Monday, 29 April 2013

YOU'RE SAFE WITH ME by Sarah Lee

YOU'RE SAFE WITH ME by Sarah Lee
Just about every week, I come across a great photograph in The Guardian and I ask myself, "Who is this by?" and, almost without exception, I find that it has been taken by Sarah Lee. What is it about Sarah's work that makes it so enjoyable? I think it is the softness of the image; the love and care that has been invested in the taking and developing of the picture; the connection between photographer and subject; the knowledge and experience that she has built up over her successful career. And yet, after she had photographed me, she looked again at the other photographs on this blog and said that she felt a fraud in the face of all the breathtaking imagery that I had commissioned. I have encountered similar reactions before by some photographers but Sarah could not be more wrong and I told her so but, even then, although she thanked me for my reassuring comments, she commented that she felt I was prone to being kind in general.  Now, I would like to discuss this briefly lest any other photographers feel the same. I am often accused of being gushing when I comment on my photographs and that may well be correct...to a point. However, I feel that no self respecting artist will ever be fully satisfied by what he or she has done and often will be highly self critical which is as it should be and it is not for me to dwell on the negative and certainly it would not be fair or appropriate for me to analyse photographs critically as I am not a photographer myself. Of course, I have opinions about photographic work but I am a very positive person and I am fortunate to be so and, therefore, my tendency is to look for the positives in anyone's work. But that is not to say that my opinions and critiques are questionable. Indeed, I do feel I have been very honest in my assessment of the images in the Project. So when I say that Sarah is a GREAT photographer, not only do I mean it but also it is true.

It must also be mentioned that I wrote to Sarah as long ago as 2009 asking if she would like to photograph me because I loved her work so much; I did not receive a reply but apparently that was because the email went to her office computer and disappeared under a welter of emails and goodness knows what. Four years later, Luke Dodd, the curator of my exhibition at The Guardian Gallery proposed that I be photographed by one of the Guardian's photographers and suggested, to my sheer and utter delight, that Sarah took this on. And take it on she did. I travelled by tube to Mornington Crescent and it was not long before I was shaking the hand of a large rotund woman with greasy hair and rotten teeth - wrong flat. I found the right flat and was met on the threshold by very attractive open faced woman with eyes of the brightest blue set off by short blond hair, twists of which curled prettily in front of each ear. We shook hands and Sarah introduced me to her charming little dog, Frieda, (whom, I was informed, has a penchant for men) and then offered me Apple and Cinnamon tea and we chatted a bit before Sarah set up a black backdrop against which she took some headshots using both her large heavy digital camera, the make of which I forget (if I ever knew it), and a recently acquired and much loved Leica digital camera which Sarah quite rightly said emitted a far more pleasant whirring sound as the shutter clicked at the defining moment. We decided to go outside as well and do some location shots which we did on the stairwell of her building, through a pub window and, finally, along the canal at Camden Lock. It was these last shots that Sarah enthused about, particularly those with my eyes shut which felt weird as, by then, the effects of my medication were beginning to wear off. But, dear reader, please look at the images above and below and tell me that they are not superb. You cannot because they are superb in every way. The gentle sweep of the sun over my face brings me forward into the viewer's consciousness prompting various questions. Who is this man? Where is he? What is he thinking? Anything or nothing? What are the blotches of light behind? Who cares? We do because, by virtue of her innate skill, Sarah has ensured that we do, that we engage with the person we see before us.


Afterwards, we returned to her flat over looking the rooftops of Camden and had tea and biscuits whilst Frieda looked on longingly, not at me but at the jammy dodgers balancing on the arm of the sofa on which I was sitting - so near and yet so far. We talked (that is, Sarah and I talked - Frieda was otherwise engaged) about photography, Phillips Roth's Nemesis and the various versions of songs with the title "Over the Hill" by John Martin, Loudon Wainwright and Annie McGarrigle until it was time for me to leave. I tickled Freda's ears one last time, kissed Sarah goodbye and threw myself off the balcony and floated down to the street below using a white handkerchief as a parachute. That last bit was a lie - I took the lift - but, as I walked away, I noticed a spring in my step. I had just been photographed by Sarah Lee.

