Chris Floyd: Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances.

The Way I Dress: Mr David McAlmont

Posted in Commissioned Work, Film, Inspiration, Video by Chris Floyd on November 22, 2011
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/32224296]

The fourth of five films for Mr Porter, men from whose style book we could all take a leaf.  Click here to see it on their site.  This is David McAlmont, one of my favourite singers, a man made from the same vocal DNA as Al Green.

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Sheila Hancock

Posted in Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on November 4, 2011

Sheila Hancock, London, 2011

A portrait of Sheila Hancock, actress, photographed in London in September 2011. As soon as she walked into the studio I knew. The voice in my head said “Yes, I can do something with her.”

The hard part is getting the subject into a place where they are willing to let go and trust you to a point where you can create the space and the atmosphere to get the thing you’re after. Fortunately for me, Miss Hancock utterly gave herself up to the process, allowing me to pull out of her the portraits that I was looking for. A rare treat.

As always, getting the subject into a place where they open up and trust you was the most important part. I do this by keeping a physical distance at the beginning. I come closer slowly. It’s like music. It’s not enough to just read the notes, you need to feel your way through it with grace and alertness. Get up to the peak efficiently, read the mood and keep reading the mood. Work with it, react to it and guide it. Once you’ve passed the peak get back down to ground level gently, say thank you and let them leave in time for lunch.

The Way I Dress: Mr Sean Avery

Posted in Commissioned Work, Film, Inspiration, Video by Chris Floyd on November 4, 2011
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/31619767]

The third of five films for Mr Porter, featuring well turned out gents ruminating on how they arrived at their personal style angle.  Click here to see it on their site.  Also shot in New York, this features Sean Avery, a professional ice hockey player, originally from Toronto, Canada and now playing with the New York Rangers.  Watch the way he does a little cleansing rub of his hands after he completes each piece of the dressing ritual.  I love that stuff.

The Way I Dress: Mr Douglas Friedman

Posted in Commissioned Work, Film, Inspiration, Video by Chris Floyd on October 24, 2011
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30746436]

This is the second of five films for Mr Porter – click here to see how it looks on their site.  This was shot on a 99F day in Brooklyn, New York in July 2011.  My subject was Douglas Friedman, a New York based photographer.  If we allow ourselves the space then the minutes when a man gets dressed can be the most calm and reflective of the day.  That’s what I have tried to evoke in these films.

What is England?

Posted in Awkward Intervention of Facts, Inspiration, Me Myself & I, Personal Projects by Chris Floyd on October 21, 2011

'Work': From the series 'What is England?'

Last year I took part in a project entitled ‘What Is England?’, curated by photographer Stuart Pilkington.  The idea was that each of England’s 50 counties would be represented by a single photographer and, over the course of one year, through a series of fixed assignments the project would build a pictorial idea of what England is today.  I represented Surrey.

'Person': From the series 'What is England?'

When I volunteered to take part I was asked to write something on the county and what it meant to me.

“I wasn’t born in Surrey but I was made in Surrey. In the same way that Elvis was made in Memphis. It’s the place that stamped itself on me whether I wished it to or not. I love it and I loathe it. But being a born nostalgic, where the past is always better than any future on offer, I mostly love it now. I love it’s civility, it’s decency, it’s emotional constipation. Nobody in Surrey would dream of burdening you with a need for a solution to a personal problem. It’s a county of Hugh Grants. When people ask me where I’m from I say “Surrey. God’s County.” I leave it to the questioner to decide how that answer is intended or received. Surrey is where I discovered photography, where I bought my first record, where I lost my virginity, where I first got drunk and where London and the future was never more than 20 miles and never less than 20 light years away. It was my home for 9 of my 41 years, less than a quarter of my life and diminishing by the day, but when I think of it I think of Tania Wild in a navy blue v-neck tank top and a half return to Guildford for 55p.”

'Group': From the series 'What is England?'

These pictures don’t reflect the kind of place I grew up in, they are the place I grew up in.  As a child I lived in what I can now see was, for me today with children of my own, an existence that is utterly unattainable.  The people in the two pictures above now live in the house in which I spent my teenage years.  Particularly in these pictures, I have realised that I’m fetishising the 1980’s England that I knew.  The village I grew up in was a classic Home Counties  English village. There were old school, pre big bang City commuters and locals who were born and bred, with a definite accent that would place them here, with a working life that had been agricultural, although even then you could see that it was dying and the fields were being replaced with ‘Executive’ style estates.  The Surrey I grew up in was comfortable, not out and out rich.  It had something of John Betjeman about it, something of Agatha Christie, the miners’ strike didn’t come near us.  For my Dad, whose childhood was one of  wartime evacuation, lonliness and bitter London poverty, this was everything he had dreamed of and worked towards.  In one generation our family had moved up from the misery of what had come before.  Half my friends went to private schools and half went to ordinary comprehensives.  I went to a private school till I was 14.  When I begged my parents to take me out of it because I was so unhappy they relented and sent me to a comprehensive.  There were idiots and good people in both systems.  Any night in one of the five local pubs would have allowed you a view of the social mix.  The Public Bar and the Saloon Bar were not so segregated that they couldn’t tolerate cross pollination.

'Rural': From the series 'What is England?'

My trip back to Surrey to take part in this project was a selfish one.  I have to admit I made no effort to represent the county in any modern or objective way.  Parts of it are a million miles from this part here. No, my sole motivation was to travel back to a time when I felt safe, secure and more certain than I do today.  However, as welcoming as the current occupants of my house were, I have to confess that I don’t like what the place has become.  The lawn, immaculate in these pictures, seems to represent the massive gulf between the haves and have nots in our country today. It’s the same piece of land on which I spent my formative years, but it doesn’t look anything like the garden I knew, which was a more messy and natural affair.  This is an English garden on steroids, the introduction of a banned substance in the form of too much wealth.  It seems unhealthy, prone and vulnerable to disease or attack.  Looking at these pictures has made me realise that I grew up in an English idyll that doesn’t exist anymore.  It was a place where the gap between the top and bottom was not obscene, where the top and bottom mixed in the pub and where the local amateur dramatic society was the place in which they all came together to put on idyllic plays from their own pasts.

