Danny - Champion of the World

Everyone is who everyone is.


The man sits comfortably on the ventilation housing rolling his own cigarette as the morning sun hangs in an easy fashion over the concrete flyover of Brighton Marina.  His corduroy jacket is stylish and a wonderful amber colour, but it is, along with his baggy jeans, a little dishevelled and grubby. They could probably use a wash and the man doesn’t seem to notice that his collar is unevenly folded around his neck.

Beside him sit the accoutrements of his past time; a pack of Rizzla papers, a box of tobacco on one side and on a box of orange tipped filters on the other. There’s a device with a cylindrical opening at one end that reminds me of a pencil sharpener but which I surmise must be for combining the filters with the rolled tobacco and there is cheap penny lighter made of translucent red plastic. I can see the lighter fuel inside and notice that it is already half spent. In front of him on the grass is an old rucksack; clearly the companion on many journeys out. The man is concentrating on the delicate rolling process taking care not to jack knife the paper and ruin the job. The paper rolls easily into a tube in his fingers and he then caresses the thin paper with his tongue, sealing the open side down. He puts the filtered end into his mouth and as he does so I notice that he’s missing quite a few teeth.

It is such a comfortable moment. I watch for a few seconds taking in the composition and try to work out how it could be improved. I conclude it can’t; it’s a simple moment and he is framed perfectly by the green structure behind him. It is perfect in its simplicity and the consummate ease with which the man is now enjoying a cigarette.

He pulls something out of his pocket and turns his attention to it, Holding the object in his hands he draws sub consciously on the cigarette. I watch as he rubs the object, turning it over and examining it carefully. It’s a perfect moment and I have to decide if I want to disturb it. I can see it would make a wonderful composition but an approach now would change the moment. I could choose to shoot candidly but I’m not a fan of this; I prefer the engagement that making a portrait requires. I know lots of candid portraits work really well, it’s just that I don’t know how to make them so I decide to approach him.

I say good morning to him and he looks up from the object.

“’ave a look at this, what do think of it” he says without even flinching. I take what appears to be an old coin and turn it over in my hands. He’s been rubbing it clean, trying to revive some of it lustre. It’s about the size of a two pence piece but it is clearly marked as a one pence piece and the colour is more yellow than bronze.

“It’s an old Jamaican coin” he says, “Do you think it’s worth much?” I pause before saying anything recognising the potential for disappointment and in the gap he answers his own question. “Still if I keep collecting them often enough one day they’ll be worth something”.

“I’m Greg, what’s your name” I ask, trying to change the subject.

“Danny” he says as I hand him back the coin and we shake hands.

I ask him where he is from and he tells me he is Brighton born and raised. He lives locally and comes down to the flea market scouting for potential treasure, every Sunday morning.  I comment on his jacket and cap and say that I really like the way they look and the compliment fails to land but it doesn’t seem to matter; Danny is relaxed and happy and appears to be taking me entirely on trust.

I explain to him what I do and why and ask if he will be part of my project. He looks up at me squinting a little through one eye from under the shade of his cap and asks what I intend to do with the picture. He is most concerned that it won’t be published in a magazine or something. His sense of privacy is clear; he is happy to engage in a moment where he can judge the intentions of the individual but he is also aware, perhaps through negative experience, that people are want to judge him poorly. Perhaps he worries they will think he is homeless; the thought had crossed my mind also.

I assure him that I won't be publishing his picture in any magazine but tell him it will appear on my website. He seems comfrotable with this.

"Alright, but I'll have to put my teeth in first". I smile and tell him not to worry. I step back a few metres imagining a square crop from the 3x2 frame and want to maximise the composition. I don’t need to direct him; he just sits there enjoying his cigarette and switching his look between the far horizon in front and me. 

Afterwards I explain that I would love to be able to share a copy with him and ask if that would be possible. In my mind, I am worried he might well be homeless but then why would he be buying old coins if he were? I feel a strong sense of compassion and hope that I am wrong and indeed I am. He pauses and thinks for a moment.

