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.