1 October 2022
This image was shot at dawn at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, birthplace of the Solidarity movement. It is the opening image my new exhibition “New Dawn for Europe” at Anise Gallery, London from 7th to 22nd October.
All the photographs in the exhibition were shot at dawn in the nine former “Iron Curtain” countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where demonstrations took place between 1987-1990 to demand political change and an end to communism and Soviet oppression. The demonstrations took many forms and were received in differing ways. In the Opera Square in Timisoara, Romania, many protesters where shot, whilst at the Song Festival Grounds in Estonia, the authorities watched on as many thousands of Estonians sang their folk songs and waved the national flags (both activities were banned.)
The images show the Lenin Shipyard, Gdansk, Poland; Saint Nicholas Church, Leipzig, East Germany; Freedom Monument, Riga, Latvia; Vingis Park Song Ground, Vilnius, Lithuania; Song Festival Grounds, Tallinn, Estonia; Alexander Nevsky Square, Sofia, Bulgaria; Opera Square, Timisoara, Romania; Freedom Square, Budapest, Hungary; and Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czechoslovakia. Whilst the events differed at every site, the one thread that combines them is the desire for democracy.
Each country subsequently became a member of the EU, and each location in each country has its own history and its own cultural and political references. Over the last three years (with Covid sandwiched between), since the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, I visited these sites, shooting them all at dawn – the beginning of a new day and the beginning of a political era. The work is a meditation on the use of public spaces and an investigation of memory, democracy and place. These sites have even more relevance now in 2022 when many of these countries live in fear of a return to autocracy after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The strong personal impetus to begin this project came after the UK’s Brexit vote, and my reflections on the contrasting emotions that inspired the 1987-89 demonstrators to seek a better future that would ultimately be within the EU. It is also a reflection on how the desire for democracy and democratic values manifests itself powerfully in public spaces. The full series can be seen here.
Anise Gallery is a contemporary art gallery with a strong focus towards the architectural aesthetic, presenting an exciting programme of exhibitions, events and talks that relate to architecture, technology and the built environment. All EPUK members are of course welcome to the opening on the 6th October 6 - 9pm
'New Dawn for Europe' runs from 7 - 22 October 2022 12 - 5pm Friday - Sunday and by appointment Anise Gallery at The Old Chapel 27-33 Malham Road London SE23 1AH 0208 858 3226
1 September 2022
What Happened Here came about almost by accident.
Personal projects have become increasingly important to my professional photographic practice as they allow me to exercise my creative skills outside of the constraints of a client brief.
For several years I’d shot personal work using the same digital cameras I used for client work, and couldn’t understand why they weren’t giving me the fulfilment I was seeking until I realised that the workflow was too similar to my paid work. And so in 2017, with no particular project in mind, I decided that my next project should be shot on film.
Not having much budget at the time, I asked around my contacts to see if anyone had any old film languishing in a freezer drawer they might be willing to sell me. Helen Stone, Andrew Spiers and David Hoffman all stepped forward with offers, and I ended up with a huge mixed bag of film types, from black and white to colour transparency in 35mm and 120 formats. With some of the stock having expired in the late 1990s (some having been manufactured in the former East Germany) I decided to try a few rolls out at a derelict industrial site in my home town of Frome, Somerset, known locally as Saxonvale. I figured that if the film was no good, at least I hadn’t committed a lot of time to a lost cause.
However, within a few initial visits I was seeing something interesting emerge, and what started as a bit of fun turned into a two-year project with a darker narrative than I had anticipated.
The photo of Brockie the dog was taken one morning when I made a visit to discover that the travellers and homeless people who had been living on one section of the site had been evicted. Rather than poking my lens into their distress, I looked for a picture I could make which while not necessarily telling the story in itself, would allow me to illustrate the situation in a more oblique way. Brockie was one of two dogs belonging to a pair of travellers, and oblivious to the drama which had unfolded, he did what dogs do and played with the biggest stick he could find while his owners considered their next move.
If I remember correctly, this was the same morning I helped one of the evictees shift their caravan to another part of the site. That evening I was shooting a fundraiser for a client and found myself in a roomful of multi-millionaires. It was a surreal contrast.
This shot was taken on expired Kodak Portra using a Canon EOS 1N and 40mm lens, a combination I used for many of the 35mm images in the project, while for the medium format film I used a Bronica SQ-A.
1 August 2022
Tania and Clive blow a triumphant lament over the cutting, during a mass trespass Road Protest action at Twyford Down, outside Winchester, against the M3 road extension, Summer 1993. This photograph became the key image of a self-originated, longterm documentary project, shot in colour transparency film, in the early nineties. I was living on and off with Road Protesters, starting with Twyford Down, covering the Dongas daily lives of resistance, protest and actions on the Cutting, and the later siege’s along London’s MII route. I remember walking with Tania and Clive, when they decided to stop on the edge of the Cutting. I shot several frames and was able to nicely frame them and the police standing below. I was also aware of a plane flying into the middle of the sky. It was shot on my first Canon EOS1 with a 20-35mm lens, which I’d won in a competition, the year before.
