Gregory - From the Greek word Gregorius Meaning Watchful and Alert

It’s very unusual that one of my subjects becomes a subject because they approach me rather than I them, but this is precisely what Lewis did. With an almost naive confidence he walked up to me, introduced himself and declared that having watched what I was doing he had decided he wanted to be photographed.

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His manner was immediately intriguing. He was wearing a black leather jacket with nothing underneath. His thick rimmed glasses looked like they might have misted over and he screwed his face slightly to compensate for the blurred focus. He had a ragged backpack on his shoulders and in his hand he carried a child’s foam cutlass that he confessed he had ‘robbed’ from a group of teenagers who seemed not to miss it.

I asked him what his story was and readily confessed to having been recently thrown out of college and that he was suffering from some sort of mental health challenge. He acknowledged that his mother suffered from bipolar disorder and that he himself had experienced high levels of anxiety and psychosis. His candour and honesty was immediately endearing and I was excited to photograph him.

He asked me my name. I introduced myself and in reply he told me that his surname was also ‘Gregory’ and did I know that it translates from the ancient Greek word ‘Gregorius’, meaning watchful and alert’. Despite being a self-confessed polymath and insufferable know it all, this was actually something I hadn’t been aware of before. As far as I am aware my name is simply the product of my mother’s fondness for the actor Gregory Peck. That it also foretold my proclivity for being both watchful and alert (after all what is a photographer if they are neither of these things?) is oddly serendipitous.

I asked him if he knew what I would need him to do in the photograph and again with remarkable composure and frankness said ‘yes, take my jacket of and sit among the flowers’.

Sometimes people are relaxed in conversation and then when you ask them to sit or stand to be photographed they become awkward and you can see the tension in their posture. I always try to find a way to translate that tension into vulnerability; I imagine that for the subject this can feel difficult or challenging in some way as the tension they are feeling isn’t something I’m looking to alleviate but rather capitalise on and use. With Lewis, his apparent confidence in his approach to me quickly translated into the ease with which he posed himself. It didn’t occur to me to try and reverse that dynamic until he spontaneously stretched his arms above his head. The resulting contorted shape was fabulous and immediately revealed the slight awkwardness and inner tension that I knew was bubbling under the surface but which was being so carefully managed.

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I always warm to subjects, it’s impossible not to really when engaging even a complete stranger in such a personal endeavour. But of course, some subjects I warm to more than other and I definitely felt this way about Lewis.

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Almost as quickly as he found me he thanked me and was into his next adventure. As he walked away, bag slung casually over his shoulder, I called after him to inquire as to how I might get the images to him.

‘I’m on Facebook’ he called back, and then turned his attention to the next engagement already unfolding around him.  

The Anima

I love the plurality of perception, the way that two people can look at the same thing and interpret the scene is two very different ways. For instance, a good friend of mine commented on the image below as follows:

I love that she is looking at camera, he is not. Speaks to me about a child's singular focus, and the parents always looking out beyond the edge - looking for danger, looking to the future, the past, the bigger picture.

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Much as I like this interpretation it was not what was in my mind when I took the picture, though I did direct the subjects gaze as you see here.

What was in my mind was the projection of the father’s anima onto the daughter. The anima is personified in the daughter and represented by her singular, intense gaze towards the camera, while the off camera look of the father represents his search for the anima and the male struggle to connect truly with it. The connection with the anima, especially the unconscious female archetype, is always just out of reach. 

Dad Bod

I have a ‘Dad Bod’; well what did you expect, I am a dad and I have a body ergo I have a dad bod. I’m not sure at what point that term started to pass into popular lexicon but I’m quite happy with what it means. I take it as a complement; it is perhaps the first indication that society is beginning to realise the contribution that fathers make to the raising of our children and the cost associated with that responsibility. You have less time for everything else, not least exercise, and the challenges and pressures of being a parent mean most of us succumb at some point to the occasional self-soothing, self-medicating drink or pie. Actually, it’s usually both and ‘occasional’ is an optimistic euphemism for ‘regular’.

My recent experience of photographing my first nude subject and seeing just how comfortable she was in her own skin, as well as my current project that focuses the gaze on such fine masculine forms as can be found anywhere, highlights the cost to self-esteem and ego of the dad bod. I know what my reaction would be now at the ripening age of 46, with what was recently described by one Tinder date as a ‘chunky’ build (otherwise known as the dad bod), to someone suggesting I just pop my top off and pose for a photograph. Hell would freeze over first.

