Going to visit Bentley at their Pyms Lane works in Crewe is a bit like going home for me because I was actually born just a couple of miles away as, at the time, my father was working as an engineer in the very same factory. It has of course changed hugely since then and as part of the process of continuous improvement they are endeavouring to raise their already legendarily high standards even further by encouraging all employees to take responsibility for every aspect of their parts of the manufacturing process. To this end they are hanging fifty giant banners throughout the production areas featuring images that I shot of colleagues at work along with inspirational reminders about standards, work habits and behaviours. Sadly I was only there for three days so I am only a small way towards a deposit on a Continental GT, but at least I now know which colour I’d like…..
Although this looks like a still from the superb recent HBO series “Chernobyl” it’s actually the secretary’s desk in the former office of Erich Mielke, who was the head of the Stasi in the GDR for over thirty years directly overseeing over 90,000 spies and 170,000 normal civilians who secretly watched and reported on their fellow countrymen, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The former Stasi HQ is now an excellent museum.
Apart from becoming a successful musician I had few specific ambitions when I left school but I was fairly certain that I never wanted a job which entailed putting on a suit, travelling at the same time every day to the same place and doing pretty much the same thing, and for the last 35 years I have have managed to avoid doing just that, so it came as a bit of surprise recently to find myself shooting for 24 consecutive days for a corporate client in their city offices. I cycled in every morning, swiped my employee pass for access to the underground car park and then took the lift to the tenth floor, said hello to the receptionists, while my assistant got me the first of several flat whites from the state of the art coffee machine and I settled in to my “studio”, the surprise being, that in a way I really quite enjoyed the routine. The resulting 30,000 photographs, (backed up on three hard drives for safety) have been distilled down to about 700 and are being retouched for the website launch later this year so the bulk of the job is done and I’m back to a normal freelance existence but at least, as this test shot shows, I’ve still managed to avoid the suit…..
I have never felt entirely at ease in a studio. Having spent most of my career trying make the best of whatever I find wherever I happen to be, walking into an empty studio is a bit like driving into an empty car park and wondering where to park. Dispatched by Livewire magazine the other day to photograph Dan Dark, the immaculately dressed and charming head of Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden, I was briefly excited by the possibilities as he gave me a tour of the studios and backlots, containing entire city streets from both past and future but of course all of it was confidential, even some abandoned action vehicles from past productions were off limits, so we ended up in C stage, 32000 square feet of…..empty studio.
What better antidote to a fairly relentless schedule of corporate portraiture than a trip to the country to spend a day with someone who really knows what they’re talking about. Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, one of Britain’s foremost experts on bees and has just published a book on making your garden bee friendly. He gave me a tour of his wonderful garden, a pleasing mixture of managed and wild areas with a large fruit cage and even larger state of the art greenhouse, pointing out the various different bee species visiting the flowers that he had planted to attract them and the “bee hotels” he had made to give them somewhere to live. I then had to work out, as someone who is not known as a wildlife photographer, how to photograph the bees, which was an interesting challenge - they move rather more quickly than I was expecting….
The full story is in this month’s BBC Wildlife magazine, out today.
Edinburgh’s Waverley Station in the afternoon sun
Health and Safety culture has come a long way. In the mid nineteenth century my Welsh ancestors ran an ironworks in Llanelli and the story of the Glanmor Foundry contains a litany of terrible accidental deaths of workers in the factory. When I started work as a fitter’s apprentice in what is now the Arcelor Mittal steelworks at Dunkerque in 1981, things were a lot better but our PPE (personal protective equipment) still consisted of nothing more than a blue overall and a hard hat, drinking alcohol during all the breaks in the working day, including before work, was completely normal and we washed our hands at the end of shift in a barrel of paraffin. By contrast Fujifilm’s contract chemistry plant in Grangemouth is a paragon of cleanliness and safety but just as in every other factory I’ve visited, I still couldn’t find a way of taking a photograph without taking off my safety glasses and putting them on top of my head where they really aren’t much use at all.
Shalom Nyandiko as Adidja in ‘The Widow’ starring Kate Beckinsale, Charles Dance and Alex Kingston. I made several trips to South Africa, as well as Rotterdam and Wales during the course of filming as one of the unit stills photographers which was incredibly hard work but a great experience. ‘The Widow’ starts tonight on ITV….
A recent shoot in Belper meant an overnight stay and time for a walk along the River Derwent where I found these boats chained up for the night
A Christmas Eve walk on Marazion beach with the wet sand at low tide providing an almost perfect mirror surface. As it was around midday, the family are making for the King’s Arms opposite which, very conveniently, is Philps Bakery the home of a truly world class pastie.