The British Road Protesters movement began in the early 1990s when the Donga tribe squatted Twyford Down to save a site of scientific interest, an ‘SSI’, from the Ministry of Transport's road building programme. The Dongas was the name ascribed to the ancient walkways, the paths trodden in the middle ages by people walking down to Winchester. A small tribe of protesters were joined by people of all walks of life who came to Twyford Down to defend it. A long hard battle over a few years ended in the ‘cutting', a new motorway built through this ancient monument and destroying it.
The Road Protest movement in Britain continued for many years and more battles were fought in London against the MII both at Wanstead then in Leytonstone, and subsequently at Newbury, and elsewhere. The protesters were very inventive in their use of non violent peaceful direct action. They barricaded themselves into squats, made tree houses, tunnels and had huge demonstrations against bailiffs, police and private security, who tried to force their way through the physical defences of this alternative popular environmental movement. Many of the roads were built eventually and many sites of great beauty lost, but the government had to stand down from its road building policy and eventually the programme was halted. The protests cost the government billions. Out of that movement grew many environmental NGOs who have to this day kept fighting for ecological and sustainable environmental solutions rather than following the cult of the car, petrol and roadbuilding.
The final work ‘ROAD’ has been exhibited and published widely, across the UK National Press, French Liberation and GEO magazines, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Krakow Photo Month and foreign exhibitions about 1990’s British photography. The image of Tania and Clive blowing their horns, was made into postcards, which at a certain point in time, seemed to be found adorning mantlepieces and toilet walls up and down the country.
• This and half a dozen other images from the 1990's Road Protest and 2020's HS2 Resistance feature in TATE Liverpool’s 2022 Art exhibition ‘Radical Landscapes’, exploring alternative uses and representation of the British landscape in modern and contemporary art, currently in Liverpool, moving later this year to The Mead Gallery at Warwick University.
• A wider selection of Road Protest and HS2 Resistance photographs will also be presented at this year’s Visa Pour l’Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France, and are part of the traveling 'Resistance Exhibition' shown at Glastonbury 2022 and other festivals across the UK.
1 July 2022
Duncan Elliott is an award winning commercial and editorial photographer specialising in environmental portraiture with a love for photographing stories of people and subcultures. His clients include many international newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies.
1 June 2022
I’d only started working full time as a photographer the previous summer. I was getting a little work from the local paper and occasional magazine commissions but mostly I was following my own ideas.
I was living in a fairly derelict squat in Whitechapel, an area of slum housing and street homelessness. The City was demolishing its way eastwards, closing the small shops that had served the area for so long, forcing out the cabinet makers, leather workers, chicken slaughterers, kosher cafés and a host of other now-forgotten trades. I’d been moved on by the bulldozers a few times, the last being from the 17th century Black Lion Yard, once the site of Jonathan Muff’s notorious Molly-house. By the time it was levelled by an uncaring council it had become home to more than a dozen jeweller’s shops, and was renowned as the Hatton Garden of the East End.
I had mixed feelings about covering the Jubilee celebrations. I was fascinated by the traditions and rituals of British life but angered by the money being thrown at lavish state banquets and high-profile celebrations set against the very visible growing poverty and disregard of the vulnerable.
The sudden peppering of the generally tatty East End with a mixture of Union flags, balloons and posters of royalty alternating with ‘Stuff the Stupid Queen’ graffiti was just the kind of contradiction that attracted me.
I had just one camera, a Nikon FTn. I’d scraped together just enough money to get a worn out second-hand 28mm f2 – the worst lens I’ve owned since my 9th birthday present of a 1955 Kodak Duaflex 2. The only thing in its favour was that the vignetting and the flare helped hide how unsharp the corners were. 35mm colour transparency film was pretty rough and, with a useable dynamic range of maybe 6 stops on a good day, exposure was critical. I shot this picture on Ektachrome-X, 64 ASA, an E3 process film which was a bit cheaper than the rather better Kodachrome.
1 May 2022
The Hastings Traditional Jack in the Green Festival is an annual folklore celebration that takes place in the historic seaside town, and the May Bank holiday is probably the busiest weekend in the local calendar. The festival is a four-day event that attracts thousands of people to witness the ritual slaying of winter and the welcome release of summer into the world, a tradition which started in the 17th century, from an earlier custom that involved decorating milkmaids with flowers. The earliest reference to a Jack in the Green is from a 1770 account of a London May Day procession, and the tradition became associated with Chimney Sweeps in the 19th century, before dwindling in importance in the early 20th century. Revived in 1983 and getting bigger every year, it has been variously described as “folksy”, “neo-pagan” and “slightly goth”. It offers music, Morris dancers, drummers, sweeps, giants and fire eaters, culminating in a wild, costumed procession where Jack is slain to release the spirit of summer.
