered the room with the writer Ray Connolly (who amongst much more wrote the screenplay to the films That’ll Be the Day and Stardust). Ray kindly introduced me to Harris (lots of writers don’t) who replied “Oh, I knew the OTHER Michael Powell” (film director) which was an extremely nice thing to say when he could just have easily said “Oh, I knew THE Michael Powell”. Ray and I didn’t really know what to expect as he still had a hell-raiser reputation. Unusually, I took pictures during the interview as we thought we might be ejected after a few minutes. We stayed for almost three hours. He was charming. When I asked for some shots to camera he said, “Haven’t you taken anything?” I showed him five rolls of exposed film. He had been oblivious and lost in conversation. This picture was taken with a Metz flashgun bounced off a Lastolite reflector held by the writer. I saw Richard Harris again a week later by which time The Times had used the piece and told me he liked it and to bring a copy round to the Savoy to be signed. To my lasting regret I didn’t.
Robert Maxwell, charismatic media mogul, MP and fraudster whom I photographed in his apartment Maxwell House in Holborn in 1990. I remember the opulence of the apartment being at odds with the rather ugly tower block that contained it. Indeed, when Sothebys sold the contents much of the antique looking furniture, bought to impress, was reproduction or fake. He was being interviewed by Charles Wintour, an eminent writer and newspaper editor as well as being the father of Vogue editor Anna. Few of us press photographers used studio lights around this time and I needed someone to hold my reflector to bounce some daylight into Maxwell’s face so asked Charles to do the honours. Maxwell found it hilarious. “Senior Times writer demoted to photographer’s assistant” he guffawed.
Here’s Richard (Lord) Attenborough at the wheel of a vintage car in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire during the 1997 election campaign. This picture was used front page in The Times. An absolutely delightful gentleman. I’m not in the least bit surprised that he was such a popular actor and public figure as he had a remarkable ability to put people at ease. I photographed him one more time and he surely couldn’t have remembered me but put his arm around me as one might with an old friend as we chatted and walked down a church path in Leicestershire.
The Queen Mother at a private lunch at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Not that private as I was there of course but The Times was invited to send a photographer with the blessing of The Queen Mother herself. I shot this on a 300mm f2.8 lens with the aperture wide open to isolate her from the garden behind. Raymond Blanc has said it was the most nerve wracking meal he has cooked. I won a Martini royal photography award for this which was a little embarrassing as I wasn’t one of the royal pack and only ever covered royals on rota pass jobs where approved photographers shared their pictures of official events.
I have just realised that all those people I have featured so far are sadly no longer with us. So, on a lighter note, here’s how the next government’s cabinet is shaping up. I was covering a children’s Christmas party held at No 11 Downing Street by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On my way out Snow White and the seven dwarves were walking up the street. (I’d loved to have seen their photo ID). I took the chance to cheekily line them up outside No 10 and hadn’t taken many shots when Prime Minister John Major got out his car to find this lot (and me) in his way. He shook hands with everyone and entered No 10. The shots were not surprisingly featured on BBC’s Have I Got News For You.
This was taken in the aftermath of 1994’s Los Angeles earthquake which caused devastation in the San Fernando Valley. I was working in New Orleans at the time on a travel jolly when moved on to Los Angeles on the basis that, despite still 2000 miles from the action, I was a damn sight closer to it that the snappers in London. Somewhat reluctantly, it has to be said, I made my way there and spent five days photographing the mess and human stories. In this picture an apartment block has collapsed on to the ground floor car park below. I had two camera bodies with me, a Canon EOS-1 and a cheap Canon 620 to save weight as a spare. My EOS-1’s shutter disintegrated while I was photographing this very scene and that cheap spare body took this and every subsequent shot that week. The picture was used over half a page in The Sunday Times. Always carry a spare!
This is an Australian dance group called Legs on the Wall who were performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. My friend from the Daily Telegraph Jim Fraser and I asked them to rehearse on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. Remarkably the man on the floor catches the flying woman with no harm done. Surreally, office workers were sitting just out of shot having packed lunches barely batting an eyelid as an Australian woman repeatedly flew past.
