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Dale Vince, by Stephen Shepherd

1 February 2016

Stephen Shepherd started work as a press photographer at The Daily Telegraph after moving to London from Oxfordshire.

I had a finite amount of money when I moved to London and hoped to get work with the national press. The money was rapidly running out when after about four months I finally got a commission from the features desk at The Daily Telegraph. I recall I was so keen to get it right I went back on two separate days to shoot it. Something that now would take an hour or so, had six hours lavished on it. However, I must have done something right as that job kickstarted my life as a freelance photographer and for the next nine years I was more or less staff at the paper working 4 or 5 days a week shooting everything from celebrity portraits, weekend page features and Op Ed commissions to the paper's famous “Pet of the week” and “My Mantelpiece” features.

Relocating to Gloucestershire some twelve years ago, I found that I had to diversify and create markets that were not solely based around the press photography I had been used to. Having had some success working for business clients during my last few years in London I began to nurture more contacts in this area, developing a client base who require creative reportage style photography for their marketing, branding, reports etc. I am now commissioned through various design groups as well as directly by clients to bring the skills I learnt as a press photographer into factories, on to construction sites, to work behind the scenes on corporate video shoots etc. My perfect commission is to work on location for a client who has the confidence to allow you free reign, to be able create a body of work that evolves through the day and to be able to develop a narrative in the work often from unexpected and unplanned scenarios or snatched opportunities.

This portrait was commissioned by The Independent in April 2015 - Stephen tells EPUK about the shoot:

Having moved from London, I still get to shoot for the nationals locally. The Independent wanted a portrait of Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity and now chairman of Forest Green football club, to go with a sports page interview. Forest Green were a few games away from the chance of getting into the national league from the conference league (which they ultimately succeeded in doing) and the interview was based around this, but mostly around the way the football club is run, capturing rainwater, solar panels on the roof, chemical free grass and so on.

The shoot was an opportunity to work outside on an environmental portrait and to make it as much about the location as the “sitter”. So in my mind I had a sense of what I wanted, not just a man sat in the stands of the football stadium but more involved in the location. I have photographed Dale before and knowing he was a nice guy, happy to go with pretty much any suggestion, we spent half an hour walking around the grounds shooting different angles, and I started to get a bit frustrated as all I ended up doing was shooting him sat in the stands and leaning on posts.

I have always loved the work of Gilles Peress, the way that there is so much going on in his pictures, life happens everywhere, not just at that one point of focus or the area you are directly looking at but all around you, a face popping up here, a background scene unfolding there completely independent of another event happening on the left of the frame, etc. Combining this type of approach with the fact that I like shooting at wide apertures to give that feeling of “looking in” on a scene from the outside, using foreground objects to hide and create areas of interest I decided I to place Dale in a location where there was some “action” going on, something that we could not control and had to let happen around us as we worked on the portrait. Luckily there was a group of local school children who were at the ground playing mini games so to get the shot it was a case of lying down in the right position and shooting over 3 or 4 minutes when the kids and balls all fell into the right position, creating the sense of a vignette, a snatched picture rather than a more formal static set up. I try this approach quite a lot, stepping back and leaving the sitter to themselves. I think they tend to forget about “posing” in front of the camera and relax a bit more, there are no instructions to look up or down, and it brings more of reportage feel to the work.

The paper used a different shot that shows his full body but I think this is the best one from the set, I like the juxtaposition of the sports field, the bright shirt, boots and balls and then Dale’s leather jacket, scarf and long hair at odds with his surroundings. In the interview he is quoted as saying “We wanted to bring our work and our thinking to a new audience – the world of football, which I think is relatively untouched still by eco messages.” So in my own way I hope to have been able to find a new way of shooting a portrait of him to accompany his new approach to football.

See more work by Stephen Shepherd

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