'Play': From the series 'What is England?'

Paddy Considine & Peter Mullan Aren’t Dinosaurs

Posted in Commissioned Work, Editorial, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on October 11, 2011

Peter Mullan (L) & Paddy Considine (R)

This was one of those ones where you just want to hang around with them all day and listen in to what they’re talking about.  Paddy Considine & Peter Mullan, both fantastic actors and, it seems, human beings too, but wholly uncomfortable when it comes to having to do the kind of thing that they think an encounter with someone like me entails.  This was taken for The Daily Telegraph on a junket – a day of publicity in a London hotel suite.  Interview after interview.  Blah blah blah.  Having to promote and talk about the film that they have just made together, in this case it’s ‘Tyrannosaur’, Considine’s first film as a director.  He also wrote it.  I haven’t seen it yet but I will.

I was the last one of  the day which makes it dodecahedrally worse.  They were not at all into ‘posing up’ and all that.  What kind of pictures did I want?  I explained that the way I view a situation of this nature  is to regard it as an encounter, a conversation, and the photograph that comes from it is merely the record of the conversation.  I told Considine that I learned that from a photographer called Steve Pyke, at which point he said, “Yeah? Steve’s a mate of mine.”  I also told him that an image of mine that was used on a single release by The Verve (Lucky Man) had been ripped off and blown up into a huge poster which appeared on the wall of  a flat in ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, the Shane Meadows film in which Considine plays a former soldier returning to reap revenge on those who killed his brother.  He asked me if they’d asked my permission and I said no.  Then it wasn’t all so bad and I just encouraged both men to stand in front of me and continue the conversation that they had been having as they walked into the room together.  I began to take pictures and the frame above is one of them.

For me to get the kind of pictures that I want, I try to create an environment that allows the subject(s) to forget where they are.  Fundamentally, I am trying to reveal intimacy and some kind of a truth from a scenario that is innately artificial and demonstrably false.  Some people thrive in this situation.  I have photographed Hollywood actresses who have no problem doing anything you ask in front of 20 people.  With Considine & Mullan though, it was clear that less was once again more.  As they talked and seemed to relax into the scene I had no trouble just reaching in and quietly pulling one of them away so I could then concentrate on capturing them individually.  By now everything in each of them had relaxed and all was right with the world for the rest of the day.

The Way I Dress: Mr David Macklovitch

Posted in Commissioned Work, Film, Me Myself & I, Video by Chris Floyd on September 27, 2011
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/29686533]

This is the first of five films I’ve made for Mr Porter, the recently launched menswear version of the Net-a-Porter womenswear site.

I’ll post them up here as Mr Porter unleash them, which is going to be on a weekly basis I believe.

There is some blurb that goes with the film on the site.  Here it is:

“MR PORTER has collaborated with photographer and film-maker Mr Chris Floyd on a series of films in which well-dressed men explain both the tangible and the intangible elements of their style and their wardrobe. “The time a gentleman spends getting dressed in the morning can be a reflective moment, before he charges forward into the world. I wanted the films to feel contemplative rather than dictatorial,” explains Mr Floyd. “They’re an opportunity for these men to explain how they arrived at their notion of style.” First into the fore is the ever-dapper front man Mr David Macklovitch of the Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo. Quote to listen out for? “One of the first things I noticed with hip-hop music is that a lot of the clothing that people like Biggie was wearing was the same thing my Jewish grandfather in Florida was wearing.”

I would like to say a big thank you to Jeremy Langmead, Jodie Harrison, Leon St. Amour and all of the good people at Mr Porter who not only gave me a free run at making these films but also were really, really gracious in letting me make the films that I wanted to make.  Good people.

The 9/11 Patriotic American Roadtrip

Posted in American Photography, Inspiration, Personal Projects by Chris Floyd on September 9, 2011

Osama bin Laden Effigy & Guys. New Orleans, Louisiana. Nov 2001

In October 2000 I went to New York for a 3 week visit to take my portfolio to magazines and record companies. It was a heady time and I had been working in London for a great bunch of American mags, including Spin, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Detour and Flaunt among others. I had the sofa of a friend to sleep on so I could afford to spend some time over there cementing my relationships with these people, as well as make some new connections too. It was an itchy, too short sofa but a trip to New York was never something that would allow a thing like an itchy, too short sofa to get in the way. The meetings went well and in the 3rd week of the trip I started to get calls from people I’d been to see in the first 2 weeks, asking if I was still in New York and was I interested in shooting something for them over there.

My 3 week trip became an open ended one with only Christmas to book end it. In a short time I discovered the joy of the layover on trips to Oklahoma City, Houston, Fargo, Washington DC and Jacksonville. I loved being sent off on assignments that were, by English standards, over huge distances, requiring hotel stays and odd, late night experiences in small town bars where my accent and demeanour were something to point at and ask questions of. I also remember a day spent with Joel Schumacher in Times Square while he was directing some external scenes for the Colin Farrell movie ‘Phone Booth’. Although the entire film is set inside a Times Square phone booth, everything of Farrell inside the phone booth was shot in Hollywood and only the long shots of him from outside the booth were done in NY.

Christmas arrived all too quickly and already I had begun to think of myself as living in New York. I came home determined to go straight back in the new year of 2001.

Charleston, South Carolina, November 2001

It took a while because I had to find a place to stay and the Christmas break had taken some of the momentum out of it all but in March 2001 I sorted a room with a friend of a friend, who was a musician, in a house in Dumbo, Brooklyn. On Sunday 25th I boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight to JFK airport and arrived to an empty house. My new housemate was away on tour in Europe so I went down to the nearest bar and sat there while the Oscars ceremony played out on the TV. I realised that I had never felt so lonely as I did at that moment. When I had been there before Christmas everything that had gone my way had been a bonus. It was only supposed to be a 3 week fishing trip, everything else had been luck. This time I had made an actual commitment, I had rent to pay and a ticket with a return flight that was 3 months away, the maximum stay allowed on a green tourist visa waiver. The main part of my plan was to find an agent. With an agent I could then secure a visa to live and work there properly. Now there was a target to meet it suddenly didn’t seem so free and easy. All this was running through my head as the world’s most glamourous ceremonial celebration of success rolled in front of me on the telly in the bar. The cheeseburger was really good though.

