Saturday, 5 October 2013

The reluctant Mr Baker

Ginger Baker was, to put it mildly, unenthusiastic about being photographed when I arrived on his doorstep at the end of the first week in January. 

He explained that he was suffering from the remains of a cold and nursing an injury to his ribs which he sustained at a recent gig. How exactly he was injured was not something he felt like sharing, but he politely made it clear, with an enviable economy of language, that he was only consenting to the shoot under slight duress and that I shouldn't read too much into the fact that he was wearing a freshly ironed shirt.

We discussed locations in the house and he explained that there was only one way it was going to happen and that was if I was prepared to take his portrait while he sat down and had a cup of coffee in his favourite armchair. Which was fair enough. 

So I set-up, while he watched a David Attenborough documentary on television. 

My key-light, a medium Chimera soft-box, suddenly felt hugely intrusive in the modest space and I was struggling to get back sufficiently for minimum focus distance. 

As I checked the lights and fired a couple of test shots, Ginger completely ignored me. 

He continued to ignore me for the next several minutes as I tried to engage in a bit of light conversation while shooting pictures, asking him about the current band and talking about my son's passion for playing music. His replies, when they came at all, were brevity incarnate, spoken with eyes straight ahead, steadfastly fixed on the large, loud TV in the opposite corner. 

Finally he turned to look at the camera and I got this.

I should point out that while Ginger was broadly unresponsive to what I was saying, he wasn't rude or hostile about it. He was just a man who didn't really enjoy being photographed, who was patiently tolerating a process he felt was unnecessary and doing so at a time when he felt under the weather and in pain. 

When I eventually asked him to sit up a bit in the chair he did so for a while but it was immediately apparent that this was very uncomfortable on his ribs and it seemed churlish to request that he continue sitting that way.

I'm not one to ask people to smile if it's not in their nature, but I try to elicit one in conversation just to see if it makes a decent picture. Nothing I said delivered even so much as a twitch. Eventually I fell back on an old photographers cliche.

"Imagine something that would make you happy." I said...

Then after a few seconds I added, "Like me, spontaneously bursting into flames?"

A glimmer of a smile spread across his thin lips and he gave me a sideways look. I was done... and we both knew it. So I packed my bags and thanked him for his time.

- - -

** I've just yesterday heard that the above picture has been selected as part of this year's Portrait Salon exhibition after being passed over in the National Portrait Gallery's Taylor Wessing contest earlier this year. I'm very proud to have a picture included in the Portrait Salon which is a prestigious "second chance" exhibition with a consistently high standard and a reputation for intriguing work. Many of my friends and the photographers I admire have had work shown there and I'm thrilled to be included this year.

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