Having photographed the Jack in the Green celebrations since way back, I decided to adopt a different approach for what was very much a personal project, and set up atemporary studio for the 2012 & 2013 processions to highlight the amazing folklore costumed characters in a fun yet contemporary style. Technically, I used a state of the art Nikon D800, some very old monolights, a large soft box and a paper backdrop. Two assistants were despatched to select people before the start of the grand procession leaving me with approximately five minutes with each subject, and after an extremely intense 30-minute shoot it was all over.
From these sessions, selections were later chosen for displays in The Jerwood Gallery (now Hastings Contemporary) in 2015 and also to accompany a John Piper exhibition in 2016. A collaboration with The Lucy Bell Gallery bought about a Pagan calendar in 2014 and an exhibition was held in the Crown Inn, Hastings Old Town. Since then, Alamy have looked after the odd sale or three.
1 April 2022
1 March 2022
This image of an elderly farmer taking a break on the top of a pear tree was taken around the eighth day of my assignment in the mountainous slopes of Jiuxiang. As a photographer I find my work drawn inexorably towards social and environmental issues, where my passion lies in capturing the interaction between people and their environment. As we have become more and more reliant on technology it feels like we have lost something of the inner rhythm that connects us to the natural world, a cadence that was perhaps more apparent to past generations. My hope is that by documenting instances where that rhythm is disrupted, we might take time to reflect and recapture something that has been forgotten.
An example of that disruption is in our relationship with bees, which we have relied on for thousands of years. We now find that this relationship is under threat and nowhere are the complexities of this situation more apparent than in the Sichuan Province of southwest China. It was while researching the nomadic beekeepers of Transylvania that I discovered the topic of hand pollination. One study, in particular, written by Professor Tang-Ya of Chengdu University, outlined how hand-pollination has been practised in China since the late 1980’s. This well-written paper became the core of my research work and was the main guidance for my project.
With the introduction of China's Home Responsibility System in the 1980s, the farmers of Hanyuan County in Sichuan Province found it economically beneficial to replace their rice paddies with fruit orchards. The mountainous slopes of the region lent themselves well to fruit production, particularly pears, for which Hanyuan County is now renowned.
Any crops grown beyond the quotas of China's collectivized farming program could now be sold on the open market and, in order to maximize their yield, the farmers began to increase their use of pesticides. This, in turn, had a negative effect on the population of the natural pollinators, and the local beekeepers were driven to relocate their colonies out of the cultivation areas. With the disappearance of the bees, along with the desire to control the quality and purity of the pear varieties, the farmers began the labour-intensive task of pollinating their crops by hand.
With simple tools such as a bamboo stick and chicken feathers, they embarked on a journey of learning, not just how and when to pollinate, but when to collect the stamens, how to dry them, and which varieties respond to which pollinizer. Additionally, not all the pear varieties are self-compatible, so cross-pollination is needed in order to achieve a desirable crop. With skill and patience, the farmers can produce a high-quality, high yield product, albeit with increased labour costs than if they relied on nature alone.
As industrialization continues to push up the cost of hiring a workforce, the farmers must find an alternative way of cultivating their crops in order for them to remain viable. With pear production accounting for forty to fifty per cent of the household income, the stakes are high and adaptability will be key to their success. The return of natural pollinators is possible, but this is unlikely without a coordinated approach to limiting the use of agrochemicals. What the future holds is uncertain and further work is needed to find a successful solution that balances economy with ecology.
In Juixiang even the oldest are capable to complete physically challenging tasks like pollinating each blossom one by one even in the most difficult and dangerous environments. This old farmer was taking a break on the top of a tree in his pear orchard of 35 trees which he planted 30 years ago. He explained that hand-pollination was getting tiring at the age of nearly 85.
I found the generosity and good nature of the people of Jiuxiangzhen humbling, and I was allowed free reign to explore how the relationship between this community and their environment has changed over the years. The town is situated in a rugged environment that demands energy and purpose, something that the residents have in abundance. The lack of a common language barely needed acknowledgement and was more than made up for by the enthusiasm, friendliness and hospitality shown by the locals.
This story has been published editorially worldwide and will be published as a book by Northern Bee Books, available from this April.
1 February 2022
Albion Rovers FC play in the lowest league in the SPFL (Scottish Professional Football League) and occupy Cliftonhill Stadium which can be found in Coatbridge, a traditional coal mining/iron works town 8 miles east of Glasgow.