Sarah somewhere in Maryland. Nov 2001

The very next morning, however, I woke to a gorgeous spring day and a phone call from Catriona Ni Aolain, the deputy photo editor at Esquire Magazine. She had an assignment for me down in Florida to do a portrait of the New York Yankees’ closing pitcher, Mariano Rivera, aka ‘The Hammer of God’. I don’t know anything about baseball and my 15 minutes with Rivera didn’t add to that knowledge in any way whatsoever but at least the job allowed me to build up a layer of confidence in this new adventure. By May 2001 I had found an agent and an immigration lawyer. A visa application had been filed and in late June I returned to London to sit out the waiting period that the visa process required. I was not only eager to get back because of work. There was now a girl for me in that port and I wanted to get back there for her as much as the rest of it. In August the application was approved and after a trip to the American embassy for an interview I was finally issued with an O1 visa in my passport. An O1 is valid for 3 years and is issued to those “who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education,business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.” I can absolutely assure you that with a great lawyer and an armful of letters testifying to this, proof can be achieved for pretty much anybody as long as you place the prism of subjectivity in the right place on the table of evidence. I travelled back to New York in mid August, where things had gone incredibly quiet in the dog days of summer. I was ok for money though and my main memory of those weeks was scuttling like a rat from one air conditioned environment to another in the oppressively humid New York August heat. One big job did come in though, for a record company. A publicity shoot in, of all places, London. On the 9th September 2001 I got back on a plane to Heathrow. In the taxi to the airport I took this picture of the Manhattan skyline from the Williamsburg Bridge.

New York City, Sept 9th 2001

Two days later I spent the entire afternoon and evening glued to a TV screen as my brand new home appeared to slowly crumble before the world. My flight back was booked for the 15th but there seemed little point in taking it and, besides, there was such a backlog it seemed futile to even try, so I stuck it out in London, relieved to have not been there if I’m really honest. I had been into the Twin Towers on several occasions for portfolio appointments and an agency I had very nearly joined had it’s office right in their shadow across the street. Fortunately all the people that worked there had survived as they began their working day at 10am and the 2nd plane hit just after 9am. I eventually returned to New York sometime around the 20th September and as I made the taxi journey through Manhattan towards King Street I couldn’t believe how quiet the place seemed. Meek would be the word that springs to mind, which is not a word that one would ever have thought of placing in the same sentence as the name of this town. I dumped my bags and went out for a walk. Immediately outside my building as I turned the corner onto 6th Avenue was a FDNY firehouse. I had barely noticed it before and now it was impossible to miss. The home of Engine Company 24/Ladder Company 5 had been turned into a shrine for the guys from the firehouse that had died on September 11th. In the picture below you can see that at least 11 men from that one FDNY post were killed. I continued walking and saw that death was all around. Everywhere there were ‘missing’ posters and flyers. They were stuck on lamp posts and fences, in shop windows and the front of apartment buildings. Anywhere with a flat surface that was exposed to the public space had some kind of piece of paper pleading for people to contact other people.

Firehouse at 6th Ave & W. Houston St. Home of Engine Co. 24, Ladder Co. 5, Battalion 2. Sept 2001

Within 10 days of being back it was clear that the city was going to be depressed and unproductive for a while to come. There was no work coming in, the atmosphere maudlin. Whatsmore, my now girlfriend had been made redundant in the post 9/11 slump and sitting around doing nothing was de rigueur most days. Nobody was hiring. As I wrote in the introduction to a collection of photographs of her from that time that I published earlier this year called “Things May Change But This Will Stay The Same” :

“November 2001. A bleak time, living in New York. Fumes, dust and death hanging in the air, the citizens of the city that never sleeps hiding in, hiding out. Looking back at these photographs now, they are shot with a melancholic and listless drift that at the time was not apparent. A sense that the girl in them has entered a state of inertia, numbed dumbness caused by that cornflower skied morning in the concrete jungle where dreams are made. Is she waiting for the remnants of those events to catch up and finish her off? Or is she passively hanging on for something new to carry her out of it?”

Dry Cleaners Window, Brooklyn, NY. Sept 2001

So we got out and did what Americans have done since day one. We hit the road and made something of it. What follows are more pictures from what I have come to call ‘The 9/11 Patriotic American Roadtrip’ only because that was what I wrote on the big box of negatives that I came back with. These are snapshots of America in shock, just like that girl’s state of numbed dumbness. Passing flashes and snapshots from my memory: having a gun pointed at me in Arkansas by a man whose picture I’d taken; drinking Amaretto all night long in New Orleans and eating beignets the following morning; the family on welfare living in the motel room next door to ours in Oakland; a teenage boy who told me he’d never left Arizona, stating as fact at a Friday night high school football game that President Bush had already ‘eradicated’ 78% of all known terrorists; my friends Miles & Alex meeting up with us in South Carolina; them telling me about the guy in Atlanta who’d asked them if Britain had a lot of Muslims and how did we deal with them; an Indian pilot in Albuqerque being frisked before boarding his own plane; the brothers with the Osama bin Laden effigy hanging from a tree outside their house; the car with these words painted on it’s rear window – “WHEN WE FIND BIN LADEN FUGGETTABOUTIT!”; every telegraph pole in one street of Charleston with a ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ poster complete with an image of bin Laden; somebody wearing a t-shirt in New Orleans with an image of bin Laden; the teenage couple living in a formica panelled car in Florida; getting a puncture in a thunderstorm between New Orleans & Galveston, Texas; arriving in Los Angeles and going to see The Strokes.

Saluting the FDNY trucks going down the West Side Highway to Ground Zero

Restaurant. Maryland.