“Yeah, now hang on, where can you send it to.....what's the address?” He thinks to himself. It’s slightly odd that he has to think so hard for the address he lives at. A myriad of possibilities occur to me; he is in temporary accommodation, it’s a half way house or perhaps there is something else happening here, the possibility of cognitive impairment. Again I feel a strong sense of compassion.

Eventually he gives me the address, thinking carefully about each line as he offers it to me. I open my notebook to write it down.

“It’s Danny isn’t it” I say, heading that title on the paper.

“Er yeah, how on earth did you know that”? He is genuinely surprised and again I suspect the possibility for some cognitive impairment.

“Ah you told me just a moment ago” I reassure him.

“Oh yeah, I did didn’ I”. We smile at each other as I write down his address. We shake hands again as I say goodbye and I leave him as I found him, smoking a roll your own cigarette.


I walk down the path and turn the corner towards the underpass of the road that feeds the Marina. At this junction, there are tall pillars carrying the opposite side of the road over the ground level. The sun is shinning at a perfect angle through the pillars of the overpass on one side and the car park on the other. It is creating two perfectly illuminated windows of light in an otherwise black shadow. They are perfect frames and I stop to hang around and wait for some one to pass by that I might use as a subject to place in these wonderful apertures. As I do so, my mind runs through the possibilities and it occurs to me that waiting for someone interesting to pass by is entirely unnecessary; I’ve already met the most interesting individual I am likely to encounter that morning. Only the fear of pushing my luck causes me to hesitate and then I remember what a wonderfully talented (and already very successful) young photographer told me recently about what she most attributes her results to: being prepared to be just a little bit cheeky and push your luck just a fraction.

I walk back to Danny and identify the problem; I don’t want to push my luck but that there is such a wonderful pool of light just round the corner that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to create a powerful image.  I ask if he will be willing to be a subject again for me and this time he checks the request.

“I will get a copy of these right?” His question is wonderfully sincere and perhaps the most natural compliment that a subject can offer me. I assure him with my hand on my heart that he will and resolve in that moment that printing his portraits and putting them in an envelope will be the first thing I do when I get home.

I position Danny in the aperture so that his shadow falls backwards onto the wall. The legs are elongated aping a Giacometti statue and his expression is one of quiet contemplation. It’s an even more perfect moment and I am captivated. I click the shutter and in my head there is a low rumble of an explosion that signifies I’ve just photographed dynamite.

Who doesn't like Paris in the Spring?

Who doesn’t love Paris in the spring?


Every now and then my otherwise mundane sales job throws me a golden ticket and I get to travel to somewhere interesting. Most business trips are dull if not frenetic affairs. A shonky seat on a Ryan Air flight at stupid o’clock in the morning with nothing more than stale muffin and something that passes for coffee for sustenance, is usually followed by a taxi ride with a driver racing towards an early grave. Most meetings take place at an office, the location of which seems to have been selected on the basis that it is the singularly dullest part of an otherwise fascinating city. The meetings themselves might as well be happening in the same box that Schrodinger’s cat inhabits; it’s a sort of twilight zone of existence where death by the quantum decay of a boredom probability wave spreads uniformly through the room and increases in certainty the longer you’re there. I usually leave these events moribund; only the prospect of another taxi ride with a failed F1 driver kick starting the flight or fight response keeps me going. 

But a few years ago I figured that if you were going to have to travel to a meeting and if that meeting were say in Paris or Stockholm or somewhere else equally interesting, then why not make that meeting start at 9am on a Monday? And since that obviously means you have travel the day before and since that day is thus a Sunday, why not travel on the first train out to Paris rather than the last?

Life is better when you realise that there is a world out there you can engage with and spend time in. So these days, whenever I travel, I always look for the opportunity to overlap the trip with a little time to explore. As I said, who doesn’t love Paris in the spring?

