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.....
Work stopped on this elevated highway in 1977 since when it has become a rather unlikely landmark but forty years later the current mayor has made it her mission to finally finish it and there are currently six plans awaiting consideration, ranging from simply joining it to the other unfinished bit a mile to the east to turning the whole thing into an elevated public park like New York's Highline - don't hold your breath....
On paper, a few days driving a supercar along the Amalfi Coast sounds like a dream job but sometimes things just don't quite work out the way you imagine. The legendary SS163 coast road from Sorrento to Salerno is meant to be one of the great driving roads of Europe but on a busy weekend in Spring, by mid morning it's a 50Km stop start traffic jam. The road is a narrow twisty two lane ribbon between the rock face on one side and a low wall on the other and we're in a 500bhp V6 Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio that's at least half the width of the road and has a manual gearbox that barely makes it out of second. Fortunately writer and ex rally driver Michael Taylor is doing the driving but stopping to take pictures is difficult and turning round virtually impossible so for a car shoot it's about as bad as it gets, and yet, the magazine has asked for seductive pictures of Italy and we must deliver so we get on with what we know how to do, but frankly we both feel guilty about perpetuating a myth so if, having seen the piece in this week's Auto Week Supplement, you're tempted to head to Positano for a nice drive in your new Alfa, ask me for a few better suggestions first.
When I was in Santa Monica last year, I found that I was staying a few blocks away from Frank Gehry's home on 22nd St so one day I walked up to have a look and was surprised to find that it was a rather ordinary 1920s Dutch style house hidden under nearly fifty years of slightly ramshackle additions of corrugated sheets, chain link fence and strangely tilted glass structures and, to my untutored eye, a bit of a mess. His Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, is a bit of a mess too from certain angles but from the riverside at least has some very interesting combinations of shapes and reflections courtesy of its titanium cladding although the quality of some of the fitting seems to suggest that the contractors were struggling to achieve in reality what Gehry had drawn up in his plans.
Anyone who caught last night's BBC drama, The Child in Time, about a couple whose daughter goes missing while out shopping, will have found it a gruelling watch. As Sam Wollaston in the Guardian wrote: "a deeply affecting portrait of loss and what that does to love, painful but not entirely without hope". I was lucky enough to be on set for a couple of days during the filming back in April. After three or four takes of this scene between Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly Macdonald as the husband and wife, I tentatively asked the director if I could have one more run through for stills - the emotion was so raw and so intense that I actually felt guilty taking the pictures, as it felt like a terrible intrusion, perhaps one of the reasons I would never make a good photojournalist. Getting to watch actors this good, this close, is a rare privilege.
I've just spent a few days in Cornwall where I had the pleasure of having dinner one night with artists Jeremy Annear and Judy Buxton, who invited me to their studio the following day. Both highly acclaimed and collectible artists, they work from adjoining studios in a converted chapel and their studio spaces reflect their very different styles of work - Jeremy's is orderly, although liberally adorned with artefacts and dimly lit by a single north facing window with his works in progress, all abstract shapes and patterns, mounted on the wall and a clean empty easel awaiting whichever he feels needs further work. Judy's is bright and airy, currently with a large triptych of paintings on the wall, stunning impressionistic figurative works painted fast and freely and there is paint over every surface. I was so taken with her work table that I asked if I could shoot a couple of snaps of it - my London office desk, hardly a paragon of order, suddenly seems quite austere.
Back up to Manchester to coincide with a rare visit from British virtuoso organist and conductor Wayne Marshall. Wayne lives with his family in Malta and travels constantly so it had taken about eight months to organise a fairly quick shoot on the stage at the Bridgwater Hall, during rehearsals. I'm fairly sure that standing on the organ console to get a top shot contravened all current health and safety legislation but fortunately as he was rehearsing for a solo performance, there was no one else around....