Why? Why should I feel so self-conscious? I’m a relatively successful professional, well educated, debilitatingly intellectual but with a great sense of humour. I’m pathologically honest – something apparently in short supply currently – caring, sensitive and a reasonably accomplished photographer. I have achieved a high level of education, fathered two gorgeous children and, until recently at least, have been a committed and faithful husband. I have much to be proud of. Why then should I care if someone suggests I’m ‘chunky’ and it be the politest way they can muster to explain their lack of sexual interest?

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Ian is someone I first met several years ago when I first started shooting street portraits. His picture ended up in a slim book I self-published and he was by all accounts really very happy with it. He is an extraordinarily talented illustrator working for The Guardian, The Observer and The Spectator among other high-profile publications. He is an accomplished BMX rider, a father, husband and, in my opinion at least, incredibly handsome in a rugged and weathered way. If Ernest Hemmingway had fathered a child with Emily Bronte, they could have called him Heathcliff and it would easily have been life imitating art. Like me, he has so much to be proud of and so much to offer and yet he like me would rather swim with the sharks than have his dad bod photographed.

My project ‘Here Among the Flowers’ is at least in part an exploration of the pressures that weigh heavily on the male psyche. And while the main thrust of that project is to explore this by juxtaposing strong masculine presentations in a more feminine and vulnerable setting, nevertheless the weight on the psyche is never far from the surface and the dad bod is only ever a few children away.

Valerie - Brighton Pier

At the end of Brighton Pier, on bright, clear but cold November day, just as the sun is dipping down towards the horizon, a mother dressed in a Niqab strolls easily with another individual, their arms interlocked in a precious way that suggests the maternal nature of their relationship. They are laughing and taking photographs of the sunset with their mobile phones. The young person has the most serene and easy beauty, with large bright eyes and angular cheek bones. Her presentation is strikingly feminine but also, ultimately, androgynous and challenges conventional heteronormative rules of beauty and attraction. Valerie presents us with the possibility for other ways in which traditional notions of beauty, attraction and gender identity can be interpreted and represents the growing awareness in our culture for such alternatives.

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Grab n Go - Dreamland, Margate

I had found the boy in the blinking neon lit pleasure dome of Margate’s Fun Land engrossed in the game of ‘Grab n Go’. I had watched as he became utterly absorbed in the futile task of trying to win a prize and recalled with some fondness my own captivation and failure with this very same game.

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Having metered and pre-focused I watched him for several minutes, waiting for him to turn around and make eye contact before opening the shutter. In the brief moment he looked at me I felt his sense of surprise. It was as though the time he had spent engrossed in his game had been held still and stretched like elastic, the release snapping the elastic back into place with a jolt.

As a small boy I would be taken to the seaside town of Blackpool for days out and I vividly recall the intense sense of excitement I would feel in my tummy when the sea finally came into view over the dashboard of the car.

On Becoming a Father

I found him playing the slot games on Brighton Pier with his daughter. His bright blue eyes, white hair and colourful tattoos caught my eye but he didn't seem to understand why I was interested in him. A moment earlier I had seen him having a quiet moment alone on the pier, lost in thought. I was struck then by his vulnerability and imagined he had been thinking about his daughter so I asked him to think about the very first moment he held her after she was born.

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Venus Emerging from the Sea

I have always loved finding subjects on the beach; as a small boy growing up south of Manchester. I recall the vivid sense of excitement that trips to the seaside at Blackpool and Southport would hold and the wild whirling butterflies I would feel in my stomach as the sea came in to view over the dashboard of the car.

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The seaside for me represents that sense of ‘other’, of carnival, freedom and sometimes hedonism. It is a place where we are able to be freer with ourselves and in particular with our bodies. In this way, finding and engaging subjects while on the beach introduces the potential for vulnerability in a subject without that experiencing overpowering the resulting image.

This portrait of Sue, a member of the titular ‘Silly Old Farts Swim Club’, was taken shortly after the club’s daily swim on Vazon Beach, Guernsey. I was drawn by the vivid colour of Sue’s cap, which served to frame her beautiful features.  It very deliberately recalls the beach portraits of Rineke Dijkstra as well as Botticheli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (which was itself the inspiration for a number of Dijkstra’s own portraits) and aims to portray the serene beauty of a full life in older age.