This particular trip to Paris also happened to coincide with Paris fashion week. I’ve never been a fan or follower of fashion; my opinion of the fashion industry has in the past been not unlike that of the boyfriend in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’; I’ve regarded it as shallow, vacuous and exploitative. I’ve mellowed a little since I started to focus more on photography and have explored the work of some amazing fashion photographers who also created stunning explorations of humanity and culture through social documentary projects that were every inch fine art as they were anthropological. Richard Avedon springs to mind as the obvious example, but the contemporary photographer Ethan James Green’s project ‘Young New Yorkers’ is compelling and sublime in equal measure.

My favourite part of Paris, rather unoriginally I know, is the area around the are north of Boulevard de la Chapelle, from the village feel and cobbled streets of Mon Matre up to the fascinating sprawl of the Clignacourt flea market. If you’ve not been to Clignacourt it’s a street photographer’s paradise; think Camden Town but five or six times the size. You would need several days to explore it properly.

On this particular day the sun was shining in a clear blue sky; there was no diffusion to the light but since it was spring the sun was still relatively low in the sky and so was just about manageable. I was shooting with my Hasselblad, which at the time I’d not had very long and I was only beginning to understand that medium format film needs lots and lots of light; far better to have a lot of very harsh light and try to find a way to improve a soft box, than have poor low contrast light and end up with washed out negatives.

There are a number of covered markets within the Clignacourt complex. These are wonderfully social affairs as they are structured with individual box like units situated so close to each other that the vendors will know if you used a little too much garlic in the previous evenings meal without even having to say bon matin. This proximity however is what makes these markets like a microcosm of social interaction. Thanks to French social justice, the leases on these boxes are long held and the vendors are like an extended family. Arrive at around 1pm and you will see them relaxing on camping chairs around pop up picnics tables adorned with soft cheese, red wine and pot au feu. No one in the world does lunch with such consummate ease like the French and the Parisians are the past masters. It is as delicious a sight to observe, as it must be to engage in.

The markets also have great lighting because they are covered with interspersing frosted glass panels that create wonderful pools of relatively diffuse light. Find a spot where the sun creates a corridor of light, place your subject in it, spot meter for the shadows in that spot and you will have a wonderful chiaroscuro lighting effect.

I’d spotted the yellow seats a little earlier in the morning and making a quick calculation had worked out that around 1pm the light would fall perfectly on them. I’d hung around and approaching that time started to scout for an interesting subject to place there. There’s no shortage of natural characters but the stall holders tend to be less easy to persuade and it’s not always fair to distract them from either work, or worse, lunch.

I had seen Florence in a shop looking at art deco jewellery and almost thought that perhaps if anything she was a little too obvious. But then I also noticed that the light wasn’t quite as diffuse as I might have liked and then looking again at Florence, her striking, almost intimidating look seemed like it would suit that.

I skulked furtively outside the shop, trying to eaves drop the conversation to see if it would give me any clues as to how I might approach her. I suspected she might be quite intimidating to approach and if there was going to be a language barrier that would make it harder. But sure enough I was able to gleam that English was her first language and almost certainly she was American. I started to feel that frisson of excitement from the squirt of adrenaline in my stomach; we’re on.

I hung around feeling like a stalker hoping I wouldn’t get made before she left and as she stepped out of the shop, I surreptitiously slipped into her magnificent wake a suitable distance behind and tailed her. I timed my pace so that I pulled alongside her right at the spot where the yellow seats were melting in the light falling through the window.

"Excuse me, sorry to bother you but I couldn’t help noticing you in that jewellery shop back there and I just wanted to say that your look is utterly fabulous and....."

She looks at me before I’ve managed to draw breath and make my request and with vocal and visual intent cuts right through the BS and challenges me directly.

"Yes I saw you outside, I suppose you want to take my picture".

