No, not a job shooting for the Sunday Times, but a profile of little ol’ me in the Sunday Times – in the business section don’t you know. It was for a piece about the self-employed, or more specifically the effects of the gig economy on the rights and benefits of workers, or lack thereof in reality.
It can be summed up nicely by a conversation I had with another photographer a while ago when he asked me if I missed anything about my previous job (I was employed in sales travelling all over Europe for a FTSE100 company in case you didn’t know). “Apart from the regular salary, company car, paid holiday, sick pay, pension, company expenses, company laptop and mobile phone, there is one thing I miss and that’s the best feeling in the world – taking off my suit at the end of the day and pulling on a pair of jeans as it signified that I’d finished work”.
And that’s the biggest difference for me now – knowing when to stop, as there is always something to do – shooting new work, editing, processing, estimating, marketing and promotion, admin (grrrr!!!), VAT returns (double grrr!!!!) archiving, sorting out IT problems (too much time), oh and chasing unpaid invoices. Luckily I don’t have too many issues on that last point, although when I do have to chase an accounts department I like to remind them that only one of us is being paid for my time spent chasing payment, and it ain’t me!
There are lots of challenges and many uncertainties but would I change it? Not a chance! Why? Well this year I’ve been shooting on boats, beaches, planes, rivers, canals, as well as the streets of London, Oxford, Hastings, Berlin, Brighton, Nottingham. I’ve had jobs in London, Surrey, Sussex, Herefordshire, Wales, Shropshire, Merseyside, Staffordshire and Cornwall. I’ve been in kitchens, offices, breweries, boathouses, factories, building sites, as well as photo studios.
Put simply – every day is different and I get to meet some fabulous and interesting people along the way – what’s not to love?
You can see the lens being turned on me and read the full Sunday Times article here.
I love the seaside – almost regardless of the weather, which has been just as well this summer! There’s something in the air, apart from salt and the smell of seaweed. People seem to change when they are at the seaside; they become more relaxed and develop a sense of play.
I visited several beaches on the South Coast to try and capture that sense of play. It was a tough job visiting beaches on sunny days but I had to take it on. Taking some inspiration from JS Lowry I created images where the people were small and indistinguishable but their sense of involvement with the sea was clear.
Now if I could just sell my prints for the same price as Lowry…
No, that’s not a comment on the recent political shenanigans; it’s a reference to my latest project, where I try to understand why a group of people get up at 5am and go rowing in the dark – backwards.
I’ve been spending time at Molesey Boat Club in Surrey photographing the rowers and coaches as they set about their training programs. The club consists of elite athletes and top drawer enthusiast rowers; the elite athletes are there daily, rowing, working out and consuming bucket loads of calories.
The enthusiasts have to fit rowing around their daily lives, which brings me to The Breakfast Club, as they are known at MBC. These are a group of individuals who get up at 5am and head out on the water for a training session – all before breakfast. As they often row in teams of 2, 4 or 8 having a sneaky lie in doesn’t make you any friends. In the winter it is pitch black at 5am (not to mention freezing cold) and they row backwards in to dark nothingness. When they get back off the water a couple of hours later they head off to work.
These photos are a series of portraits and reportage shots taken during these sessions – and yes I went out on the water with the Breakfast Club; admittedly I had to wait for the Spring/Summer seasons to arrive so I had some light (honest – it was all about the light; nothing to do with it being freezing cold and having to be still in a boat close to water on exposed rivers!)
Before I started this project I imagined that there would be a lot of individual rowers going out on their own (sculling as I learnt it’s called), but in reality there are mostly teams and I was struck by the camaraderie of the rowers – even first thing in the morning.
As to why they get up at 5am and go rowing backwards, I’m still in the dark…
I photographed Jeremy Smith, Editor-At-Large for OX Magazine last year. He wrote this about the experience in OX Magazine (which you can see here ). All words from this point on are his own.
You may recognise these photographs of five men and five women; they are, in no particular order, Albert Einstein, Raquel Welch, James Dean, Betty Grable, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, Che Guevara, Farrah-Fawcett, Audrey Hepburn and Salvador Dali.
You may not be familiar with the cause of their fame or achievement but you will, undoubtedly, be familiar with these portraits.
Because these are pictures that define so much more (a whole universe more in fact) than the two- dimensional profiles they present.
I, thank god am neither famous nor, sadly, an outstanding talent, but I do share something in common with these icons of science, art, cinema and music; I have a photograph.
A photograph that embodies a micro second of existence yet also a whole human lifetime of success, failure, ignorance, enlightenment and resurrection.
It was taken in August of 2016 and has, quite simply, changed my life…
There is great speculation yet its precise inspiration remains obscure.
Not that it especially matters: “A picture is worth a thousand words” simply endures as one of life’s great truisms. But until August 2016 it held little personal relevance.