What I remember most as we made our way across the country, from New York down the east coast, through Virginia, Maryland, N.Carolina, S.Carolina, Georgia and Florida before turning west into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas and finally on into New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, ending up in California, was the extent to which the greatest tragedy and mass murder ever commited on American soil was being absorbed, to a certain degree, by Calvin Coolidge’s maxim, ‘The business of America is business’. Everywhere we went there was evidence of the commercialisation of 9/11. Flags, stickers, t-shirts, badges, buttons, beefed up security, freedom fries……

I think these pictures, more than anything else, symbolise that but not in the raw, exploitative way that you might think I mean. Instead I came to see it as a manifestation of what Alexis de Tocqueville once referred to as ‘the tyranny of the majority’, whereby the sheer ‘goodness’ of democracy allowed the majority to lord it over the minority, under the guise of due process having been seen to take place. If you were not seen to be publicly expressing grief, empathy and sympathy then there was a high chance your business might suffer. Saccharine sentiment in places of business, from people who hitherto had not expressed much awareness of anything outside of their own narrow definition of the world. In fact, I even detected a sort of undercurrent of animosity towards New York from some of the middle parts of America for being the kind of un-God fearing place that went and got itself attacked in a damned new holy war. Like an errant cousin who has done brought shame on the temperant members of the family, which leads me on to the observation that it was also clear how much of a message push there was in all this for the American church, with it’s ‘well what do you expect if you let Satan into your lives?’ way of selling itself. So much of the return of fundamentalist religion into American politics and the way it has thoroughly corrupted the idea of separation of Church and State can be traced back to what happened on 9/11.

The ultimate display of the way in which public sentiment has been tyrannised into a required form of acceptable, default behaviour is the mandatory expectation for all public officials, from the President on down, to always be seen to be wearing an American flag pin on their lapel. Appear in public without one at your peril and in ten short years this has come to be regarded as not even up for discussion. On the other hand, when the wearing of a poppy on Armistice Day was first mooted there were many First World War veterans, still young men, who regarded it as cheapening the memories of those who died in the trenches and who refused to wear one. Time and perception always evolve, individuals sometimes don’t.

Somewhere in California

American Linen, California

Louisiana

Georgia

New Orleans

North Carolina

McDonalds near the entrance to NASA, Houston

Ex US Marine, Oakland

New Orleans

Teenage Car Couple, Florida

Halfway through the roadtrip, during a five day stay in New Orleans in mid November, the public’s and government’s thirst for some revenge was at last unleashed as the full military might of the United States was brought to bear on the despotic and comedically backwards Taliban government of Afghanistan. The long, never ending ‘war on terror’ was declared. The second half of our journey, from there to Los Angeles began to take on the feel of a voyage into a new and often forbidding world. The Nineties, whatever they were, were already long gone. How I miss them sometimes, how naive they now seem, how free and how optimistic.

New Orleans

TGI Friday

Digging In The Crates: PJ Harvey

Posted in Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on September 7, 2011

PJ Harvey, 2000

Congratulations to PJ Harvey on winning the 2011 Mercury Music Prize.  This portrait was taken 11 years ago somewhere in the west country.  I can’t remember exactly where other than it was the lounge of a very quiet hotel near to her house.

The End.

Agent Provocateur – “In Praise Of My Bed”

Posted in Commissioned Work, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on August 10, 2011

Here is the front and back cover of a project I’ve just completed for Agent Provocateur.  It’s for their first range of homeware (bedding is not a sexy word).  We toyed for a while with the idea of calling it ‘beaux draps’, which, apparently, is a French phrase for sheets, literally translating as ‘beautiful drapes’, but it never stuck and so we ended up back at “Agent Provocateur – Home’.

This began sometime before last Christmas when Sarah Shotton, AP’s creative director, raised the prospect of working with me on something.  Her words, “I know you could totally do something good for us.” was exactly the thing to lift my mood in the late afternoon December gloom.  She said she was a fan of my lighting and the way that I photographed women, in her eyes, struck a balance of outright sexiness and dignified celebration, rather than a demeaning objectification.  I was flattered that she had noticed because when I photograph a woman I try to take a picture that she will hold on to forever as a celebration of herself  in a sort of peak state, literally humming with oestrogen, the defining chemical of femininity.  As a husband and a father of two girls, this is the stuff that surrounds me, which I love. This aim is my way of trying to make them fall in love with me and, in a funny way, it’s possible because if you take an amazing picture of a woman there’s a little part of her that will love you forever.

Sarah, several of the other AP girls and I spent about six weeks throwing ideas back and forth at each other.  What kind of mood did we want?  What kind of girl?  What kind of  tone?  Light?  Or dark?  Eventually we felt that an art deco vibe might be the right way to take this and, once that theme fell into place, it became a question of  finding a location that would frame it. As soon as we were confronted with the formidable and glorious beauty of the art deco room at Eltham Palace in south east London we knew we had it.  Originally a manor house, it was acquired by Edward 2nd in 1305 and it was also where Henry 8th spent much of his childhood.  In the 1930’s the house was bought by Stephen Courtauld of the textile dynasty and he and his wife, Virginia, built the room that we shot these pictures in.  Perfectly round, with a pair of symmetrical staircases, it was modelled on an ocean liner, the height of luxury motion in a pre-air travel age. Our final major discussion was on what the bed should look like and Sarah came up with the idea of the semi-circular, 8 foot high, mirrored bed head, which we had made for the shoot and which is now on display in Agent Provocateur’s New York store at 675 Madison Avenue.

As well as a full day of stills photography I had also committed to directing a short film for the AP website.   As well as the kind of girl who could turn herself into a 21st century facsimile of Monica Vitti, the original script involved a trip to Rome, a cobbled street, a hotel room of the right size, a stylised Super 8 film within the actual film, a 1965 green Citroen DS and two men playing the role of French detectives. However, we would have needed about half a million pounds to make it happen so I had to scale the whole thing right back. Well, actually I had to scrap it completely and think of something else.