This does happen from time to time and usually it just makes thing easier but in this instance I feel on the back foot; something is telling me I might be in over my head with Florence and my suspicions are right. I can clearly now hear the accent she tells me she is from New York. I ask her what she is doing in Paris and she tells me she is a fashion writer and is here for Paris fashion week. My back footedness is confirmed and I comment that photographing someone from the fashion industry is always going to make me look like a complete amateur. I ask her if she minds and she smiles and softens a little saying that she understands very well how hard it is to persuade people to be part of projects and so agrees. I’m in, but only just and the gap in the window of opportunity is clearly slim. I need to work quickly and effectively as I will have just one shot I can make and so I need to make it count. I stall for time to compose myself and take a light meter reading. Even though I’ve already pre-metered for the light this gives a moment to think about how to set things up. The seats are too good not to use and contrast well against her dark clothing. I shoot one frame and then pause to think whether there isn’t a better shot and in that brief pause the window snaps shut.

It’s a moment of insight into what it might be like to be a professional fashion photographer; you work at pace because time is money and there is an expectation that you both know what your doing and know how to get the shot you need without faffing around. Florence is kindly and sympathetic but she is not patient and won’t suffer me as a fool. It’s a powerful learning experience and one that thankfully resulted in a portrait I am very happy with.



A middle age, middle class twat from the Home Counties (that's me, not the chap in the picture!)

Brick Lane again. I’m walking around and feeling every inch the Home Counties twat that I clearly am. Look at you with your expensive boots and flash camera; twat. Even so I am filled with a sense of excitement by the atmosphere on the Lane. I swim through the thick treacle of culture and wonder at the edginess of entrepreneurial risk taking that is every where you look, and as I do so, I recall my own days as a ‘bright young thing’ in the early days of the internet when we were going to invent the world for the very first time and everything was possible in a ‘fuck yeah’ kind of way.


But then I realise that it is today and I am neither bright, nor young and probably not even a thing except for in the eyes of two young boys (who genuinely adore me and I them but then that’s sort of a given isn’t it?)

I’d love to reinvent myself and start over. There isn’t a moment I go out with my camera and think perhaps I should just resign from my well paid job in sales and reinvent myself as a photographer.  But I’m no longer the only one relying on me making something of myself and to be honest, these days it is more than enough to be something to two small boys with wonder and dreams in their eyes, even if I am nothing more than a reasonable competent, well intentioned but otherwise dull average Joe everyone else.

But still everyone in Brick Lane is inventing something; everyone is an entrepreneur with a new ‘new thing’ to sell. It is a terribly exciting place to be.

I see Ole from across the road and catch myself; fabulous black skin, sharp suit, bright red tie, green railings. It cries out to me but I hesitate because it’s Brick Lane and I’m a middle-aged twat. I’m also white and he’s black and this is odd because what holds me back is the sense of risk, of ‘cultural appropriation’, something I’ve read about and understand on an intellectual level (I have a degree in culture and anthropology after all) but am only ever a hair breadth away from being guilty of. I pause and reflect and then think ‘fuck it, we need to engage more, we need to acknowledge issues of race more and it’s too good a picture to waste.’

So I head on over and catch the guy before he gets too far beyond the green railings and persuade him to let me take his picture.

“This is my card” he says after I’ve taken his picture. I give him one of mine and accept his, feeling the quality of the paper and the embossed logo. I immediately think of the film ‘American Psycho’, the bit where they engage in a bit of blokey dick swinging over who has the most prestigious card and I feel I’m definitely on the back foot with my little square thing with a pink border and somewhat pretentious but well intentioned nonsense about ‘the three selves’ printed on it.

“Ah you're the CEO of the company. What does your company do?” I hesitate in my mind hoping that he won’t pick up on the unintended note of surprise and interpret it as ‘hey, a black CEO, who knew’.

“Well that's my old company, we're just starting a new one, providing capital to new ventures in the Middle East, but you can still get me on these details”.

I breath a sigh of relief, congratulate him and wish him luck with his new venture and then make my excuses and say goodbye.