As we are now in Scotland, here is a shot taken in nearby Dunbar. The high tide has covered the river that flows into the sea on this beautiful beach. The calmness is the result of shooting a 30 second exposure using a neutral density filter that flattens the waves. In the background is the Bass Rock, home to thousands of breeding gannets during the spring and summer.
This picture of an abandoned school playing field in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire was used in the Simon Barnes page in The Times. Simon has a beautiful way with words so will quote him here. ” It is full of both sweet melancholy and a nice horse”.
Back to celebrity and here is Dame Judi Dench photographed at The Barbican in London. I don’t remember much about this except that she is really quite small and I wondered around for ages trying to find nice daylight. Again, the trusty Lastolite reflector was used, this time sitting on a restaurant chair to Dame Judi’s right. I sat her at a table and brought in the flower just to create some depth and colour.
Another Times front page, muslims pray outside the High Court after their plea that ruled Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses not blasphemous failed. Rushdie was in hiding with Scotland Yard police protection at this point and about a year later I photographed him after long negotiation with the author and police. Many people wanted him dead at this time and the Iranian fatwa weighed heavily upon him. There were deaths associated with the controversy from riots and killings of some people involved in publication. The fatwa was reaffirmed in 2005 though the person who issued it Ayatollah Khomeini had long since died. Rushdie says he still receives a sort of Valentine’s card every 14th February from Iran reminding him the country has not forgotten its vow to kill him.
Here’s something you don’t see everyday, though it happens more often than you might think. This gentlemen is exercising his right to drive sheep across London Bridge having received the Freedom of the City of London. The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who enjoyed certain privileges who was not the property of a feudal lord. You don’t have to be a Londoner, or even English, the honour is granted to those from abroad too. Indeed the actor Morgan Freeman is a freeman. Disappointingly, this picture didn’t make publication at the time. Every press photographer has a bank of shots that should have been used but “crashed and burned” on the day for whatever reason. Usually, something extremely newsworthy comes along and knocks out all and sundry but often it’s a whim or it won’t fit around an advert on the page. C’est la vie. There’s always the next day….
I’m not a narcisist but that little angel down there is me. It was just easier for me to do the whole thing without shouting directions to someone from the corner of the site where the camera is. Also, I deliberately put a blue shirt on (despite the freezing cold) to match the sky. The original shot featured a 200ft baguette projection on the wings of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North statue in Gateshead as part of a guerilla marketing campaign. I have judicially removed it from this frame as it got me and Morrissons (the client) into all kinds of hot water with all kinds of disapproving people. You can read more about the angel and how the shot was taken in a post below. If you are feeling peckish and want to see the 200ft baguette do a web search, it’s still out there.
And we’re at the end. Except it’s more like the beginning as this is the oldest picture taken by me featured in the exhibition. This is The Smiths playing Sheffield City Hall in March 1984 during which time I was at college studying Photojournalism. I had heard “Hand in Glove” and just a couple of others when I knocked on the stage door and asked their manager if I could take some pictures. I was led past the band backstage at a table full of drinks and flowers, and sat on their PA speakers on the stage, their gear dwarfed by a space usually filled by better known artists. The small crowd squeezed to the front of the stalls and both circle and upper circle were virtually empty, all of which would change for the band in just months. Those at the front reached out for Morrissey who was flailing around the stage swinging a bunch of flowers (slowly reduced to mere stalks) and Johnny Marr who played a gorgeous cherry 1959 Gibson ES355. I was amazed at how tight they were. A few years ago I received an email from their drummer Mike Joyce after I told Mark Radcliffe on Radio 1 the story. I sent him the contact sheets and he was really pleased to see them. I vividly remember crawling around the stage to sit right by his kit as he belted out some unbelievably solid drumming. Competely brilliantly, there is some amateur footage of this very gig on youtube shot by the road crew. For more pictures of The Smiths scroll down to an older post.