It was clear on the day that I had to allow the film to become a completely free form exercise in movement, texture and light and in this, the biggest contributor was the fantastic model, Natalia Z, all the way from Siberia and in London for just a week.  Just like the movies, she was the last girl we saw at the end of a long, hot day of casting at the AP offices.  Having seen all the girls we thought there were to see, Natalia walked in as we were all standing up to leave and as soon as we looked at her, the way she walked, the way she talked, the way she was, we all knew she was the one.

On the day of the shoot I worked in the way I feel most comfortable, which is to build the shot, step by step, creating the mood I’m trying to achieve by adding and placing one light at a time. I had wanted to light the whole thing with continuous lights – HMI’s, Kino Flos and 2K Blondes.  In this way I could have easily switched from stills to film whenever I liked but we would have needed a huge generator truck to power them all.  The power available at Eltham Palace wasn’t enough for 60kw of lamps and there wasn’t enough in the budget for the generator, so instead I lit the stills with about 12 flash heads and then used a combination of 3  HMI 2.5kw, some Kinos and the flash head modelling bulbs for lighting the times when I wanted to stop doing stills and shoot some motion.  Fortunately, the Red camera can shoot at quite high ISO settings and with thoughtful framing and use of gels I managed to create a look for the film that compliments the stills.  In this I was helped by having an incredibly talented cinematographer in Cordelia Beresford.  This collaborative element was the most enjoyable part of the day.  A portrait photographer ploughs a solitary furrow, so to have a partner in Cordelia was a proper little treat, like a full plate of Mr Kipling’s Bramley Apple Pies.  And if you want to see for yourself then check out the film below.  The voiceover you hear is a poem by Meredith Holmes and is called ‘In Praise Of My Bed’.

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.

To see the full shoot then please check it out on my website www.chrisfloyd.com

The Result Of Time Spent With Caitlin Moran And How It Ended Up in The National Portrait Gallery

Caitlin Moran - London, 2010

I was thrilled to be asked by the National Portrait Gallery a couple of months ago, if they could acquire my October 2010 portrait of writer Caitlin Moran, who despite being born in 1975 has had a column in The Times since 1958.  She is, indeed, a prolific woman.  I have a few things in the bowels of the nation’s collection and on a handful of occasions they have managed to crawl out of the sub-ground level darkness to make it on to the walls of the gallery itself. This time, however, the gallery wanted to fast track the photograph straight into the “Picture of the Month” slot for August.  I’m looking forward to seeing it on the wall of Room 39 at the NPG later this week.

The story behind how the picture came to exist is a great example of the unforseen bonuses that can derive from getting off your arse in times when the Black Dog is upon your shoulder.  Regular readers of this blog will know about the ‘140 Characters‘ project, in which I spent the best part of a year photographing 140 people that I follow on Twitter.  What I haven’t really mentioned before is that I started the project at a time when work had been very quiet for several weeks.  I had barely seen or spoken to anybody.  In times like those your reserves of confidence can literally eat themselves up in minutes. Since the demise of analogue/film in my world, the opportunities to meet and spend time with other like minded types have been heavily diminished.  Frankly, I miss it.  In the days of going to labs it meant that you were meeting your contemporaries, getting to know them and even, in some cases, actually becoming friends with them.  Those people know what it’s like and we would each draw comfort, support and fuel from each other during the dodgy periods.  Since that’s all over, I don’t know what anybody looks like anymore.  I feel like Ray Liotta at the end of ‘Goodfellas’ stuck in the witness protection programme.  “There’s no action anymore.  Just the other day I ordered spaghetti with marinara sauce in a restaurant.  You know what they brought me?  Egg noodles and ketchup.  I get to live the rest of my life like a schmuck.”

Other photographers are just names now, not faces.  The ‘140 Characters’ thing was my attempt to meet people, as well as ‘self assign’ a project that would fill up some time, inspire me and also serve as a big, barbed stick with which to keep the Black Dog away.  I don’t like spending days at a time on my own.  The mental lanes my mind tends to wander down always lead to gloom, pessimism and an assumption that all the future has to offer is an unpleasant ending.  It’s boring and lonely.   Twitter was/is the closest I have come to filling the hole that has been left by the eradication of house leaving opportunities.

The portrait of Caitlin that is now in the NPG was a byproduct of the Twitter project.  I had been following her for a while on Twitter and loved watching the way she would interact with other people on there, particularly Alexis Petridis, the Guardian’s music critic, who is someone I know as an acquaintance, having worked with him a couple of times on stories for The Guardian Weekend. Watching them, and others, was the virtual version of sitting in an office with very funny workmates.  As I developed the idea for the project in my head, I wanted it to be a place where I could bring people together in a photograph who were clearly doing things together in a medium like Twitter.  Equally, I also wanted it to serve as a platform in which people who previously had had no contact could come together and the white space of the frame would be the canvas in which they could form something unique amongst themselves.  So it was with this theory in mind that I persuaded and managed to co-ordinate a visit to my studio from Caitlin and Alexis at the same time and on the same day.  What I love about these pictures is that they are a clear visual manifestation of how their relationship regularly plays out on Twitter.

140 Characters: Alexis Petridis & Caitlin Moran

140 Characters: Caitlin Moran

After photographing the pair of them together I then spent some time on each of them as individuals and it was here that the headline image was made.  I knew that I had the time of someone special, even magical, so I thought it best to exploit it while I had the chance.  So, as well as doing some of the white background stuff, I also decided to do something different.  When I say ‘different’, what I really mean is that I just wanted to do a classic Penn/Avedon style of 1950’s black and white character led portrait.  I felt that I didn’t even need to wind her up and let her go because she winds herself up and lets herself go.  It was me but it could equally have been her bedroom mirror or an audience of legal executives.  What ensued was a 15 minute period where I documented, in real time, certain elements of a mesmerising, clever and very funny woman.   One image doesn’t do her justice, so here ‘s a selection of the outtakes – the ‘rejects’.  What comes over, looking at them now, is that fundamentally Caitlin is a performer, except she does it for a mass audience with a pen.  I’m quite convinced that, given the opportunity, she could have done it with comedy, radio, telly or even films.  Singing, I’m not sure about.