I wasn’t sure if the image would turn out well or not. To be honest I still don’t know but I’m not sure it matters; I learned something from the encounter even if it was a risk. I have learned that even if you run the risk of offending someone, of revealing your unconscious biases or coming over just like a twat, if your intentions are good and honest, then it’s OK.



George - The Wolf

It’s a crystal bright autumnal day and even thought it’s still only a Friday, Brighton beach is teeming with people ‘taking the ozone’ in traditional Victorian fashion.

I have the day off again. Lying in bed I had been trying to decide where to spend it. It had been very overcast the day before, perhaps a little too so and the results from that day (spent in London) had been very flat looking images. The high sides of London that had acted to reduce the light even further had compounded the problem and left me a little frustrated. I don’t have many days where I can take off with my camera to wander and explore so any day lost to the lack of light is frustrating.

I deliberate in my mind before getting out of bed, Brighton or London, Brighton or London, Brighton or London. The trope becomes like the rhythmic beat of a train on the tracks.

I decide that the proximity of Brighton and the extra hour in bed it will give me is an easy decision to make. I also figure that the coast is a better choice as there will be more light if the day ends up being as overcast as it was on the previous. Brighton has only one high side to north but to the south, the vast expanse of open water just acts like a great big reflector. Even if you have thick cloud cover, you almost always get some good light by the sea.

Of course this being the UK and autumn the weather is a changeable as a Crowded House song and within an hour or so of arriving, every single solitary cloud decided to feck off and leave me with the brightest and harshest of direct light. So much for nature’s soft box and it’s not like I can fold up the vast reflector either and put it in my bag. Arse; looks like I’m going to be shooting cliché silhouettes for the day rather than anything meaningful.

I tramp over the pebbled beach trying to see something worth shooting but the pickings are slim, mostly just flotsam and jetsam. And then I see this guy, reclining on an drainage cover as if it were Chippendale chaise long, utterly absorbed in smoking the fattest cigar I’ve ever seen and basking in the glorious sunshine as is this was the first time he’d ever experienced it.


My heart skips a beat; this a moment too good to miss. I take a few shots surreptitiously thinking that a candid would be the best way to compose the picture but I only have a 50mm lens so I need to get closer and I’m in the wrong position to get the best shot; the background I have is dull red brick and too fussy; I need the clean expanse of sea and sky to really frame the moment.

I approach and then notice that a woman, younger than he but still older than I, appears to be taking his picture with her phone so I try to engage her and start up a conversation. It turns out she’s actually on the phone so I turn to the gentleman instead and start to talk. I’m aware that the woman, still on the phone but now no longer holding it up to the gentleman is concerned I’m trying to sell him something.

There’s a brief moment between me trying to start a conversation, her juggling a phone call with protestations that they aren’t interested in buying anything and him almost chuckling to himself as he watches, puffing on his cigar, where I almost give up. But I don’t and I get a lucky break.

“Is that a Leica?” he suddenly asks me. OK so my camera is indeed a Leica and it does have that word in unhelpfully bright white lettering daubed on the front, but still, he’s pronounced the word correctly and clearly recognised the significance of the brand.

I tell him it is indeed and ask him if he is also a photographer.

“I used to be, a long time ago” he replies. His accent is wonderfully rich, almost melodic but with that hard to place edge that sounds like it might be central European but isn’t like any other Slavic accent you hear so frequently.

I take a chance.

“Your accent is interesting, are you Hungarian?” I ask. He looks at me and a broad smile spreads across his face as he grips the cigar in his teeth. He looks every inch like George Burns. I’m in and excited.

Truth is most definitely stranger than fiction. The conversation runs wildly from improbable situation to improbable outcome. It turns out that George (it is indeed his name) is Hungarian. He came to the UK in 1954 as a refugee, escaping the tyranny of Soviet communism in his country by hiding in the bottom of a false boot of a car. He was driven to the border where he cut the razor wire and under the cover of darkness, crawled through the minefield of no-man’s land and into Austria. From there he made his way to the UK to plead for asylum, which he was granted and then he spent his life here, working at various times as a photographer and sometimes a life guard. He raised a family having met his wife on the beach while swimming. He confesses to me that his approach to her had been based on wanting to show her what she was doing wrong with her strokes. It’s less an example of ‘mansplaining’ and more a reflection of his physical strength and capability. Even now in his late 80s he is a robust individual.