I’ve been following the club for 22 years and started going along with the idea of recording a social document of the fans and environment of lower league football however the project spluttered along before eventually picking up a head of steam around 2010. Since then there have been many days and wet Tuesday nights (my favourite) spent at Cliftonhill as well as quite a few away stadiums visited over the years.
When the Coronavirus lockdown came along in 2020 the games in our league were suspended. Fans were fortunate to have access to a live stream to watch games, but sitting in the back room watching on the lap-top was a poor second best so I contacted the club and through my connections there, and my press card, managed to get into the stadium to shoot a sub-project showing the effects of Covid on the football club.
This photo was taken at the end of April 2021 during a 1-0 victory over Annan Athletic. With the dark, grim winter over I was in the ground and spotted a sizeable group assembled on the hill overlooking the stadium enjoying the game in the spring sunshine. Refreshments had been taken and the boys were pretty lively, so after hovering around for a while getting them used to my presence I decided to go down the hill with my back to the stadium to see what happened. A few of them were very nervous about being photographed but everyone reacted with this explosion of joy when we scored.
It had been a terrible time for all at the club so these guys were all just glad to be out with their mates, having some beers in the sun and watching their team again.
A feature on project was recently published by Document Scotland .
1 January 2022
I have been a fell runner for over 30 years and this involves training during the winter and running in the Peak District National Park when it’s dark and in all weathers, sometimes with a group but often alone. On those rare occasions when it’s full moon and the sky is clear the landscape takes on a different look and feel, and even when visiting tourist hotspots you very rarely meet anyone else.
As opposed to sunlight the light from the moon is reflected so for the last few years I have been experimenting using this light in the landscape during the middle part of the moon’s gibbous phase.
I have found a number of challenges carrying out this work, firstly there are only four or five days a month when the light is strong enough to create strong shadows and of course the sky has to be clear. On many occasions I have set off cloud-free for it to become overcast by the time I’ve walked in to my intended location. The other challenge is ‘seeing the light’ - in daylight I look to see where the shadow detail lies but at night I have to look for the areas of light which are sometimes quite subtle. The final issue I find challenging is how light or dark to make the image, I find it tempting to overexpose the image to make it look like daylight whereas what I experience is a heavy feeling of being alone in the space I see through the viewfinder, similar to being under a cloth when using a 5 X 4 camera.
This work is very much a personal project, I have only entered the work to a couple of competitions and it was shortlisted for the RPS annual show this year.
1 December 2021
In 2003, Stern photo director Harald Menk commissioned a number of photojournalists for a special issue on how Christmas is celebrated in different communities across the world. As I was well known for my Roma work, Harald asked me for a reportage about ‘a Roma Christmas’. Stern had guaranteed my work across the Balkans, during the Kosovo war. I chose to go to Romania. I brought a couple of expensive bottles of wine with me as gifts, and was slightly surprised later to find myself drinking them with bubbles, until I found they had been mixed with coca-cola.
It was a crisp early Christmas morning in Alexandria, photographing the Christmas pig being wrestled to the ground and slaughtered in the backyard, then children sitting on it for good luck. We were snowed in for a few days and drunk a lot of hot vodka grog. The shoot went as well as could be expected.
That in the bag, continuing my longterm work on Roma, I went via Timisoara to Belgrade, visiting a Roma patriarch friend, who works as a radio journalist. It was in Belgrade that I got to know David, who drove me around the city, playing Roma drum beats on the dashboard of his van and who wanted me to photograph his tattoos. We became friends and I was invited to his home, on the 7th of January, for a traditional Orthodox Christmas. I arrived at 4am, to be his first visitor, and symbolically light the fire with an oak branch.
We sat drinking vodka for several hours until first light. Eventually, his family woke up, and then his parents and relatives arrived. David said, he had been in all sorts of trouble as an adolescent, but had grown out of it, adding ‘don’t worry about my brother but be careful of my brother-in-law’. At 10am we all sat down for Christmas dinner; the table was smothered with sweetmeats, peppers, traditional roast pig for the Orthodox and roast chicken for the David’s Muslim parents. In true Roma tradition, the patriarch and matriarch, the visitor and the men, we were seated at the main table, whilst the women and kids sat at another table, behind, near the wood burning stove. I sat with my back to against a huge window, with a snowy blizzard howling outside, David’s parents sat on each side of me, David sat opposite me between his brother and brother-in-law.
David looked at me and somewhat accusingly said ‘so when are you going to take the f*****g picture of me and my tattoos then?’. To which I replied ‘what about right now?’ In a trice their shirts were ripped off, David asked me how they should pose. I replied, ‘just be normal!’. At some point David’s younger kids joined us at the table and I squeezed back against the window as far away from the scene as I could, and I shot it on chrome with my trusty Leica M6 and a 35mm 1.4 Summilux lens. I knew I’d got something special.