I received the photographs from Sarah the next day and, whilst thanking her, asked her if she remembered whether I had proposed a title for the photograph. I thought I had but she could not recall my doing so but did suggest one of her own - ''You're safe with me''. And I was too.

WEBSITE: http://www.sarahmlee.com/

Friday, 26 April 2013

LEE MILLER

Picnic by Lee Miller
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

Years ago, I saw this photograph in a Sunday Supplement and I was transfixed. Some people are born uptight and out of sight, some people achieve that state of being and some have it thrust upon them. I have no idea where mine came from but I was uptight and out of sight for many years until Jane got her teeth into me and slowly I unwound myself. Underneath, I was fine. I never took any drugs but I loved getting high on life, love, nature and film and so, when I read about the effect of drugs, I felt somehow that I had been there and that I knew what it was all about. Of course, I knew nothing but I had something coursing through my veins making my toes curl. So, when I saw this photograph, I knew it was about the inner me. It is so beautiful, so natural, so free. I fell in love with it and I fell in love with Lee Miller.

Fast forward a few years to the computer on my desk at work. I used it only for legal work but eventually, we bought a computer to have at home and, tentatively, I began to use it. One day, I typed "Lee Miller" into the search engine and my life changed forever. That sounds a bit melodramatic but it is true, in fact. I found that her house, Farley Farm, in East Sussex, was open to the public and so I booked a tour and one lovely warm summer's day, Jane and I went down to Muddles Green and, with several other people, we met Lee's son, Antony Penrose who gave a short illustrated talk about his mother in the hall of the house. Then he and his daughter, Ami, showed us around the house. The tour started off in the kitchen and we were shown a tile made by Picasso which was fixed to the wall behind the Aga and I remember thinking "Who cleans that with Jif?" Farley Farm remains a house, a home rather than a museum, even though it is packed full of wonderful paintings by Roland Penrose, Miro, Max Ernst and Picasso and photographs of and by Lee Miller and Man Ray. At the end of the tour, I felt my eyes were filled with light. We all reconvened in the hall and we were served with tea and biscuits by Antony's former nanny, Patsy, and I introduced myself to Tony.

I said how much I loved the photograph of The Picnic and that I thought I had seen another similar photograph taken on the same day a few years ago. Tony said that I had, in The Observer and, flashing that warm smile of his, he asked "Would you like to see some more?" I think it was Ami who scurried off and returned with a large book which she opened to reveal the original strip of negatives and the contact sheet of the piece of film taken that same day in 1937. It was like finding the Holy Grail.
Tony Penrose and Picasso
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

The following summer, I visited the house again with my niece, Olivia, and Tony recognising me, chatted in that easy, friendly, wide-eyed way of his. I see something of me in him in that we both believe in true love and we are fascinated by unconventional life styles. We met again, soon after I had been diagnosed with Parkinson's, when he came to Charterhouse School and gave another wonderful illustrated lecture about his mother's life and work. At dinner afterwards he talked to Jane about her work and I mentioned my project. Of course, we talked about his mother too and I realised that he was as much of a fan as I was.

Tony at Farley Farm
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

So how did this change my life? Well, I have always liked taking photographs but I was never really any good at it. However, once I was introduced to Lee Miller and her work, I developed a passion for Photography; not the craft or act of taking photographs but the meaning of Photography. I found that, if I walked into an exhibition of mixed media, I would head for the photographic images. If I visited the National Portrait Gallery, I would be drawn to the photographs rather than the paintings.
As I am a bear of little brain, it is not easy to intellectualise what it is about photography that grabs me. The nearest I get is that I am fascinated by the fact that a photograph is real in that it depicts what we actually see but at the same time it is unreal because nothing is ever frozen in time. This love of photography caused me to answer the advertisement to model for Graeme Montgomery which was the start of my project - the rest is history.

