Parting portraits

The Deck Family have recently moved back to Australia – but before they went they wanted a portrait session to remember their London lives by. With four children under 10, I knew this would be a high-energy photo shoot, and thanks especially to the eldest daughter Holly (who kept her brothers in line), it was great fun too.

Here are some of the portraits that we produced: a classic doorstep family portrait (using my bag of tricks to keep the attention of four kids!), and lovely cheeky close-ups of the children. The family was delighted, we made some beautiful large prints and the framed portraits are now hanging on the walls of their new home in Sydney…

Posted in Children's portraits, Families

Poet in motion

Alan Buckley is one of Oxford’s best and best-known poets, and rightly so. He is also fantastically striking and emotionally open – both of which make for great photographs – so it is a real pleasure to work with him. Long known as Oxford’s tallest blondest poet, he has recently changed dramatically – so much so that some people don’t recognize him at all.

I took this brooding portrait of him in February 2010 outside the Bodleian Library – I love the grain, texture and angularity of his hair, the knotted worn wood, his stubble and jacket, and his incredible cheekbones. It captures an era of Alan, and has become the iconic image of him in publicity materials online and in print.

Jump forward nearly three years to November 2012 when he commissioned this new portrait for a new phase of life. The blond has gone and the hair is growing, final length as yet unknown. We discussed the feel we were after: intense and shadowy, and we decided on a clean, minimalist studio setting. This has become Alan’s new profile portrait.

It’s evidently the same person – same incredible cheekbones, same emotional openness – but this poet is in motion. I recommend you follow him and listen in, for he has words to say.

Posted in Artists

Portrait of Ethan and Jenny

In 2012 Helen and Douglas House – the world’s first hospice and respice for children – celebrated its 30th year. A central part of the celebrations was the photography exhibition We Are Thirty, presenting thirty portraits of thirty of the children and young adults who visit Helen and Douglas House. I was one of the three photographers commissioned to produce these portraits and it was an honour.

One of the thirty was Ethan, a seventeen-year-old boy. When I spoke to his mother Jenny in preparation for the portrait session, I asked her what kind of image she most hoped for. She said, ‘For me, the really special moments with Ethan are when he and I are sitting together on his bed and I sing to him. He leans in to me and puts his hand on my throat so that he can feel my voice as I sing’. I was captivated by the intimacy of the scene that Jenny had described so we agreed we would try to capture it during the session.

It was an incredible experience photographing Ethan and Jenny together – they were relaxed and natural with me, and their connection as mother and son was very moving and inspiring. After an hour and a half of photography I left their house exhilarated because I knew I had some special images to share with them.

Here is the image that both Jenny and I chose as our favourite from the session, and it was the one exhibited in the show.

In addition to the evident connection between Ethan and Jenny, I love this photograph for its strong shapes – the V shape in Ethan’s hand is echoed in his cheekbones, in the upside down V of his neck, and in Jenny’s necklace. That is combined with the flow across the image created by Jenny’s hair sweeping in towards Ethan, and his own hair sweeping out and up.

On first seeing this photograph Jenny wrote to me, “I cannot believe that you have been able to so clearly capture how I feel about Ethan and how I believe Ethan feels about me…Have you ever heard people ask what they would rescue from a house fire? After the people (and dog!) it would be this photo.”

When interviewed about the portrait by Helen and Douglas House for the exhibition, she said, “I’m very proud to have a picture of my boy looking so beautiful; so alive and so dynamic. There’s an intimacy in the photograph that people wouldn’t get if they saw Ethan in his wheelchair unable to speak and clearly so disabled. The photograph really shows who he is – I’ll keep it forever.”

These words are the greatest reward for a portrait photographer. Thank you, Ethan and Jenny, for the privilege.

Posted in Special Needs

First portraits of Spring

Sunshine at last, and the promise of wonderful warm morning light for months to come. This portrait of Will was taken around 10am in front of two big windows which gave the scene lots of diffused light but removed any top light which would have detracted from his vivid eyes. I sat him on the edge of the table (safely, of course) so that he wouldn’t lunge at the camera while I hid and peeped out from behind it.

Then I went outside and photographed Will through a pair of French doors. To make through-the-window portraits work, it’s important to pay attention to the way light is reflecting off the glass so that it doesn’t conflict with the focal point of the image, in this case his face. I raised the contrast of the image so that the white paint work turned into a natural but asymmetric border, making a strong frame for the portrait.

Posted in Children