By midday, I was drunk twice over, and absolutely stuffed, when Milos, who had left me at David’s at 4am, arrived to take me back home. All I could think of, was going to bed and sleeping it off, but we arrived home, to find the whole family waiting at the grand dining room table, for the visitor (me) to join them for Christmas lunch. It took me a few days to recover.
I stayed in Belgrade until Orthodox New Year, and then returned to Paris, and developed the E6 films. I scanned the selection on my Nikon Coolscan 500, and sent the Romania Christmas set to Stern who were delighted. I mentioned to Harald, that I’d shot another set for Orthodox Christmas, but he said not to bother sending them, it was a job well done. I sent him the picture of David’s tattoos, in any case - I had a feeling he would like it. Harald telephoned me right back, to say that it was the best picture they’d received, and offered me a nice bonus. |t made a double page for the Christmas edition. Harald added ‘it is the salt in the soup, nobody was smiling’.
Belgrade, Serbia. January 7th, 2004 © Nigel Dickinson
1 November 2021
In 1979, I had a grant from the Scottish Arts Council to live and work on the Wester Hailes estate in Edinburgh, work with the kids in the new school and wander the neighbourhood taking photos and chatting to the locals. It meant many hours out and about looking, hoping and trying to impersonate ‘un flâneur’. Most of the time, nothing. But, occasionally, extraordinary images. Now, 40+ years later, I’m self-publishing a book of the photos with reminiscences from people who were there at the time.
As it was shot in the city, I asked Edinburgh College of Art for some students to work with me on the book (I’d done this on a previous book and found it works very well). So, two students did the retouching and one has designed the book. They all got paid and we all now have a book. A win, win situation.
There’s an exhibition at Whale Arts, the community art space, in Wester Hailes, 25th Oct to 18th November this year. Plus, a full set of the photos will go into the archive at the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, for use by students and researchers. View the photos here on my site.
I have two other books in the pipeline; one for spring 2022, on life in repertory theatre in 1973. There are many ‘Front of House’ photos but, as far as I know, my set covering all rehearsals from first read-through to first-night, plus time off in the pub, shopping, in the laundrette and earning lines in the digs, is unique in its breadth. Many of our ‘National Treasure’, actors, who readily agree they wouldn’t be where they are today had they not had Rep’ training, have contributed pieces to the book. The second, for summer 2022, will be a celebration of 100 years of A S Neill’s democratic school, Summerhill. I first went there when still at Art School and the photos were published the following year as a Penguin Education Special.
Wester Hailes, 1979, (21 x 21 cm, 164 pages, softback) by John Walmsley, is available here from 2nd November for £15 + £4 P&P to the UK & EU. The book will be launched with a short talk at the Photobook Café in Shoreditch on Tuesday 23rd November 6.30 to 9pm. To register free tickets (numbers are limited to 40) go here.
1 October 2021
What started out as a simple task for twelve images for an internal corporate exhibition a decade ago has been slowly rolling along ever since and is now an archive of over a thousand images and growing. I continued the project as I could feel things changing on the key busking areas of Grafton Street, Temple Bar and Henry Street in Dublin. Where we used to have full bands playing a set for a few hours, regulations now limit amplification along with the requirement that street performers switch places on the street every hour. The upside of this is that for the watchers, you get a great variety of performers, the downside for the performers is that on a good day they can be waiting four hours or more for a prime busking slot. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph performers on the streets and then a few years later at venues where they are headlining.
The current crop of buskers are young, starting around seventeen years of age, and some of them have millions of views on Youtube to help them draw a crowd. Allie Sherlock is one of those who, having been seen on Youtube busking on Grafton Street was flown over to the USA to be on the Ellen show. She still busks most weeks in Dublin. At the other end of the scale is 81-year old Vincent Fottrell who is still busking and just moved on to using an amp - Youtube is a long way off for him. Then there is Mick McLoughlin aka Mick the Busker, who spent two years sleeping in Debenhams doorway while busking his way off the street. When you take the time to talk, there are endless back stories. For me it's often the interaction of the public with the performers that makes things interesting.
One aspect that keeps me going back at every opportunity is that every day is different; you never know what or who you will find. A normal day at the office for buskers may mean a street cleaner going by, someone riding a horse up the street and a multitude of other distractions from drunks to junkies and people who would like to join in, but they keep playing, rain or shine. It's not uncommon for me to photograph a performer only to find I previously shot them a few years earlier. Some of the buskers are regulars like Jacob Koopman who's been playing on Grafton Street for a decade now, while many more play here for a few weeks before continuing their global travels. On good days you will find performers who are Irish, Brazilian, German and Indonesian, all on a street no more than a few hundred metres long. The interaction between the buskers and the people on the street is on-going as is the camaraderie between fellow buskers (very similar to our own field).