Nine unpublished pictures of Caitlin Moran

In all probability these pictures would have then languished for eternity on one of the gazillion hard drives that my work, post analogue, now lives inside.  No one would have seen them and they’d have drifted further from my frontal lobes with each new subject that came my way.  However, in an idle moment a couple of days after our time together I sent her a selection of them via email.  Here’s her reply:

So, the pictures went from Caitlin to her publishers, who after much umming and a lot of aahing picked the one they wanted, which then went on the cover of her book ‘How To Be A Woman’, and which now, 6 weeks after it was published is right up there in the top ten of Amazon’s UK sales chart.  They put a silly red/pink tint on her polka dot top in the photo, for no discernible reason whatsoever, and because as someone once said about Martha Stewart, “She can never let a pine cone just be a pine cone”, but this is what happens when you let ‘wordy’ people loose on imagery.  They always think they can improve it.  It’s my ambition to one day stand behind a literary person and, every few minutes, lean over their shoulder and randomly change a sentence they just wrote.  In return I will allow them to come on a photo shoot with me and point at things they’d like me to photograph, for the purposes of providing some sort of visual affadavit to the words they think they will later write.

Luckily this didn’t put off the nice people at the NPG who saw it and asked if they could buy it ‘for the nation’ and print it in it’s full monochromatic glory, with Caitlin’s polka dot top rendered in a fine shade of greys.

As I said at the beginning, what I am most thrilled about in all this is the way that what began as an idea motivated by the realisation that I was feeling unmotivated and in need of creative stimulation has, in hindsight, led all the way to the walls of the place that any portrait photographer yearns to have their work.  So, thank you to Caitlin for turning up and thank you to Alexis Petridis for forcing her to turn up.

See the picture and viewing information on the National Portrait Gallery website.

The Consequences of Vengeance In The Manzine

Posted in Me Myself & I, Personal Projects, The Consequences of Vengeance by Chris Floyd on July 29, 2011

Crystal Palace Park Road. Struck 01.03 on 15.03.45

The Manzine have published this piece by me on my ‘Consequences of Vengeance’ project.  Read the backstory here and if you’d like to buy a copy of the magazine then visit their site and order yourself one.  The Manzine features work by many of the best writers working in Britain today and it allows them to write pieces that stretch them in a far more creative way than the mainstream publications they work for will allow.

“Chris Floyd exists partly because his mother was not blown up by V2 rockets launched from The Hague during the Second World War. Here are some pictures he took and a story he wrote about the subject.

The photographer David Bailey told me recently that when he was a kid, a German V2 Vergeltungswaffen (Vengeance Weapon) rocket, landed on his local cinema. After that, rage and sadness were with him constantly. He believed Hitler had killed Mickey Mouse.

I am 42 years old and I have two children of my own. Girls. They are six & two. The older I get, the more prone I am to dwelling on the feints, swerves and potholes of this life, as well as the gifthorses and cupcakes.

At 7.21am on Tuesday 27th March 1945 a V2 struck Hughes Mansions, a series of tenement buildings in Vallance Road, Stepney, London E2. It killed 134 people, most of them still in their beds. Most of population of the building were Jewish, of eastern European extraction. Two of those were my great grandparents, Abraham & Annie Mordsky, who lived at number 83.

This particular V2 also has its own little place in history. It was the final enemy attack of World War II to result in the death of London civilians. If Hitler, with his 1,000-year Reich collapsing around him, wanted to have one last go at exterminating the Jews, then what a sweet shudder must have run through him as the 1,401st of his beloved vengeance weapons to land on London took out 120 of them in the one place in Europe where they were guaranteed life and liberty.

Another relative, living nearby in Underwood Road, came running over to Hughes Mansions when he heard the explosion. In the rubble he found the bodies of Abraham & Annie, entirely physically intact, with not a mark on them. The colossal vacuum created by the V2 blast had asphyxiated them. It had sucked the life right out of them. They never knew what hit them.

My mother was two years old, a regular Monday night guest at her grandparents, while her mother went to work. Her father (my grandfather) was at sea in the Royal Navy. Abraham & Annie were his parents. My grandmother decided to change things around on the night of the 26th March and did not send my mother to stay with the Mordskys. Consequently, she was not killed at 7.21am the following morning. As a further consequence, you are now reading this.

left page: Launched from Hague Wassenaar & struck Staveley Rd, London W4. 18.34 on 08.09.44 - right page: Launched from Haagse Bos & struck Hughes Mansions, Vallance Rd, London E2. 07.21 on 27.03.45

I do not remember a time when this piece of family history was not in me. As I get older I think about the V2 more than I probably should. How could I not? It defines the reason for my existence on this earth. Are there other things like this that I don’t know about? A decision made by a woman to have the night off. No, don’t fancy it tonight, I want to stay in… I’ll swap my shift. I’ll keep the kiddy with me, we’ll see the in-laws later in the week…

I’ve dreamed about being there five minutes before it came and yelling at all those in its path to get out. Wake up! When I open my mouth in the dream, well, I’m sure you can guess: nothing comes out. They all die and I’m paralysed.

I am a photographer and taking photographs is the thing I do. It’s how I see, feel and touch. So I decided to go to the corner of The Continent from where my fate was determined and see it for myself. Maybe I can stop it there.

I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for information and I found a website called v2rocket.com. It’s a bottomless mine of V2-related facts and people. I discovered that the launch sites of many V2s are well known among those who like to know. Included in that list is the launch information for a rocket that originated in The Hague at 07.12am on March 27 1945. Alongside it is the known impact site: Vallance Road, Stepney, London. There even exists an RAF reconnaissance photograph of the site that was taken earlier in the same month. It shows a heavily wooded park/forest in the centre of the city – Haagse Bos. In the picture are five V2s lying on their sides in a line. The RAF returned later to bomb them. Unfortunately, the leading bomber dropped its load too early and all those planes behind followed its lead by doing the same thing. The bombs landed at the south east corner of the park instead of the intended spot, the north west. I look at that picture now and one of those five is what I can’t stop in my dream.

