In April 1992, Sunday Times picture editor Ray Wells sent me off to provide a picture for an upcoming story about the new breed of caring hippies in the Westcountry – Wessex Man, as the paper referred to them.
They’ve got hippy shops selling sandals and all kinds of stuff, I was informed, and it should be easy to find a few browsing around there. It all sounded straightforward and I relished the opportunity to get out of London and spend some time just looking for an interesting image for this story.
However, after a couple of hours wandering around the various shops and streets of Glastonbury, it soon became apparent that it wasn’t going to be exactly easy to get anything interesting, let alone an image that would really stand out on a page in the Sunday Times. It just wasn’t working.
Towards the end of the afternoon I got talking to Benjamin, a hippy selling his own custom-made jewellery in the street outside the churchyard. I asked if he would be photographed up on Glastonbury Tor and he agreed, in return for a lift to Shepton Mallet, where he lived in an old van. He spent the winter months in the Himalayas buying precious stones and making the jewellery which he would sell back in Glastonbury during the summer.
I had decided the only way to make this assignment work was to drag somebody up to the Tor. The famous tower that stands on the top of that strange hill can be seen for miles and is such a recognisable landmark that it would immediately give a sense of place to any portrait that I shot with it in the background.
I was shooting black and white Ilford XP2 and set up the flash away from my camera – mounted onto a monopod which I jammed into the soft ground. A tiny umbrella diffuser was taped to the flashgun. It wasn’t much of a lighting setup, but it enabled me to under-expose the background and bring some detail in the sky, and silhouetting the tower.
The wind had been blowing the subject’s hair around too much, and my angles had not been right. I shot most of a roll of 36 frames, trying various angles and crops, until, on frame 34 it finally worked and I got that knowing feeling as I shot the picture – I knew it had finally come together and I had something worthwhile.
It ran around five columns width in the paper and served as an ideal illustration for the story.
After fourteen years, this picture remains firmly in my portfolio, and for me, is as strong as ever. It always gets a reaction and has been described as enigmatic, cinematic, even biblical.
Graham Trott has been a professional photographer since 1974, starting as a trainee on an evening paper in Devon. Since then he has worked extensively for The Sun, Daily Mail, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, interspersed with less happy experiences with The European (which folded in 1991) and Robert Maxwell’s titles. Since the mid 1990s Graham has moved towards magazine and corporate markets and now works for Time, Business Week, Focus in Germany and The Independent on Sunday Review. Photographer since 1974, and founding member of EPUK in 1999.
See more work by Graham Trott