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.
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.
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.
This portrait of Joe, a young man I met in passing one evening in my home town, asks the viewer to explore traditional notions of sexuality and attraction. It was shot using natural light in a way that aimed to accentuate his sublime and gentle beauty. The very direct look to camera aims to draw the viewer in and forces their attention on his features, in particular the mouth and eyes.
I have always been drawn to people whose physical presentation and appearance epitomised such epicene beauty as previously celebrated in classical antiquity. Until very recently however, the rules of physical attraction were innately bound up with relatively binary definitions of sexuality and the unambiguous beauty associated with either the clearly masculine or the clearly feminine. Of course, preferences for both have always prevalent though far less understood or celebrated. This is changing of course and in addition new terms such as pan-sexual have started to acknowledge a much less constrained notion of physical attraction, perhaps even less connected with physical appearance and much freer in its interpretation of the rules of attraction.
It’s partly as a result of finding and photographing individuals with a beauty so utterly natural and androgynous as to make their masculine gender almost irrelevant (to my attraction to them), that I have come to acknowledge what I have suspected for a while now.
I am (almost certainly) bi-sexual.
I say ‘almost certainly’ because I have never actually put this notion to a practical test and coming to this realisation at this point in life does rather the limit the opportunity to undertake that kind of exploration. But the realisation and acknowledgement does rather help explain a number of things, in particular, the nature of some friendships that otherwise went awry. Perhaps the awryness was the result of that friendship beginning to feel like something more and the subsequent disengagement (on my part), was a way of avoiding a more difficult reality.
This isn’t really a big deal although I am well aware I just ‘outed’ myself. For now, at least, my contentment lies in knowing that people like Joe exist. That they have the potential to throw even the most previously staunchly heterosexual man into a maelstrom of sexual desire (and of course temptation), is both fun and deeply appealing.
There are too few positive images of fathers and fatherhood; this portrait aims to shows the simple and unalloyed love of a father for his children. It is unashamedly naïve in this objective.
Although only 24, Matt is already married with two young children and demonstrative of more poise, maturity and earnestness than most people I know twice his age. When I first met him, I was struck by how readily and openly he expressed his love for his wife and children and his sense of responsibility to them both. In the context of our meeting (Matt works as a labourer in the building trade) I was awe struck with by his honesty and candour, a fact emphasised by his willingness to be photographed in this way and for this image to be shared in such a public place.
I chose to photograph Matt in his flat, the place that he and his wife have made home for their two children. This particular image is located in their bedroom and shows the simpl3 and unadorned way in which they live. There are few material possessions, their bed is a mattress on the floor, the children are content to play with him and a simple purse rather than computer games or phones.
Matt’s lack of a top accentuates his physical and emotional bond with his children by allowing his skin to touch theirs, but it also suggesting of his vulnerability, hinting to the viewer as to the gentleness of the subject.
This portrait, like most of my work, is the result of a chance meeting and is made in the time and place of that encounter, a Sunday afternoon outside subject’s flat as he was replanting tree saplings.
Most of these encounters are meaningful but brief. Sometimes however they flourish, either in that same moment or subsequently. This image is the result of a flourishing relationship in the same moment as I found and talked with Jerimiah in his garden.
It was quickly apparent to me that Jerimiah had led an interesting life but was perhaps, in that moment, in a more challenging place emotionally than he had been before. He disclosed certain information that hinted at this but rather than pry, I simply asked if I could take his picture. The conversation flowed easily, helped in part by a shared love of photography, and I wanted to see how far I might be able to take this moment and develop it further. I asked if perhaps we might take a few inside his flat, which being of Victorian build, offered huge windows and the promise of great light.
Jerimiah agreed and invited me up. Over a cup of tea, beautifully flavoured with cardamom, we talked and mused over our respective life experiences while Shostakovich played through his ancient but wonderful hi-fi. His flat was a treasure trove of curios and ornaments that told of his interests and idiosyncrasies. He shared with me his fondness for making furniture, for Jeffery West shoes and how he likes to dress in wildly eccentric and flamboyant ways to bring a little life to his place of work.
This frame is the last one of those we made in the 90 minutes we were together and is the one that best shows the life and interests of a true gentleman but also the openness and vulnerability of the human being.
April 28th 2019
Today I am indulging in a little nostalgia. I am free of child and matrimonial obligations and, being roughly in the area while visiting my mother, have decided to visit old university haunts in and around Sheffield.