I went to see the consequences that were visited on that little piece of Stepney and we packed the car with large-format camera equipment. A 5”x4” cherrywood Zone V1 field camera. Or a “blanket over the head wedding photographer camera”, as a passerby once commented. Eighty sheets of large-format colour film were loaded in a darkroom. We were bristling with Victorian technology, and when we unpacked and set up the shot of the Hughes Mansions site as it is today, from under the blanket I was bringing into focus an upside down and back to front image of a tarmac carpark. Of course. What else would it be?

Also launched from Haagse Bos & struck Kynaston rd, Orpington. 16.54 on 27.03.45

Also upside down and back to front in the viewfinder was the outline of a woman carrying a Tesco bag. She opened her mouth to speak and what came out, from across the other side of the car park, was absolutely the right way up and not back to front:

“What you fuckin’ doing that for? I live ’ere. I got right to know innit.”

“There was a German rocket that landed here in the war and killed 134 people. My grandparents were two of those. I’m a photographer and am doing a proj…”

“Oh right. Yeah. The war. Fuckin’ killed loads innit.”

She then turned to an as-yet unseen
co-inquisitor, above us in the flats, and bellowed:

“BOMB COME. THE WAR. KILLED ’IS FUCKIN’ NAN & GRANDAD INNIT. ’E’S TAKIN’ A PHOTO OF IT OR SUMMINK.”

And then she disappeared up the stairs with her Tesco bag and whatever.

Then we’re being eyed up by four young guys. Just watching us. Not speaking, to us or to each other. Some more appear across from where they are standing. I’ve been in a lot of places where a camera is not welcome and I can sense when its presence is causing ripples. Now is that time. Even the sky seems to go darker. Malice is radiating and it starts to gently rain. A warning. Stay here and bad things might happen. The difference between then and now is that I know I’ve been warned. I’ve been given the luxury of time.

There is history here. In 2005 a small memorial plaque was unveiled on the site. There was a high turnout of old Jewish people, some who survived the V2. But as we drove out of there it occured to me that the V2 didn’t just suck the life out of my great grandparents in that place. The tarmac carpark feels like a memorial, and there seemed to be mistrust, suspicion and paranoia all around. I don’t need to go back there again.

The distance that the V2 flew in nine minutes in 1945, we drove (in the opposite direction) in 13 hours this year. From Hughes Mansions to Harwich in Essex, an overnight ferry to The Hook of Holland and then another drive to The Hague.

The launch site. This was it, the place I dream about and the muddy patch of woodland that the RAF missed. Standing there I felt more kinship and meaning in this, the patch of crappy municipal ground from which my grandad’s mum & dad’s death was certified, stamped, signed, sealed, delivered, nine minutes before they knew it. There is more grace, peace and beauty in this bare patch of Dutch mud and leaves that gave of itself to allow death to be delivered remotely to others, than there is in all of that blob of grim, dark blight of east London that seems to bear only ill will to those within as well as to those from without.

And now I know why. From here, the path that led to my place on this ball of rock in space was sealed too. This terrible incident was the first step in a chain of events that led to my mum meeting my dad. Had there been no rocket that day, then, well, who knows what it might have been. I know there’s no point in asking these questions, but what point also is there in the Fantasy Football League?

We choose the fantasies we like to take part in. Some people like football, I like to wonder about rocket trajectories. No rocket? No deaths, no mourning, no this, no that, no who knows what and on and on for another 25 years, deviating from the trajectory of me. No mum meeting no dad. No me. Nor my children too. I see their little faces in in the deaths of Abraham and Annie. I thank them for it and realize that this isn’t just about the consequences of vengeance. It’s also about the consequences of trajectory, the defining characteristic not only of projectiles but also lives. Cupid, above all, can tell you about that. “

One Hundred & Forty Characters

One Hundred and Forty Characters: The Poster! See how to buy one at the end of this post.

In July 2010 I decided to begin photographing people that I follow on Twitter.  The idea for this came at a moment when I realised I had not seen or spoken to any of my best half a dozen real and actual friends for over a month. Some of those people on Twitter I communicate with several times a week, in bursts of 140 characters or less, and yet I had never met any of them. As we are now well and truly living in a digital age I am aware that this state of being is only going to deepen and the traditional forms of friendship, although they will not go away anytime soon, are going to have to make more room for the new way of doing things.  Where Facebook might be considered as the place in which you tell lies to all the people you went to school with, I had begun to think of Twitter as the place where you tell the truth to all those that you wish you’d gone to school with.  The project rolled on indefinitely for almost a year but when, one day, I counted up the number of subjects to date and came to a number in the mid one hundred and thirties, I immediately knew where this had to end.  So here they are.  My new friends.  140 characters.  No more and no less.

I am one week short of taking a full year to get to this point and, for those of you that are interested, here is the original post from July 2010, explaining it all right at the start.  Reading it back, I am struck by how much my inspiration stayed the course.  The digital nature of being a photographer today remained the prime raison d’etre for the project.  Humans are pack animals, despite what we may or may not believe at any given point in our daily/weekly/monthly/yearly cycle of highs and lows.  I am definitely happier when in the presence of stimulating company and the demise of film and all the trips to film related places (photographic stores, labs, printers etc) has played a big role in the erosion of those opportunities, as well as leaving a huge social void that is yet to be filled by something equally physical or new.  Nor is anything likely to, we are too wedded to the convenience of the computer and the immediacy of digital delivery.  I mean, come on, who is going to go back to sitting around waiting for clip tests ever again?  Or be full steam ahead with heavenly raptures of transcendence for the deadline dodging motorcycle courier?  Then there’s international clients.  Fedexing contact sheets?  You’re out of your frigging mind.  So far, Twitter has plugged the hole, in the sense that it has created an opportunity for me to talk to people on a daily basis while I’m at work.  What constitutes me being at work is vast swathes of time during the week, where I am sat alone at a computer for hours and hours and hours.  The furthest my intellect gets stretched during these periods is when I get to do ‘Ctrl+C’ followed by ‘Ctrl+V’.