Up until sometime in the "noughties", I frequently managed to travel by plane with at least 50Kg of camera and lighting gear, occasionally having to pay a small excess baggage charge but more often than not, getting away with it. No such possibility these days, so a recent day trip to Dusseldorf to shoot Olaf Koch, CEO of the Metro Group, meant packing very light with only a hand flash for additional lighting. The room we were allotted for the shoot was impossibly dull so having shot a few frames during the interview, I went off to find something better and was rewarded with a gloriously light mezzanine complete with radiator for added graphic impact. I returned to the interview and as the journalist drew it to a close and suggested we do some photographs, Koch looked at his watch and said "OK, I have a meeting in seven and a half minutes". Seven minutes later, the job was in the bag.........
As a result of a "weathered off" shoot this week, I had to spend a rainy day in Manchester and dutifully carried my camera around with me as I trudged round the city. To pass the time, and get some respite from the wet, I visited several museums and galleries including the lovely John Rylands Library with its marvellous late Victorian Gothic reading room and this little used entrance hall. This was the only decent picture I took all day.
Office refurbishment in the City
Ever since I became an intermittent resident of Berlin nearly ten years ago, I have been mildly obsessed with this array of nearly two dozen bridges that carried various rail lines over Yorkstrasse and which have mostly been derelict since the war. I had always feared that they might be swept away by the tide of regeneration as the Gleisdreieck park to the north took shape from a huge abandoned marshalling yard but it seems that they will now be preserved, probably spruced up and painted and another piece of photogenic dereliction will be consigned to history.
I know nothing at all about the Butler Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, Missouri, but I was very taken with the colour they chose for these now disused grain drying towers.
The phrase "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” is usually used in relation to war but could just as easily be applied to working on a film set, perhaps along with “trying to achieve the impossible, very quickly without upsetting anyone”. I’ve just spent a few days on a location for a new television series based on a novel by a famous author and featuring two very well known actors. Sadly the four page contract and non-disclosure agreement that I signed prohibits me from saying or showing any more than that, and I won't be allowed to use any of the pictures until much nearer the transmission date, if at all, so these images are from last year's acclaimed BBC series "The Living and the Dead" but here's an idea of a typical day. Having, hopefully, had a chance to read the script so that you have some idea of who the characters are and what the story is, you will get a call sheet the night before with the timings for the day. The call time on set was 8am, but of course any diligent crew member is there before that, if only for the plentiful breakfast, and as the set was an hour from home, my alarm was set for 5.30am. Arriving at the unit base for the first time, of the forty odd individuals who make up the film crew, there are at least five key people, the Producer, Director, 1st Asst Director, Production Manager, and Director of Photography who you have to identify, introduce yourself to, and whose names you have to memorise. The process of getting the job done is slightly different on every set but basically involves working out whether or not each scene is going to yield anything useful in terms of good images, and then asking the 1st AD or the Director to let you have a few seconds either before or after shooting the takes when the actors may, if you're lucky, run through the scene once more for your benefit, but only once and with zero tolerance for any delay if you suddenly find you're using the wrong lens or need a fresh memory card. Occasionally, if it’s a long shot, it might be possible to shoot alongside the camera operator during a take, provided your camera is silent but the lighting for interior sets will almost certainly be on the low side and shooting at a 30th/sec wide open on a 300mm lens at 3200 ISO is not unusual. Over the days that I was on set, none of my shoots lasted more than a minute and there were between six and nine scenes per day, not all of which were appropriate for stills, so there are hours of downtime when nothing much is happening during which you might be able to shoot some documentary images of the cast and crew, or sit around like the actors, reading a book. At the end of the day, sometime around 7pm, the director will call it a wrap and you can make your way home - to start again at 5.30 the next morning……I wouldn't want to do it every day but as an antidote to some of my other work, I love it.
On my way to Morzine to get some cash for Nathalie the ski instructor - despite her excellent tuition, I'm beginning to think that skiing is probably just another of the rather long list of things that I'm only ever going to be reasonably good at, but, as they say round here, 'C'est la vie'.