It is a beautiful spring day; the sun is shining, the birds are singing and blossom is floating gently about the hallowed grounds of the cemetery like radiant dust. As a student in Sheffield I lived in the house immediately opposite the entrance to the grave yard, which, like most places and things in Sheffield, is situated on the side of a hill. A broad path runs up through the centre with many other smaller tributaries running of either side, leading to unseen nooks and clearings that perhaps in the past have been the secret rendezvous locations for furtive lovers. That path had provided a short cut to my friend’s house and I would regularly walk through it on my way to visit, at a pace brisk enough to betray my anxiety of being in a graveyard in the cold dead of a winter night.
Today though various people are spending time in the cemetery exploring the pathways and secret hiding places. It is a warm and almost comforting place in the sunshine. It’s also quite a substantial plot and recognised as a site of significance and historical importance. There are so many stories buried here, ranging from terrible misfortune to quirky misadventure. The macabre and the melancholy have become transformed by time into curios and curiosities to be collected by those who take the time to look and explore the stones and the temples within its grounds.
Mark and Nigel are here for just that purpose. Mark has found a book that documents some of these stories and he is looking for the graves of those he has read about. He asks me what I am doing there and so I explain about how I like to meet people and take their portrait in the hope that I can reveal something about the nature of our humanity.
Mark is Nigel’s carer; I saw them just earlier while I was parking, saw how Nigel’s condition was challenging to manage and, while harmless, still potentially distressing to others; at one point he had managed to drop both his trousers and under garments in the middle of the street and it is clear that while he is conscious and aware, there is a high degree of cognitive impairment. It takes a special kind of person to work with someone this vulnerable.
We talk about Nigel and his condition but there isn’t much he can tell me. I’m not thinking about photographing either of them as there are clearly issues of consent abound with such activity. But as we chat, Nigel seems to bond with me. He takes hold of my arm and hand and moves closer for reassurance or comfort, I’m not sure which but it’s clearly a special moment, perhaps more special for me than him as I suddenly engage in a very tactile way with his vulnerability. My heart opens and I sense his gentleness and the idea that has been growing in my head, that the greatest sense of our humanity lies in our most vulnerable moments, bursts forth. I decide to risk taking his picture.
I take a number of frames each showing Nigel in his different manifest states of waking consciousness. I am strongly reminded of the tragic character Benjy in William Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury’ for whom waking time does not exist in a linear fashion but rather as a series of jumbled memories strung together in a stream of consciousness. And yet, just like Benjy, there is a rhythm to Nigel’s expression, a cadence that allows a glimpse into what he might be experiencing.
There is also an overwhelming sense of his innocence, his lack of malice and it strikes me that this is a rare and precious thing. Few people you will ever meet will have quite this lack of malice. We are all, mostly, capable of doing bad things, wicked things perhaps even evil things if the situation and circumstance provide us with the means, the motivation and the opportunity. But in Nigel there is no malice, there is only vulnerability and, in that vulnerability, lies all of our humanity.
He pulls two cigarettes out a crumpled pack, lights them both and, drawing heavily on one of them, passes the other to her. A thick cloud of smoke envelope them both in a cunning scheme. She checks her phone to make sure they still have time. The photographer has stopped them for some reason they cannot be sure of but they are both curious and while their English is poor it is still better than his Spanish, which is limited to please and thankyou and ordering a beer.
She asks him where he is from.
‘London’ the photographer replies. She smiles a toothless grin exposing the substantial gaps between the otherwise crooked and discoloured teeth and tries to explain that she also has a son who lives in London and that she wants to visit him. Perhaps he can help her, perhaps he has a place she can stay.
Her partner draws heavily again on his cigarette, adjusts the thick silver chains around his neck and wrist and checks the contents of his carrier bag. He is starting to feel just a little anxious; they have to deliver their package by 10.30am otherwise Guido will not happy and you don’t want to upset Guido even on a lovely spring day such as this. His temper is notoriously short lived and his retribution tends towards the biblical. He nudges his partner to try and signal his discomfort but she is steadfastly gazing at the photographer’s lens as he raises his camera to shoot.
He reminds her of her son.
A moment later and he is handing them both a business card and explaining that if they would like a copy it would be his pleasure to send them one. They collect up their belongings and head off to meet Guido as arranged.