In the first week of January I did my first job of 2019 – some executive portraits. One of my subjects said that she hated having her picture taken. I spent some time trying to convince her that it was going to be alright and there was nothing to be worried about. Finally I managed to convince her and she said “Well, its got to be better than going to the dentist!”
So for 2019 my new strap line is: Douglas Kurn, photographer – better than going to the dentist!
It’s been a while coming but the first issue of my magazine Printagram has been so well received that I just had to make a second issue. If you not seen it before Printagram is a not so instant version of some of my images, coupled with some of my musings – which if I’m honest have mostly been taken from my blog.
This issue consists of current personal work, commissions, historical stuff and something even shot on very old and very outdated film. Intrigued? Of course you are, so grab a copy of the PDF here. It’s over 30 pages of stuff so you might want to start the download and then go and put the kettle on to accompany your read!
It’s best viewed as a double page PDF which if you are on a Mac using Preview you do like this:
If you missed the first edition of Printagram you can download a copy here. I hope you enjoy it and please let me know what you think.
Now must get to work on creating more for the next issue…
I’ve often wandered past a tin shed behind some gates, and wondered what was inside. One day I went inside and met Trevor, who has worked there since the age of 14. His Father worked there too, up until 4 weeks before he passed away at the age of 94. With all the welding, drilling and cutting that goes on there is a lot of dust everywhere but Trevor says he is tidying it up. Whilst I was there we came across a letter from 1984, although Trevor said that he had found one from the 70’s recently!
Doors in the shed also come in handy as notepads for making notes on jobs and customer numbers, and the portrait of Trevor against one of the doors has been voted for as one of the portraits to take place in the Portrait Salon 18 exhibition.
Campanologists that’s who! The sound of church bells ringing out is a part and parcel of town and village life in England, but how many people have seen inside a bell ringing chamber? My latest project involved creating portraits of bell ringers in their ringing chambers, which seemed like a good idea until I saw the steps I’d need to climb to gain access (and yes that’s my foot on the top step – and no I don’t have big feet!):
Once I had climbed the steps though I found that each space was very different, but they were unified by always being small, which presented some photographic challenges! The spaces were unique and quite fascinating, which is something I tried to capture in my environmental portraits.
Peals, methods, bobs and Sallys were all words that I thought meant something else until I started meeting bell ringers, but it turns out that they are all part of ringing life. Bell ringing has always been a significant part of Remembrance Day, dating back to when Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918, when they rang freely for the first time since the start of the first World War. With 2018 being the 100th year since the end of World War 1 there is a campaign called Ringing Remembers that is attempting to recruit 1400 new bell ringers this year to commemorate the 1400 bell ringers who lost their lives in WW1.
It is common for the bells to be rung half muffled on the morning of November 11th, which means putting one of these on one side of the clapper:
It produces a more muted sound and is considered to be more fitting for the sombre mood of Remembrance Day.
To take these photos of the bells I had to go right up the tower to where the bells are housed, and if I’m going to go that far then I might as well go on the roof to see views like this:
St Peter’s Church in Chertsey, where I live, has a dumb bell for beginners to practice on, and when I visited them I was allowed to have a go on it. It’s called a dumb bell because it makes no sound, and the residents of Chertsey don’t know how lucky they were when I had a go! I think bell ringing is best left to the professionals like these:
Or more accurately a knife’s edge on a river’s edge. Meet Tim who hand makes knives from reclaimed steel in his workshop on Lots Ait on the river Thames in Brentford. Tim’s a trained chef, and like all chefs he has a fascination with knives, but he’s taken it a step further and decided to make them himself.
What could be more fun than making your own high temperature oven out of an old gas cylinder, heating bits of steel up to over 1000 degrees C inside it, and then bashing the steel repeatedly with a big hammer until you have a knife? Okay there’s a lot more to it than that, including the amount of time spent making it razor sharp. Tim also hand makes the handles which he traditionally made from wood but has started making recycled plastic handles from plastic found in the Thames. All this in a 12′ x 12′ workshop in an old boatyard – to create these pictures we had to take the window out!
Check out Tim’s videos of him slicing an onion with one of his knives on his Instagram page. Remarkably Tim still has all his fingers!
You would be forgiven if graffiti wasn’t the first thing that comes to mind though, but, as I discovered during a recent reccé, there are some fabulous street art focused projects taking place in Oxford, most notably the Oxford Canal Mural Project initiated by local residents and the Oxford Canal and River Trust, which includes the fabulous Kingfisher mural below created by artist Richard Wilson.
Inspired by all this artwork I decided to use it as the basis for a recent portrait photo shoot in Oxford including some of the canal side murals and down the Cowley Road in Oxford City. It wasn’t without it’s challenges though as we got “boat-o-bombed” on the canal (see below)!
Whilst I think the initiative and the art in particular is fantastic, I’m not sure Morse would have agreed…
Or to be more precise beer made in the Thames – well, on an island in the Thames; Platt’s Eyot, a former boat builders yard that also made torpedo boats during the second world war.
Oddly is an independent brewery that operates out of one of the old boat yard buildings. Dilapidated and cold when he first moved in but home to this new and growing brewery.
Brian, the head brewer, moved in last year to set up a permanent home for Oddly on this fabulous island, access to which is via a small suspension bridge just large enough to take a narrow van, which led to Brian’s first challenge; how to get the barrels from the delivery point on the shore to his brewery. A job that took 10 minutes previously now took two and a half days!
As an independent brewer “Dry January” isn’t one of his favourite months, however the independents have responded with Tryanuary, a nationwide campaign to support independent brewers by encouraging people try different beers.
It was a great shoot and I’ve always been a fan of the odd beer, but now I am definitely a fan of the Oddly beer…
When I was commissioned to photograph a pheasant shoot in North Wales, I had mixed feelings about it; I grew up in the countryside so knew about these things as well as some of the people involved, but I am also aware of people’s sensitivities towards this subject.
I was allowed to shoot some behind the scenes imagery with the head gamekeeper, which was an eye-opening experience and I was struck by how integral to the local economy this shoot was. The village pub’s survival was based on it and many local people worked on the shoot in various capacities outside of the shoot days.
There was an odd contradiction in the way the gamekeepers would spend months looking after the pheasants and their habitat, feeding them and providing clean water regularly, as well as protecting them from predators such as foxes and rats. The pheasants are given free rein in a large wood which is fenced off using wire netting, and again the ‘keepers patrol the fence daily to ensure that there are no breaches that would mean a fox may have got in to the wood. They would lay traps to catch rats and grey squirrels which eat the food that they put out for the birds, and to keep crows away who can eat the young birds (as well as attack lambs). The effects of the ‘keepers efforts generally help the survival of other non-game bird species, as well as helping lamb farmers protect their flock.
Although it’s not my job to judge things I certainly came away with an alternative perspective, but I still wouldn’t want to be a pheasant….
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.
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…
Molesey Boat Club
Lucy at Molesey Boat Club in the Tank Room
Arron, one of Molesey Boat Clubs men’s rowing squad