Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Maybe not everything - but definitely not nothing.

Ever since I returned to Britain from the US in 1999 I have submitted pictures to the National Portrait Gallery's annual Photographic Portrait prize in the hope of making it through to the exhibition. 

The yearly ritual of delivering prints (showering in public - Aug 2010) and then, sadly retrieving them after they have not been chosen (collecting the children from detention - Sept 2010) has provided a certain amount of humour for me and is something I have enjoyed describing. 

Currently sponsored by Taylor Wessing, it is one of those prizes that often sharply divides opinion amongst my fellow photographers. Some, like me, see it as the most consistently challenging, interesting and provocative collection of portraits that the UK produces. Others regard it as slightly aloof and perhaps unrepresentative of the everyday majority.

Either way it is well supported with more than two-thousand photographers entering this year and more than five-thousand pictures submitted in total. Even with the seemingly insurmountable odds of getting into the final edit, the momentary sting of disappointment that accompanies the polite rejection message is something that never gets any easier.

Rejection or acceptance does not instantly make anyone a lesser or greater photographer. On the other hand, photography is a language, a form of communication and photographers who profess no interest in having the chance to connect with new and different audiences make me sad and slightly suspicious. 

This year I entered three prints, but one of them, a portrait of PC David Rathband, the policeman shot by Raoul Moat, had special significance for me. Meeting PC Rathband was one of those experiences that had really made me examine my life and how lucky I was. The terrible nightmares he talked of, the physical pain and mental anguish of having his sight taken from him in such a violent manner, the feeling of loneliness and isolation and the dignity with which he tried to bear it. 

His story had a profound effect on  me and it showed in the picture.

So it was especially uplifting to receive the news yesterday that this one photograph, of the three I submitted, had been selected to join the sixty or so pictures that would be included in the exhibition and book this year.

I found myself running a rather unexpected gamut of emotions. What I felt most instantly was relief. Maybe I had been wanting this particular picture to be chosen a little too much. It was replaced with a kind of elated disbelief as I read and re-read the email just to make sure I hadn't imagined it. This I understand is fairly normal behaviour for unexpected good news. 

Then finally, and most strangely, as my friends started to post messages on Facebook and text, expressing their disappointment at not being selected, I felt guilt.

The fulfilment (at the eleventh attempt!) of a modest but sincere ambition to see my picture exhibited amongst that selection of inspiring works made me feel momentarily as though I had been ushered into a nightclub when my friends had been left behind the red rope.

A day later I finally feel as I am probably supposed to in such circumstances, fortunate and happy. But this could never have happened without the people involved in the process and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous contribution they have made.

Firstly and most importantly, PC David Rathband, who was so open and honest in the way he sat for the portrait. His tragic death earlier this year was such terribly sad news.

Secondly, Sophie Batterbury, Picture Editor of the Independent on Sunday who commissioned me to shoot the photo and whose guidance in my work has been so important over the years.

Also thanks to Martin Berry at Tapestry who was endlessly patient and did a beautiful job of printing the pictures.

Obviously I could never have done anything worthwhile without the support of Jane and my friends but I haven't won a bloody Oscar so a sense of proportion might be best!

It's just a picture in an exhibition, a picture I feel strongly about in an exhibition I have always admired.

As they would say in New York, "That's not nothing!"

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Diary Picture - 23 April 2011

Edinburgh - In the house of chaos, waiting for night-fall so we could head off for a shoot. 
Wishing that I had a Fuji of my own.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Diary Picture - 07 July 2012

Storm gathers out of a blue sky, crossing back to Portsmouth on the Isle of Wight ferry.

Diary Picture - 28 July 2012

BT Vision Hyde Park - first saturday of the Olympic games. Stand up and cheer!... or lie down.... either way.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Diary Picture - 05 September 2007

A Pashtun man and child walking through the main street of the bazaar in Sangin, one year after it had been the scene of the fiercest fighting in Helmand.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gore Vidal

I was sad to hear on the radio news this morning of Gore Vidal's death at his Hollywood home on Tuesday.

Back in 1998 I had the slightly intimidating privilege of photographing Gore Vidal for the Daily Telegraph (London) in a Miami Hotel. At the time he was going through a phase of not giving regular interviews so the paper had considered the opportunity something of a coup.

I was warned that he could be quite sharp with photographers, that he had a well deserved reputation of not suffering fools lightly, and that consequently I was to keep my mouth shut as much as I could manage.

The oppressive heat of July in Miami just picked me up and sucked the energy right out of me, even on the short trip from the cab to the hotel lobby. Then the aircon nearly froze me like a popsicle (ice-lolly) as I walked through the swishing doors of the hotel and spa.

Arriving pretty much bang-on the allotted time, I was ushered immediately up to the tiny room where the interview had been held.

Earlier that day, feeling slightly lacking in fresh portrait glass, I had dashed round to Adorama before setting off for the airport and impulsively splashed-out on a Canon 135mm lens specifically for the job.

Now finding myself in the rather 'bijou' room with the light flooding through white wooden shutters, it was plain that the 135 was massively too long! I could just about get far enough away for minimum focus length if I jammed my head awkwardly sideways against the far wall and imitated a gecko.

So it was that I photographed a man who "never suffered fools lightly" while contorting myself into the most unbelievably foolish and precarious pose.

But, as is so often the case, those with the fiercest reputations are generally the easiest and most charming people in person. He seemed slightly amused at the ridiculous figure I cut.

We exchanged pleasantries about America and Britain over the short time of the shoot and at the end he looked me square in the eye and spoke.

"If you wish to succeed in America, all you need to do is tell everyone you meet that you are a Person of Integrity," he proclaimed in deep, mellifluous tones, stressing the last part in that slightly theatrical manner that was perhaps his trademark.

"It matters not a bit whether you actually are," he added, "Just so long as you keep telling everyone."