In turn, I share my own family's history, recounting how they had been in a similar position as Polish refugees after the war and the shared history of having been at the mercy of the turmoil of both communism and war means we bond just a little. I am deferential and deeply respectful of George and fight the urge to give him a thankful hug.

The woman taking his picture is his daughter who now lives in Australia. She had been on the phone to her brother and had been face timing him so that he can see their father enjoying himself in the sunshine, smoking his cigar.

You see this day that I approached him and found him as I did, without an apparent care in the world, is the first day in six months that he has felt this unburdened. Six months ago he lost his wife and for six months he has been sitting at home mourning her loss. Today is different. Today he is happy again and is happy to be photographed and I am honoured to be the one to do so and share those results with him and his daughter.

The light though is really not playing ball. It’s coming in from over the sea at a diagonal angle so framing him with the sea in the background means that one side of his face is completely in shadow, the other brightly lit. I try to frame him from the other side but then I just have the messy promenade in the background and that feels all wrong. I decide instead on this composition and tentatively suggest maybe we could do something more arranged, perhaps at his home but this offer is robustly denied.

But I am happy with this result; happiest because the image, while far from perfect, is a moment in an otherwise remarkable life that I have been privileged to share and because I had the opportunity to pay my respects to someone from a generation that lived through the worst ravages of humanity and came out the other side. I say thank you for what he did and take my leave.

If you would like to read George's story in full, he has self published an e-book documenting his experiences. It can be found here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wolf-George-Aczel-ebook/dp/B003GIRTI4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510224276&sr=8-1&keywords=george+aczel&dpID=51l6YiIMYvL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

Russell and his dog

Brick Lane is a bit of cliché. Don’t get me wrong it’s a fabulous part of London and very few places get close for nurturing quite the hubbub of creative energy that the makes the place almost literally hum with excitement.  But I am an outsider (as are most people there) and so the opportunity for being truly authentic with any picture I make while wandering around the Lane is limited. The risks of falling into cliché are very high so while I like the place, I rarely go there and am circumspect as to the images I make there and certainly of the people I approach.

With Russell, the man in this shot, I felt on relatively safe ground. It was very obvious that he was a guy taking a break from an otherwise (perhaps dull) corporate job to enjoy something more real and valuable about life – walking a dog. Indeed, Russell is a former (and still qualified) Chartered Accountant who now works as a recruitment consultant in the city. Nothing says more profoundly to me that here is a man who prefers to work with 'people rather than things’ and so has switched from accounting to relating. It will be a very different career path and perhaps not one that will so readily lead to a senior management or executive position within a large corporate entity (it might but it’s less likely) but still I think Russell will be happier for it. I hope so.


We make life choices all the time. Where we end up is a lot about what we choose; it’s also about what life will let us choose and sometimes it’s harder to make the decision we want because life pushes in a particular direction. Russell isn’t taking the path through life that ‘men’ typically take. He’s far more agreeable than most men, more polite and less likely to want to offend. His demeanour is softer and more compassionate and I have the sense that he perhaps carries a little more thought and worry about things than most men. He is very like me and I liked him because of that.

I think this is one of my favourite ‘stranger portraits’ for all these reasons; I love the way his dog looks at him expectantly for direction or engagement; his direct look to me is tinged with slight apprehension perhaps the result of my approach perhaps the result of being in a deeply reflective mood taking his lunch break to walk the office dog. I love the lighting, which was very flat and low contrast on this day but just bright enough to bring out the green of the grass land around him, which is itself, a little incongruous to the urban location. And I like the space around him, which heightens the sense of existentialism that I think is the main theme in this image.

I do not want to judge too much but if I ever had the sense that here was a man more desperately in need of becoming a father, of finding his purpose and legacy, it is in this encounter.