When I am photographing, I don’t believe in hiding away or using a small pocket camera - the artists know I am there and over time it has allowed me to become accepted as part of the scene and allow me to get shots I otherwise wouldn't. My workhorse is a Canon 5d Mrk lll, primarily with a 24-70mm, and from time to time I’ll just work with a 50mm; it helps me to look differently if I have to move as opposed to zooming. There is an ongoing balancing act between the buskers, authorities, retailers and city dwellers, with the latter having forced a no playing prior to 11am rule for buskers, along with other restrictions. I can slowly see them getting squeezed out, certainly some of the larger groups like Keywest and Mutefish who used to perform, now cannot make it worthwhile with only an hour to play before moving on. Another element that makes the buskers’ lives harder is that too many people now have their earphones in 24/7 and simply walk on by, living life by their own soundtrack.
To see the many more photographs in this ongoing series, please see Ian's Instagram
1 September 2021
For many years I was a landscape photographer who watched birds. I then suddenly made the connection…why not actually photograph birds? But after all that time out in the landscape I found it impossible to avoid including their surroundings in the images. Most bird photographers do whatever they can to avoid giving their subjects any context at all, but I resolved to give both equal billing. I began work on an exhibition, Bird/land, and just to make it more difficult for myself, each “piece” consisted of three or five separate images in panoramic format, linked in some way with each other. The links consisted of location, species, activity, purely graphic elements, or a combination of two or more. I received funding from the Arts Council of Wales for the original showing of Bird/land in 2017 in Machynlleth. It then showed in an enlarged form at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2018.
These particular images were taken at a red kite feeding station near my home. There were no particular technical challenges involved, other than a long telephoto lens, a sturdy tripod and the right weather conditions. While waiting for the kites to perform I noticed that carrion crows were using this dead conifer as a perch while waiting their turn to grab some food. I took a series of images on two separate visits to the same location as different birds came and went. It was then a matter of selecting the images, processing, cropping as required and arranging them in a custom template in Lightroom to create the finished work.
1 August 2021
I made this photograph on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller Magazine several years ago. When the (then) Director of Photography, Caroline Metcalfe called me and asked if I’d like to photograph a story in São Tome and Principé, my answer was not immediately ‘yes’ but ‘where?’. As I soon discovered, this tiny but devastatingly beautiful African nation comprises two volcanic islands that lie off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Originally a port for slavers, the islands’ independence had been secured (unusually peacefully) from Portugal in 1975.
The story centred around eco-tourism and for much of the work I found myself happily trotting through forested regions and bumping along rough tracks stopping at villages where I tried out my very poor (read almost non-existent) Portuguese much to the hilarity of all involved.
The image came on the second day of shooting on the smaller island of Principé, reached by a fifty-minute flight on a small, (rather shaky for my liking) propeller aeroplane. As I walked around the bay in the capital, Santo António, I could just make out some boys jumping off a tiny (and broken) pier. I hadn’t yet made a frame that day and one always gets a little nervous that pictures aren’t going to come. Especially in such a beautiful place. I double checked the exposure and as I moved closer, I decided to shoot the thing quite simply on a 50mm and try and make something that would fit a double page spread.
I didn’t want to lurk on a long zoom and neither did I want to disturb the kids on a wide-angle lens that would have inevitably altered the scene by my closeness. Only one boy clambered back onto the pier and then dripping, decided to jump straight back into the clear water without looking in my direction. I composed quickly, ‘anchoring’ (sorry) the frame slightly off centre using the cross as a guide. I made sure that I had plenty of sky either side to let the picture ‘breathe’ - or for the inevitable text. This was the first and only frame that I made before his friends turned up and insisted, quite rightly, on being in the picture. I spent the next fifteen minutes shooting the kids jumping into the water in a variety of ways, but nothing worked as well or as graphically as the spontaneity of the first frame. It’s often the way. It’s why I often try to shoot first and see what happens later: the world moves very quickly and if you miss it, it’s gone.
1 July 2021
The Juan open-air concert venue is situated under the pine trees of La Pinède, overlooking the beach and Cap d’Antibes. I have been attending this festival for 35 years excluding three, and the work constitutes the basis of my Jazz&Blues Archive/An Eye for the Sound. It has been an essential part of all my summers, in order to shoot pictures, listen to great music, and reconnect with groups of friends and itinerant colleagues.