Lee Miller
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

So I fell in love with Lee Miller but what is it about her and her work that I adore so much? Well, I never met her but I feel I know what she was like because her photographs are infused with her personality. There is humour (see the brilliant picture of the two models wearing masks); there is romance (see the image "A Portrait of Space"); there is courage (see any of her war photographs); there is compassion (in spite of her anger at what the Nazis did - look at the beautiful face of the young german girl whom, with her parents, has committed suicide); there is the unashamed display of her body (see Man Ray's gorgeous pictures of her). And there is deep depression brought on by the horrors which she witnessed during the liberation of Europe and which precipitated her decision to pack up all her photographic equipment and stow it away in her attic together with thousands of negatives some of which are only now being developed and made public for the first time.

A Portrait of Space
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

In 2005, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. In 2006, I retired as a solicitor. In 2007, my project began and 240 photographers, four exhibitions, a piece on the Culture Show and articles in various magazines later, Jane and I were invited to exhibit jointly at Farley Farm itself. Can you begin to understand what that meant to me? I was so bloody honoured. I have no idea how cameras work. I could never be a professional photographer but I can say that I have worked with some of the very best photographers around - do you know how good that is? And, in doing so, I have collaborated with wonderful artists and we have used humour and romance and courage and compassion and nudity to produce some stunning images.  

And so, on 2nd June 2013, Jane and I will open our joint exhibition "Over the Hill and Don't Look Back'' at Farley Farm - Lennon, Dylan, Miller, Penrose, Jane Andrews and me! I know, I know, I am not in their league but what acts to follow.

"Alright boys, this is it...over the hill" 

© Lee Miller Archives, England 2013. All rights reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Over the Hill at The Guardian Gallery 22nd May to 21st June 2013


I am very pleased to say that I have been invited to exhibit some photographs from my project, "Over the Hill", at The Guardian Gallery in King's Place London from 22nd May until 21st June 2013. 

The exhibition will incorporate over 30 of the photographs including those by Steve Bloom, Alex Boyd, Jillian Edelstein, Spencer Murphy, Rankin, Lucy Ridges and many other similarly distinguished photographic artists. Needless to say, I am very proud to be showing there and chuffed to bits on behalf of all the wonderful photographers chosen by the Guardian to be represented.

The Exhibition is being supported by the charity, Parkinson's UK, with which I have been closely involved over the past seven years or so since my diagnosis. I do hope that many of you readers of my blog will be able to come along and I also hope you don't mind me asking you to consider making a donation to Parkinson's UK via VIRGIN GIVING. This will help tremendously in funding research into new and improved medication and also in helping to find a cure not for me but possibly for future generations

Over and out!





Monday, 22 April 2013

VIVA! by Adam Bronkhorst

VIVA! by Adam Bronkhorst
Once upon time, there was (and still is, children) a great little magazine published in Brighton called "Viva". Last year, at the time when Jane and I were planning our joint exhibition at Farley Farm, I wrote to the editor, Alex, and asked if he would like to interview me and Jane with a view to publicising the show. He said he would and he did. At the same time, he suggested that I contact Adam so that he could take a photograph to accompany the article in the magazine. I was slightly disappointed as I didn't know Adam from Adam and a safer bet would have been to use one of the wonderful photographs that had already been taken of me but, in the end, I need not have worried. Not only was Adam a really nice bloke to meet and spend time chatting to, he also proved himself to be an excellent photographer.

When he was ruminating as to how to approach the shoot, Adam felt that he wanted to do something a little bit different and find a way to utilise his creativity and represent his feelings about me and my condition in the image. He decided to use my illness in a way in which he could convey a sense of the disease that I live with and which is always present but which I had not (yet) allowed to take over my life. His idea was to light me, using coloured flashes and so paint me with light to create a dynamic image but also to add a second level to the picture with a faint shadow of my face to represent the ever present disease. During the exposure, when the shutter had to be open for a lot longer than usual, he asked me to move and then he fired a fourth flash with a red gel over the light in order to produce this slightly ghostly image.

Adam and Tim 

We got very well during the shoot and chatted about this and also about that. He is such a nice guy and,as it turned out, an excellent artist. He sent me just the one image and I was so pleased with it. It is strange that I live through every click and buzz of a shoot and one would think that, therefore I might want to see every shot or at least a large selection of them and yet when, as Adam's case, I receive only one, that is perfectly satisfactory. I really do defer to the photographer insofar as this is concerned. And why not, when I receive something as good as this? 

Viva Adam Bronkhorst!