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.....
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.