Chris Floyd: Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances.

The One Percent

Brixton Night 01

There are two photographic competitions that I make sure I enter every year: the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, run by The National Portrait Gallery in London and American Photography, which is now in it’s 26th year and is the domain of Kathy Ryan, the photography director of The New York Times Magazine.   AP exists in the form of a most luxurious annual, designed every year by a guest art director of oxygen depriving ascendancy, and consisting of approximately 300 images which have been whittled down from 8000 entries by a panel of judges from the art, publishing and design spheres.  It represents the high watermark of that year’s photographic efforts.  It’s a big deal.  The book is always stunning, no question, and to be in it can put the wind beneath the wings of a photographer’s career.

I have entered the Taylor Wessing, in it’s various forms, sporadically over the last ten years and have seen it change/evolve from a forum primarily ruled over by working editorial photographers to a canvas for global, emerging and fine art photographers.  It reflects the growth in the role of formal photographic education and the really excellent photographers that have come to the fore in this time.  When I was of university age in the late 80’s and early 90’s there were about 6 places in the country where you could study photography at degree level.  I really don’t like that word ‘emerging’ though.  It implies that you have either, completely made it and are fully formed, or that, photographically, you are a hatchling chick, blinking your way into the sunlight, naïve and dumb, yearning for credence from a world ready to bestow.  The reality is that we are all always emerging.  Any artist is constantly emerging, evolving, growing and changing – it’s always been like this.  Stop moving and it’s all over.

Grime Night

I was selected to appear in the Taylor Wessing in 2008 for a portrait of the artist and film maker Steve McQueen.  That photograph was taken on the roof of a hotel in Cannes at the film festival in May 2008 and came from a session that consisted of about 30 images and which lasted for no longer than 5-10 minutes.  At the time I honestly felt like I did not know what I was doing but I know I am at my best when I go with my intuition and, in this case, there was something about McQueen that just screamed autism in my head.  I’m not saying he’s autistic per se, rather he seemed to have no bend or sway in him.  His interpretation of, and response to, everything I said was literal.  The only time I have ever spoken literally was at the altar on the day I got married.   For two Englishmen to conduct an entire encounter in a foreign country through literal interpretation of each other’s words is quite, quite weird.  The English of Englishmen is full of hidden meanings, double negatives, light, shade, like a double breasted blazer, so much of it is beneath the buttons.  In the last 2 or 3 frames of the session my intuition finally arrived and I just knew that, whatever I asked him to do, he would respond to that request literally, which he did.  “Give me your biggest, warmest smile you can give me.”  What I got was Homer Simpson goes to the south of France in a pink t-shirt.

Steve McQueen

Taking my parents to see the picture on the walls of the NPG was one of the proudest moments of my life.  It was part of a final show of 60 images, selected from an entry base of several thousand and seeing it on the walls of the prime repository of British portraiture seemed to vindicate the choice I had made all those years ago to follow the dicey path of photography as career.

In the same year I was also selected to appear in the American Photography annual for a portrait I had done of Paul McCartney at 64.  This was for The New Yorker and the double whammy of the subject matter, combined with the kudos conferred upon the image by the status of the publication in which the portrait appeared, confirmed the inevitability of it’s selection.  It almost had nothing to do with me.  I say all this in retrospect. As proud as I was to be selected for that one – 300 photographs selected from 8000 entries – I always had a niggling feeling in the middle of my brain that it wasn’t my work that was chosen, rather a perfectly competent portrait of a VERY FAMOUS MAN at the age of 64, who, in the prime of his life wrote a song called ‘When I’m 64′, which was then published in one of the world’s foremost magazines.  Lucky.

Maybe I’m being too cynical because I know that, unlike McQueen, with the McCartney portrait I went there with the clearest idea of what I wanted from my time with him.  Being the Beatle nut that I am, it is apparent from any and every biography that James Paul McCartney was, and still is, an ambitious grammar school boy.  I knew that for all these years he has used, consciously or unconsciously, his cheery, breezy, wa-hey thumbs up persona to charm a room.  But I also knew that he has a core of steel and has never shied away from being tough, cruel and stubborn when he was in pursuit of his interests.  This was what I wanted from our session.  We had 30 minutes together and he was phoning it in.  Thumbs up, cheese, cheese, cheese.  Do less, I kept saying.  You’re an honest man.  You can be secure in your achievements.

“What’s the matter?  You don’t like a bit of whimsy?”

“Not when there’s a war on, Paul.”

For 2 frames his jaw tightened, the eyes hardened and an icy wind blew my way.  He hated me and I had my moment that I had come to get.  To portray is to betray and now I know how much he hates that picture.

Paul McCartney

I often cycle through his London neighbourhood on my way home and twice now I have nearly run into him.  He seems to be in the habit of not looking before he steps into the road.  Both times he acknowledged it was his fault, “WHOA!! Sorry mate!”   If only, I ponder, he realized that that cyclist took the picture of him that he so loathes.  I smile wryly, drop my head and peddle on my way.

Now here we are in Two Thousand and Ten and, as ever, we are only as good as our last entry.  Now I understand why three star Michelin chefs commit suicide, even though they may have been boasting those stars for 13 years.

It.  Never.  Ends.

Last year’s victory is this year’s faded glory.  This is how empires crumble and die.  People don’t so much get complacent, fat or lazy, but the world doesn’t stop for long to admire what they did last Wednesday.

The world is always moving. It will, at least, show you respect if you keep moving with it.  Yeah, so you won something last month, what else?  I’ve got a friend and whenever I respond to his enquiry regarding my recent activity, he always responds with the line ‘what else?’  I say ‘Fuck you, pay the bill and claim your corporate expenses’  He doesn’t care.  What I have is not enough.  He is the world.

Today, though, I do have a what else and it goes like this:

“Dear Chris,

Congratulations! Your work has been selected to appear in the American Photography 26 annual.

On behalf of the entire jury, I thank you for your submission and support of American Photography. This year’s distinguished panel included Gail Buckland; Scott Dadich, Wired; Janet Froelich, Real Simple; Luke Hayman, Pentagram; Steven Kasher, Steven Kasher Gallery; Michael Norseng, Esquire; Kira Pollack, TIME.

From over 8,000 pictures entered by over 1,200 photographers, magazines, agencies and publishers, the jury selected, by a majority vote or better, only 304 images to appear in the book and represent the best pictures from 2009.”

After checking on the AP site ( I was compelled to remove all my clothes and run naked to the bottom of the garden and back when I discovered that 3 of my photographs have been chosen to appear in the annual.  Siddown! That’s one percent of the book.

Two of these pictures were from a two night residency at Brixton Academy in London on behalf of the band Kasabian last summer.  A great commission from Roma Martyniuk, the creative director at Sony Music, to spend the two nights in and around the band photographing any how and anything I chose.  So, on the second night, with our “Triple A’ access all areas pass we took our equipment down to the gap between the front of the crowd and the stage and lit the hardcore fans with some high powered and mobile flash units.

It’s been something of an obsession the last couple of years, the idea of applying studio lighting techniques to highly fluid and mobile reportage scenarios.  So I’m double double delighted that the third picture to make the cut was from a series I photographed on a grime club in London this year.  It needed a couple of assistants and it needed those assistants and me to develop a method of communication in a demonically dark and loud environment but we pulled it off and back at the top of this post you can see them all.

The American Photography book is out in November and there’ll be a party for it in New York.  I’m looking forward to it.

Enough now.  What else?

Brixton Night 02