The photograph above was taken at the 32nd jazz festival at Juan les Pins/Antibes in 1992. I chose it because it shows Ray in a rare moment of calm and contemplation in the midst of an exhilarating big band session. It is a cropped image from a couple of dozen shots with the Hasselblad from that night, part of my favourite series of the great Ray Charles whom I photographed between 1987 and 2001. On this particular night the lighting was quite good. Often however it is variable to non-existent and shooting moving people at f4 with pushed film in semi-darkness can be something of a challenge. Added to this are the increasing restrictions on photographing the artists, often limited to three songs or three minutes or no pictures at all. My favourite instruction at a later Ray Charles concert was: “You may shoot for three minutes from when the Raelettes (Ray’s backing singers) pick up their tambourines.” A French rugby scrum formed.
With my passion for photography, music and travel it was no surprise to find myself making a yearly pilgrimage to three or four of France’s special jazz festivals from 1982 onwards. I wish that I had started earlier. Depending on other commercial work in UK I regarded these trips as working holidays, sometimes with editorial commissions for ‘words and pictures’ from specialist magazines like Jazz on CD, Jazz Express and Jazz Journal, current at the time. Occasionally I had to fly back to London to fulfil a worthwhile commission but, added to the daily and nightly photography, after a couple of years a camaraderie formed amongst the international photographers in the excellent Press Bar at Juan les Pins, and I would often meet up with the same gang at other festivals.
In those days of analogue my camera equipment, chained to the floor, took up at least half the locked boot of my car and consisted of two Hasselblad bodies, three 12on backs, four Zeiss lenses, three Olympus OM bodies and four or five lenses, plus monopod, tripod, folding stool and an extra bag containing the usual essentials that photographers will never travel without even if they may not need them; but of course, they will, and yes my Pentax spot meter still works! I also included a 5x4 Wista field camera for the occasional landscape. In fact, in 1988 I shot a sunflower field on the way home, and the print won a Gold in the AoP (AFAEP as it was then) Awards landscape category. In the car with no aircon, film was kept in a 12v fridge and cold bags, though admittedly the cooling effect was inconsistent in 80°F heat.
For me, 1986 to 1992 were peak years at Jazz à Juan for photographing many of the great musicians in jazz, blues and other genres. This year I am honoured to exhibit 21 pictures in the Palais de Congrès in Juan les Pins to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the festival. The prints will be on display during July and August. I am considering extending the exhibition to other areas in the region at a later date, with different material, and am planning at least one photo book. My music pictures have been exhibited widely in London since the late ‘70s, and in France, Spain and the United States.
In 1963 in Portugal I shot a series of lifestyle and people reportage photographs with my old Leica for a book on the Algarve. A collection of these photographs was made into a photobook called “Algarve 63”, printed in Portugal in 2017. Some of these photographs featured in exhibitions from 2005, locally and in London, and in Arles during the Rencontres de la Photographie in 2012.
1 June 2021
On the banks of the River Thames at Limehouse there's a pocket of resistance. A small rectangle of foreshore appears on no maps and was left off the plans for the looming Canary Wharf development. Now the orphan place belongs to no-one. Returning twice a day at low tide, this liminal space exists between earth and water, shifting between private and public space as the moon chooses. Suspended between wealth and poverty, earth and water, past and present, and an unknowable future, it’s a tiny anomaly.
Briefly exposed as the tide recedes, the small foreshore was host to a series of performances between the winter solstices of 2020 and 2021. Celebrating imagination as an act of revolution, these Come Hell or High Water events, fuelled by around 60 artists over the year, celebrated the connection, expansion and strength of wind and water, of light and sound, of flesh living and breathing.
This is Elspeth Owen performing using voice, descant recorder, percussion, music box, birdsong and a great deal of yellow string at the Summer Solstice, 21st June 2020.
With no internet presence and word of the events passed discretely only between performers, friends and a few other carefully selected beings, it was a privilege to be frozen by arctic winds, soaked to the underwear by Storm Dennis and, together with my camera, repeatedly coated in stinky, slimy Thames mud.
The foreshore is muddy and extremely uneven with jagged buried rocks, chunks of scrap iron and rusting steel cables snatching at my feet just beneath the sludgy surface. Staying upright at all was a challenge, more so with my ancient arthritic knees, but I needed to be a bit nimble, so I shot all 13 events with just one camera, no flash, a Nikon D500 with a 12-24 zoom – that’s an 18-35 in old money.
Technically some days were easy, sunny with enough cloud to soften the shadows and a comfy 500th at f8 but working in dark driving rain with frozen fingers, wide open at a 15th, an iso higher than the national debt and a mud splatted viewfinder I struggled to take anything home at all. Still fun!
More images from the series can be seen here: Come Hell or High Water
I have a box set of Café Royal books and also a rather fatter hardback book about the East End in the 1970s and ‘80s coming soon. Forty years on from the Brixton riots I have photographs in Steve McQueen’s forthcoming series “Uprising”. I’m proud to have work selected for Martin Parr’s “Island Life” at the Bristol Festival later this year as well as a longer series from the Brixton riots in an exhibition at Morley College & Carnegie Library. Once that’s done I’ll be starting to edit down around 20,000 photographs for a book on Protest.
