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'.
Holocaust Memorial, Cora-Berliner-Straße. Now just over eleven years old and beginning to weather in an interesting fashion with some of the stelae settling at different angles and about 400 or so of the 2700 showing hairline cracks necessitating steel reinforcement straps - probably not what the designers had originally intended.....
Manor House, London N4. Proud, defiant and enduring or tattered, dirty and irrelevant?
At a certain point in life, middle-aged men such as myself are sometimes tempted to visit a tailor, probably for the first time, in order to commission a bespoke suit that will convey to the world the impression that they have 'arrived' and are men of importance. However the gentleman with the elaborately tattooed head is not a tailor - he is Ben Crowe, a master luthier who founded Crimson Guitars in Dorset and as I rarely wear a suit, I had a custom electric guitar made for me instead which I collected last week. While I was there I managed to grab a few quick portraits of him and some of the other luthiers involved before he started filming another of the YouTube videos that have made him something of an internet star. I have definitely not 'arrived' nor do I think I am a man of any importance but when I walk on stage for the guitar's debut gig on Saturday night I shall feel like both.
I do love an English seaside pier - apparently there's been one in Cromer since the 14th century and this one won Pier of the Year award in 2015. Beat that.
Waking up on a misty Saturday morning in the wonderful Gunton Arms, a delightful pub in a deer park in Norfolk, I could almost have shot this from my bed, but I dutifully got dressed and walked out in the morning dew for a better shot, justifying the leisurely breakfast that followed in the dining room with its open fire, oak settles and eclectic mix of art from Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George and others - a unique and wonderful place.
Abandoned wrecks on the marshes in Essex, dotted around the creeks and inlets off the Blackwater. In between are various boats that are obviously seaworthy and inhabited by a variety of interesting characters living 'off the grid'. The marsh samphire that was underfoot looked slightly different to the variety in the fishmongers but we took a few handfuls home and had it with fish - it was delicious.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I still get a buzz from seeing my pictures in print so it was extra gratifying to see today’s blanket coverage in the business press of Emma Walmsley’s appointment as CEO of GSK, as it was my image that was widely used to accompany it. Following some last minute and rather secretive enquiries over the weekend about my availability on Monday, I was finally briefed on Sunday afternoon and made my way to GSK HQ the following day still with no idea of exactly what I would be doing. Eventually I was shown into a boardroom and told I had an hour with Emma to come up with something good, which was the easy bit - the editing, choosing and final preparation took another four hours and I was eventually released back to the outside world in the early evening clutching a non-disclosure agreement and with a clear understanding that divulging this news or trying to buy GSK stock ahead of the announcement would be a very bad idea indeed. Many of the articles made the point that she is now one of only seven female CEOs of FTSE 100 companies - strangely enough, when I looked to see who the others were, I realised that I had photographed four of them; Emma, Dominique Laury at Kingfisher, Alison Cooper at Imperial Brands and Carolyn McCall at Easyjet. Perhaps I should write to the other three and see if I can finish the set……….
Portonovo, Marche, Italy. They do things very differently in Italy - the beach is crowded but very well organised - everyone has a lounger and an umbrella (at a price, obviously) and there are rather pretty changing cubicles and showers and, of course, a handful of decent restaurants for an obligatory slow lunch.
There is sometimes a curious beauty to industrial buildings that have been designed for utilitarian purposes with scant attention to aesthetics, particularly when the sun casts some strong shadows around rectilinear shapes - it's something I come back to time and again. One day I'll get it right.....
One of the pleasures of being despatched to various different locations around the country is occasionally ending up somewhere I've never been before, wouldn't necessarily have visited otherwise and which turns out to be rather fine. This weeks thousand mile jaunt through a dozen counties for a real estate investment trust took me through Llandudno, the 'Queen of the Welsh Resorts', with its magnificent Victorian pier. Simon Roberts, a photographer whose work I admire sufficiently to have bought two of his prints, photographed it from a different angle, as part of his excellent 'Pierdom' series.