This is George. George prepares my coffee.
Sometime between 9 and 11am, six days a week, since 1978, George opens up his tiny shop just off Camden High Street.
If you’re early and he finds you on the pavement, waiting for him to arrive, you’ll still have to sit outside for ten minutes. Watching him through the door as he puts on his dust coat, lights up the roaster, filling it with the first batch of beans of the day.
So when you walk in, as George retreats betweens the counter, the shop is already pungent with the smell of roasting coffee.
You can choose from nine types of beans. Nothing else. The most popular one kept behind the counter to save George from reaching over. You can’t buy a coffee to drink, or cups or presses, just coffee, as beans. He will grind them for you. That’s it. Hand roasting daily and grinding on demand. Poured into a rubber stamped brown paper bag. The best coffee on sale in London.
Which deserves a portrait don’t you think?
Glasgow, December 2013
From the series “Novelists”
The greatest dishonour the Hollywood studio system has brought us is making the writer unsung. Once storytellers were revered as magi, lore keepers. In a culture where fame equates to a face’s screen-time, some portraiture to rebalance the wordsmith as hero.
Artist, knitter, activist
I discovered the work of Anna Maltz happening upon an apparent portrait of a family wearing what can only be described as knitted nude suits. The little girl examining her father’s woollen penis. The image was posted uncredited on an internet notice board accompanied by a litany of incredulous comments.
It had to have been the work of an artist – a simple and wonderfully executed concept that throws open all the moral and social contradictions in public displays of nudity. I would see it pop up again in unexpected places, each time eliciting a search to find the creator.
When Sasha Baron Cohen premiered “Bruno” in Berlin wearing a similar outfit a year later I made a concerted effort to find the artist, to express my admiration and congratulate her on finding mainstream exposure. Emailing Anna I learnt the Bruno costumes were not by her.
Artists frequently have their ideas purloined by advertising, take Gillian Wearing’s “Signs that say what you want them to say” and the Volkswagen advert by BMP DDB. In a “creative” industry not crediting a concept is ironic as well as unjust.
It’s probable Baron Cohen was unaware of her work but I would be surprised if no-one in his team had not seen the image, given the similarity in the versions. Five years had passed since Anna exhibited her suits and the emergence of the ones to promote Bruno. It seemed a shame to me that the latecomer and conceptually less brilliant version may become the one posterity remembers. So I thought a formal portrait of Anna in her creation would be in order. I must admit that I may also have had a sneaky desire to try one one for myself.
(Although we corresponded the portrait didn’t happen immediately, since, for a while, Anna thought I was asking her to pose nude. A lesson learnt and now I state clearly when propositioning artists and authors that I’m expecting them to keep their clothes on.)
Musician, TV presenter, martian
London, September 2012
My portrait “Inflate” from the Skintones series goes on show this Thursday at the National Portrait Gallery. Its been selected for inclusion in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 and will be on display till 12 February 2012, after that it tours nationwide.
Go along and see it, not only is it much bigger in real life than on your computer screen (and seeing things for real is nice) but there will be loads of other great portraits to view as well. And the restaurant is good.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 offers a unique opportunity to see sixty works by some of the most exciting contemporary portrait photographers from around the world.
Through editorial, advertising and fine art images, the entrants have explored a range of themes, styles and approaches to the contemporary photographic portrait, from formal commissioned portraits of public figures to more spontaneous and intimate moments capturing friends and family.
This year the competition attracted over 6,000 submissions from 2,506 photographers ranging from gifted amateurs and talented young students to established professionals. The selected works for the exhibition, many of which are on display for the first time, include the five prize-winners and the winner of the ELLE commission.
SpcEco “You tell me”
For the last few months I’ve been kick starting my mornings by blasting out SpcEco’s “Big Fat World”. Aural caffeine.
So when asked if I would shoot a portrait of their singer for use on the sleeve’s front it would have been rather churlish to say no. So I did (shoot one that is).
The label XD Records have just announced that the CD is available for pre-order. If you fancy a lovely minted printed copy from a limited edition of 100, rather than just bits, head over to www.xdrecords.net/shop and pre-order yours for a very reasonable $10.
For some time now I have been wanting to post a few portraits by fellow photographers and have dilly dallied under the apprehension of finding a suitable title to encompass them with. Retrospiration – a portmanteau of “retrospective” and “inspiration”. Not ideal perhaps, but better to utter a duff word than forsake a beautiful image because of it.
When I embarked upon the Coupled series I wanted to present the naked person in a context outside the usual paradigms of art nudes. We are not short of nude pictures but most, that aren’t in some way defined as erotica, fall between idealised and candid. There is little I have seen where the body, it’s skin, it’s presence is presented as formal portraiture: with no intention of sexual pleasure (even mental). Where the beauty is in the being, that life is wonderful, that without relationships we are undefined.
A couple of Coupled portraits in (no really, it’s true and not just for pun’s sake) I saw Katrina Lithgow’s photographs. Her series features female family members naked together, perhaps the intimacy partly invoked by no males being present. Both formal in being sat in front of photographer and intimate in the sense that you become the camera, in the room with them.
They are the most beautiful photographs of naked people I have seen.
They capture many of the considerations I have thought about and whilst veering from the paths that I’ve been exploring share mutual ground. I can hardly continue shooting without acknowledging these artists who have trodden similar paths. They may not be inspiration in the true sense but once seen it will be hard for their work not to tread on my toes a little as I proceed.
I have heard that much of her work has been lost and she now has an alternative career. Only one of these images shows when her name and photography are Googled; a shame. Hopefully this post can rectify the situation a little.
“Sarah with her daughters Lily and Izzy, London, 2002” Katrina Lithgow
A small sample of further portraits in the series can be seen at www.magnet.gr/photosynkyria/2000/wmwy2_en.html
The Girl Who Would Be King
London, March 2011
From the Overt series of portraits
Vic Godard. Singer. Songwriter. Punk maverick. London, September 2009
On September 20th 1976 Vic Godard and his band Subway Sect played the 100 Club alongside the debut of Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Clash and Sex Pistols.
While the other groups that night became mainstream Vic Godard has charted a more esoteric career over the last 40 years, including a 40’s crooner inspired album and recording with such mavericks as Dennis Bovell, Weekend, Edwyn Collins and being the catalyst behind JoBoxers.
He also wrote one of my favourite songs.
Cycling back along the canal. Ranged across the path in front of me are a group of young men dressed in black with wide black hats. I realise they are in the garb of their religion, but seen from the back they appear as the last gang in town, long riders from the bygone wild west.
It was inspiration from a few old photos that started me writing microfiction, since then there has been a conscious decision to take only pictures that suggest stories, or scenes from stories. Verité style. I have been reading up on “decisive moments” and mise-en-scene. Shooting from hip, literally, to grab candid portraiture.
I think what a great image these crow-like men would make. If I had my camera.
I cycle past. I realise that I have a mobile phone tucked away in my pocket. A decisive moment. I stop, dismount, turn back, start to pull out my camera.
He is watching me, poised, reading my intentions. His camera already in hand, casual but cocked, ready, loaded. His look still of bemused tolerance as we face each other on the tow path.
I raise my camera slowly, keeping eye contact. Take the shot.
He stands unfazed, holding his poise, his shadow long as I ride off.
My first direct engagement.