1 May 2021
During 2021 I received a residency in partnership with Berwick Visual Arts, Newcastle University's Institute for Creative Arts Practice and the Centre for Rural Economy. I worked with Professor Sally Shortall, Duke of Northumberland Chair of Rural Economy, at CRE, exploring contemporary issues around diversity in agriculture.
Women’s contribution to the farming industry is significant but often overlooked. There are underlying barriers such as access to land, class, motherhood, and lack of clear leadership roles. When tasked with imagining a farmer who comes to mind? Women make up 28 percent of the farming industry in the UK, but despite playing a central role in agricultural progress throughout history, documentation of female farmworkers is slim. Over time, the stories of women who have shaped the land have been left unheard. This project examines the unique challenges women in agriculture face, focusing on rural issues from a socially-engaged standpoint, which places communities at the heart of my practice. Although still a work-in-progress, the series has seen me travel across Northumberland to document forty women at work.
Rural Britain as is often portrayed by the outsider’s view. I wanted to go into this complex subject and avoid farming cliches, to look at the roots of issues; to have the farmers speak for themselves. Issues of gender in farming are rooted in societal and economic issues. A systemic problem I came across was access to land; only 14.9 per cent of registered farm holders in the UK are female, despite 64 per cent of graduates from agricultural studies being women in 2018/2019. The start-up capital required to purchase land is substantial, meaning access and agency within food and farming has remained a privilege. The vast majority of those farming are only able to do so due to inheritance, which traditionally has left women at a distinct disadvantage, and which it continues to do. I’m based in the Northern Dales, was raised in rural areas and wanted to show a subject close to home.
This image shows Paula, of Mill Pond Flower Farm. Paula is a female farmer, she also holds a Phd and was previously a nurse. Throughout 2021 I visited Mill Pond Flower Farm when it was safe to do so, while the project came to several stand stills as the pandemic hit. The project will continue throughout 2022 as I explore gender, agriculture and how the pandemic has affected female farmers.
1 April 2021
In 2019 I was commissioned to photograph the American independent author/singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer on the UK and European leg of her world tour of “There Will Be No Intermission”. She infamously ran the first million-dollar Kickstarter and is the co-founder of “The Dresden Dolls”. She authored the biography “The Art of Asking” and gave a TED Talk by the same name, which has been viewed more than 11 million times.
Benefit gig for “Open Pianos for Refugees” Karlsplatz, Vienna
My job was to document her, the shows, the crew, the fans and produce four long-form articles published on Medium. I worked alongside the Australian writer Jack Nicholls whom Amanda hired to write the words. We had access to all areas and carte blanche to create whatever we wanted.
The show (just over three hours long) was a theatrical blend of songs and oration, illustrating how Amanda uses songwriting to process life’s more challenging events. Essentially: this is the story of what happened, and this is the song I wrote. The album traverses relationships, pregnancy, abortion, miscarriages, and trauma to highlight a few light examples. The experience could be best described as “group therapy with music and access to alcohol.”
Ulster Hall, Belfast
We travelled to more than a dozen cities beginning in Amsterdam and ending in London at the Union Chapel. We spent time on planes, trains, in cafes, walking the towns when we had time, at one point in a hospital, and on the tour bus. I photographed anything from Amanda on stage, backstage, meetups with hundreds of patrons, Shintado sessions, spontaneous street gigs, podcasts, protests, interviews and bedding down for the night on the bus.
On the “Beat the Streets” tour bus after the show
I struck a balance between being a visible participant while directing group portraits and documenting her playing from stage, to being a ghost in the background. Luckily for me, Amanda is a grounded person who advocates radical compassion, so the atmosphere though intense at times was rarely charged with anything but positivity.
Amanda in her dressing room backstage at Graz Congress, Vienna
Since leaving her record label in 2008, Amanda funds most of her projects and pays her staff with the money she receives from her 15,000 patrons (fans) on Patreon. Patreon is a subscription model platform where patrons pay a fee each month to support work, gain insight into an artist’s process, access content and special events.
Aftershow in the Union Chapel, London
Amanda would often sign books, posters, albums, listen to and hug her fans for hours after the three-hour show. She also frequently would arrive in a city and announce a last-minute free ‘ninja’ gig in a location she disclosed on Patreon. My day usually began around 10 am and ended at 2 am after eating Thai takeaway at midnight on the back of the bus sending out edits for her Instagram and Patreon feeds.
On stage in at the Congress Graz, Vienna
I worked hard, but it was a dream job. How often is it that one gets carte blanch to photograph someone open to being looked at? Scrutinised even.