Naked guy on a beach!

Moments before I approached this guy I’d had a conversation with another bloke on the beach who was looking a little befuddled and unsure as to what to do.

‘Are you OK?’ I asked.

‘Yes, but my boyfriend has just taken off all his clothes and gone for a swim and I’ve no idea what I should do!’ he replied laughing.


‘Well if it were me I would take off all my clothes and go and join him’ I said, completely truthfully.

So many times I’ve been in this situation shooting this project (my ‘The Things you Find on Brighton Beach at Sunrise on a Sunday’ project, from which this ‘stranger portraits’ is taken). There is something very compelling about being by the sea at sunrise, particularly on a Sunday morning that makes people just want to get naked and go for a swim. It’s an entirely asexual experience; I don’t think being going completely naked is even done for the practicality of keeping your under garments dry, it’s just about being naked and feeling the water on you. 

In truth, the complete nudity is usually something exhibited by the men whereas the equal number of women I’ve come across going for an impromptu swim do tend to keep there under garments on. I guess testosterone makes you more inclined to risky or slightly subversive behaviour and this is Brighton afterall, the gay capital of the UK.

I confess I haven’t done this myself as yet. A few years ago I would have felt more than comfortable with letting the world see my body shape, but now perhaps not so much. But if this portrait is meant to show anything it is that we are who we are. When we’re stripped naked we are all just the same, both literally and metaphorically, and the most valuable lesson we can take from that insight is to just be comfortable with who we are. Easier said than done but this gentleman, who it turns out was neither the boyfriend of the previous gentleman nor even gay (which resulted in a slightly awkward response when I approached him and said ‘I’ve just been talking to your boyfriend…), shows us that it is entirely possible.

Life is Fleeting; Take a Moment to Look at Yourself

I’m not one for taking self-portraits. I know it’s a bit hypocritical to call yourself a portrait photographer and then be so entirely reticent to put yourself in front of the lens but there you go. I’m not the only photographer guilty of this. Recently a friend of mine photographed a really lovely scene in run down house where an armchair was positioned perfectly under the soft morning light coming in through a Velux window. It created a wonderful pool of light and I commented that the only thing that would improve the composition would be a subject in the chair. He replied he was there on his own and then in response to my suggestion he could/should have made a self portrait, said that one of the main reasons he got into photography was precisely so that he didn’t ever have to be in front of the lens. Like I said we’re all guilty.


There’s a school of thought that argues all portrait photographers should subject themselves to the glare of the lens as part of their own learning and creative development. I can engage with the sentiment but still it’s telling that it took a far more compelling experience to persuade me I should do this.

There’s nothing like being confronted with the fleeting nature of life to put you in a critically reflective frame of mind. Three days ago on my way in to work I had just such an experience. I was the first person to the aid of someone who had collapsed in the station. The experience was traumatic and the seriousness of the situation was immediately and viscerally apparent. The gentleman that others and I ran to help died while we were trying to help him before the paramedics arrived. They couldn’t revive him and we were left with the painful reminder of just how fleeting life is.


I try to be a good person and I mean no ill to anyone but I have always been a opinionated, argumentative son of a bitch. I'll argue black is white if I think there is enough debate in it. I don't mean ill, I just enjoy the discourse and the understanding that it brings, but my approach can be incredibly fatiguing. But this experience of being with someone in their very last moments caused me to reflect and think just how good a person am I; have I made the most of my life; have I made a difference to other people; have I been a douche bag? I decided that it was time I put myself in front of the camera.


I spent a lot of time talking about the experience and thinking about the answers to these questions. These self-portraits are a part of that process. I wanted to take a long hard look at myself, literally and metaphorically. On a superficial level I see someone looking back at me who needs to take better care of himself, loose some weight, get back to riding his bike, give his own heart a better chance of carrying on. On a deeper level I see someone scared of not making the most of the opportunities he has and becoming invisible to the world around him.