It was a Monday morning, and save for the fact the sky was blue and a slight chill lingered in the air, it was ordinary.
I was about to be photographed and sporting a wardrobe I had spent more than a week clinically appraising. Not that it was a fashion shoot or anything so alluring. Just a shoot of me attempting to own, rather agreeably, my recent disability.
In my head of course I envisaged it as infinitely more profound: a statement if you will of everything I had fought to overcome since falling so gracelessly 18 months earlier.
You see, the slip, the trip, the tumble of 40 feet which had left my frame so scrambled had left me wheelchair bound (and that, trust me, was an unimaginable bonus; it had looked for many months as if I might remain bed-ridden).
But I didn’t, I’d persevered and I was proud of what I’d achieved. But ‘proud’ perhaps in a way that was slightly atypical.
I hadn’t wanted to use sport to redefine my rehabilitation as so many spinal injury patients do; I wanted to use attitude. And I don’t mean defiantly or grittily. What I wanted to do was nail my colours to the mast… sartorially.
And no, even I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant.
Spinning in my head since the early weeks of my trauma, and doubtless morphine induced, I nevertheless sensed that my journey to recovery was to be as aesthetic as physical. Yet I couldn’t then nor 16 months later crystallise what that meant. It was just an intuitiveness without form or substance.
However, on this particular morning I had been more doubtful than excited. I had explained to photographer Douglas Kurn the ‘statement’ I was after (and yes, I now cringe at how pretentious I must have sounded). He in turn had simply acknowledged my grand ambition by readying the location (Oxford’s Bodleian library) and appraising my physical prowess.
Clearly, I could stand but for seconds rather than minutes. And to complicate matters even further, I wanted to cross my legs.
I think we both knew from a clinical perspective it was unwise but I was adamant it would pictorially translate as ‘rakish’ and felt buoyed by my outlandishly arrogant percipience.
And so it was after several false starts, spasms and near falls that Douglas’s camera came alive.
Naturally, my perpendicular fragility allowed for a window of maybe only a few seconds, but within such a constrained time frame, Douglas invented, initiated and improvised blurrily.
I’m guessing this shot took only 10 minutes from start to finish and although quietly confident about the result I expected, I was depressed too by the sudden, all to apparent naivety of my design. After all, how could I hope that such an everyday morning could be transformed into something so visceral and life reaffirming?
And indeed, that is how sceptical I remained. Not cynical or pessimistic but frustrated and impotent by the sheer folly of what seemed such an illusory goal.
Heck, if I couldn’t put into words the sense of what I so desperately wanted to project, how could I expect Douglas to capture it?
Not that I had long to wait…
I remember every breath of that early revelation and like many revelations and life-changing moments today, it came via email. And what I saw made me cry. Openly and unapologetically. It was me alright, but as I’d dreamt me, stylish, savvy and oh-so-chipperly defiant. And today, almost 10 months on it still makes me cry.
Appropriately, there are no words that can capture my joy.
Pictures? Yes. Plenty of them, which explosively chart the recapturing of dreams, hopes, and faith (in me). But none that will ever match this one, defining millisecond out of 475,000 (approx.) grasped, lived, and wasted hours.
Douglas Kurn’s photograph quite simply embodies the best of me.
It’s truer and more honest than any epitaph (one doesn’t even need to look closely to see the vanity, the arrogance, the childlike dream to better myself), and for that I will always be eternally grateful…
I learnt recently that if you have run your own restaurant you’ve earned the right to be called “chef” by your peers – it’s a matter of respect; even if it is a bit confusing in a kitchen full of “chefs”!
Why was I surrounded by culinary creators? It was a commission for Compass Group who were completely revamping their corporate website, and they needed new portraits of their executive chefs.
For a few days my nostrils were filled with the aroma of spicy, tangy and sweet food, and my stomach rumbled and growled, as we travelled to various kitchens in and around London, setting up lights and trying to stay out the way of the very busy kitchen staff. I’m guessing the lack of Gordon Ramsey-esque profanities hurled in our direction meant that we managed it, or maybe they were just too busy to care!
Oh, and I also learnt that doing the cooking at home doesn’t earn you the right to be called chef….
Okay, I’ve been away; I’m sorry. I’ve spent most of the time out and about exploring the streets. It’s been fun, although my feet haven’t always agreed. I’ve met some great people and photographed most of them. I’ve also been surreptitious; I’ve been doing some street photography and below are some of the results.
Another artist with a studio within the Chertsey Artists commune is Mary Hayward-Smith who is a ceramics artist and also paints in oils. She is Head Of Art at a school in Twickenham, and you can see some of her work here.
I photographed Claudia in her Chertsey Artists studio on a fabulously sunny afternoon with lots of lovely day light streaming through the windows. Claudia is a mixed media artist and you can see some of her work here.