Dominik Scherrer is one of Britain’s most successful and prolific composers of music for film and television and he invited me to the studio to watch some strings being recorded to accompany the forthcoming ITV series “The Widow” which he has scored. Being a barely literate musician myself, I’ve always been fascinated by session players who can read a piece of music they have never seen before, and then play it together, perfectly, the first time through. All that was then required was for the composer in the control room to occasionally suggest a slight variation via gnomic instructions such as “make it a bit more flautando” or “a touch more ‘vib’ but not baroque”. Photographically it was a case of trying to be unobtrusive, silent and alert and making the best of some terrible lighting - nothing new there…..
Miami is not an early morning city so arriving at 5am I knew there was little point in heading into town in search of breakfast and I went straight out to Ocean Drive for a refreshing barefoot stroll along South Beach while the restaurants slowly came to life. Later, fortified by eggs, bacon, pancakes and endless coffee at the 11th St Diner, I walked around Little Havana (wishing I smoked cigars) and then over to the newly hip Wynwood district, accidentally discovering an amazing store on NW 26th Street that sold both vintage cars and guitars where a delightful chap called Patrick tried, and failed, to sell me an original 1952 Fender Telecaster........for $56,000.
According to my rainforest guide and contrary to popular belief, the leaf of the giant water lily cannot hold the weight of an adult human, so I was not tempted to try and cross this flooded rainforest lagoon in the Amazon using the leaves as stepping stones. It didn't look very deep but I was already acutely aware that there were a large number of creatures lurking about both on land and underwater who would be best left undisturbed, especially as I had just seen a particularly beautiful bright green vine snake nearby which he had assured me was safe.......more or less.
I was invited back to the Channel Island of Alderney recently to shoot some more images for the tourist board and using only local volunteers instead of professional models, we managed to create an excellent suite of images for the next year's tourism marketing. Unlike my previous visit three years ago, we were blessed with some great weather and a couple of unusually wind free days which made the sea look almost tropical but also meant that for the shots with the surfer, in this case the PE teacher from the island school, I had to be a bit creative in my choice of viewpoint to hide the fact that sea looked like a millpond, without a wave in sight....
On set props master Jacques Strick makes a final check before a take during shooting of "The Widow", on a location near Kraaifontein in South Africa. As well as an eagle eye for detail, Jacques has a comprehensive knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, British punk and post punk music of the seventies and eighties so we whiled away some of the down time between set ups, comparing notes on our favourite bands.
Durban Central's market area has a distinctly edgy and slightly threatening feel to it, so I was relieved when I accidentally endeared myself to the pavement seller of these dried fish skins and bones by asking how they were prepared for eating. When he'd finished laughing he explained that they were ground up into a powder and mixed with some of the other unlabelled liquids and minerals laid out beside them as herbal remedies for ailments of any sort. The list of conditions that could be cured was quite impressive, including various cancers and the consequences of a stroke but I decided to ward off illness instead with some excellent and very spicy vegetable samosas, from one of the many Asian restaurants in the area.
Having spent quite a lot of time inside the Lloyd's Building over the years, I was delighted when a corporate shoot for a client with offices on the sixth floor nearby gave me the opportunity to shoot these images of the outside, from a new vantage point.
Just a few days before this shot, the Hollywood actress framed in my viewfinder was posing for the cameras at the Vanity Fair Oscars party in LA, dazzling the press photographers in a revealing couture dress by Reem Acra. On top of the freezing, wet and very windy Trefil Quarry in the Brecon Beacons she was dressed slightly more appropriately in a scruffy waxed jacket, leather boots and woolly hat but was still managing to look considerably more stylish than me. I am wearing a mixture of off-the-peg items by North Face / Berghaus, over the top of just about everything else I could lay my hands on.....
The new Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi was finally finished at the end of last year at a cost of about $1.2 billion, about half of which was paid to the French for licensing the name. Built both above and below the waters of the Persian Gulf, the engineers and architects have presumably done a good job at making it watertight but a less good one at choosing materials for the outside that will stay clean, as the tide mark above the waterline shows. When I visited there was a small boat with four or five painters working at touching up the paint - it looks as if they might have a job for life....
On my frequent visits to the Lloyd's building, I have often imagined doing a shot from one of its famous exterior lifts across to another but, as there are only four of them and it would mean taking two out of service, it never seemed very likely to happen, however when the person in the other lift is the Lloyd's CEO Inga Beale, anything becomes possible, at least for a few minutes. One lift was held at the twelfth floor with the fireman's key while the other was held opposite by a combination of a facilities engineer with his hand on the button and my assistant with his foot in the door while directing the flash. Next time, I'll get someone to clean the glass first.....