In addition, I’m also really, really nosey and I wanted to see what all these people that I had begun to ‘talk to’ were like and, equally importantly, what they sounded like.  I needed to meet them. Further down this post is an audio/visual slide show that features a whole load of the one forty alongside an audio edit of many of them talking about Twitter.  What it reveals, that Twitter does not reveal by itself, are the accents.  I love just hearing all the accents and I love that the British Isles, despite what we may think about the gradual homogenisation of our regional dialects, still throws up a wonderful ploughman’s platter of chat.  I played it to my dad, who is a 69 year old retiree, out of the world for 4 years, and does not engage in Twitter or any other forms of social media.  After listening to it he said: “I’m not so pessimistic for the future after hearing that.  In fact, I’m quite optimistic. People are still thoughtful, still intelligent and still funny.  We’ll be alright.”

I never joined Facebook, or any of those other ones, so why has Twitter, after two and a half years, remained entrenched in my daily life?  I can only come to one conclusion. Whereas Facebook seems to allow the user to construct a perceived or projected existence for themselves through the deployment of various convenient aids, Twitter just strips it all away and leaves the user with nothing but the utilitarian tool of 140 characters and the imagination of language.  Over a sustained period of time or patch of ground you are always going to betray yourself.  By that I mean that you will, layer by layer, reveal who you are and this will continue to be an ongoing and ever revelatory process.  Other users will continue to be attracted to that or not, and vice versa.  It’s really quite binary, whilst being relentlessly deep and wide, which I like.  A lot.

As someone said to me, Twitter is “a huge, massive, endless free flowing conversation with lots of interesting, witty people.”  What more is there to say?  If you don’t get it, then you just don’t get it.

Not Actual Size

To celebrate the end of the project I have commissioned a limited print run of 500 posters.  Designed by Wayne Ford, the posters (shown above) are A1 in size (840mm x 594mm) and were printed in England using a lithographic tritone process consisting of a warm grey 4, a book black and a process black on 135gsm Omnia paper stock. They are £30 each, including delivery.  Mine is framed and on my hall wall.  Hit this little button here and Paypal will make it all nice and smooth.


As if that ain’t enough! Here is a 14 minute slideshow of all the portraits that were produced for ‘One Hundred and Forty Characters’ accompanied by a fantastic audio edit of many of those who took part talking about Twitter with wit, thoughtfulness and insight. Warning!  Contains accents.

And finally, if you’d prefer to just listen to the audio, which is just the straight 14 minutes of  human ingenuity and interestingness on one subject all by itself then click here to listen to an Audioboo file while you go about other important tasks.

 

Michelle Yeoh

Posted in Inspiration, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on June 28, 2011

Michelle Yeoh, 2008

This is the Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh and I heard a news story today about her role in a new film by Luc Besson, ‘The Lady’,  in which she plays the recently released Burmese pro-democracy leader,  Aung San Suu Kyi.  On a recent trip to Burma, Ms Yeoh, who you may also know from the Ang Lee movie, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, was stopped at Rangoon airport and deported after being told that she is now barred from entering the country at all.  Let’s hope that the work of people like Besson & Yeoh continues to keep the actions of the Burmese junta in the news, in order to remind us that while we are free to do and speak as we please, there are people with power in the world that seem to think that the right to speak as we wish is a granted privilege and not a born right.

I took these pictures at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.  It was a quick 5 minute job on the roof of a hotel somewhere on the main drag.  I remember absolutely nothing of it but I always liked the pictures.  They capture the spirit of someone who seems content within themselves, without any hint of the vanity that often travels alongside successful actresses.

Read more of the story on the BBC website

Funny Lady, Just Now, On Television

Posted in Commissioned Work, Editorial, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on June 14, 2011

Kristen Wiig - Stylist cover - 14th June 2011

This portrait of Kristen Wiig was shot less than a week ago in the bar of The Connaught Hotel in London’s deluxe Mayfair.  All around us, the streets were awash and teaming with dreadfully attired hedge fund types who, despite their fabulous wealth, refuse to ever wear ties, thus reducing themselves to the level of Match of the Day pundits.

In the old days, pre-branding, a photographer would go to a location and lob up a backdrop.  Not anymore.  Today we create pop up studios.

Through the haze of this smoke and mirror malarkey came this very funny lady, who you may or may not know from being on telly and that, Stateside.

She’s in a film that’s coming out here soon.  It’s called ‘Bridesmaids’.  I haven’t seen it yet but everyone who has tells me it is very funny and they are all ‘super-excited’ about it’s imminent release.

I hope they’re right.  I’m sure they are.  She’s a lovely lady with a whole lot of laughs in her.

The Chuppa Chups bubblegum is best for doing this. Hubba Bubba's rubbish.

It’s All About The Countenance Of The Bull

Posted in Commissioned Work, Editorial, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on May 26, 2011
Esquire opening spread: The cold room at Tim Wilson’s farm in Yorkshire, The Ginger Pig

It’s been quite busy here at Clean Living Towers recently so I’m a little bit late putting this up.  In February of this year I travelled up to Malton in northest North Yorkshire with Tom Parker Bowles to work with him on a story for British Esquire about the work of Tim Wilson, a farmer with the reputation of producing the most wonderful beef, as well as pork, lamb and chicken too.  The steaks from Tim’s livestock sit briefly on the tables of some of London’s most sought after restauarants, including the mighty Hawksmoor of Covent Garden.

Tim Wilson

Tim also owns four butcher’s shops, all called The Ginger Pig and all in tactical parts of London (Hackney, Marylebone, Waterloo & Borough Market) that sell his produce, as well as sausage rolls and a whole range of pies that are all made by hand on the farm.  The man is a walking advert for the old school and proper way of doing things, combined with modern ideas about marketing and branding.  While things today often have the patina of sizzle about them, the reality often contains very little actual steak.  The Ginger Pig, on the other hand, produces a range of foods that are very much all steak as equally as all sizzle. And I know because he gave me an absolutely massive bag of meat to take home and eat in the days following my visit.

I made the journey up from London the night before I was due to meet Tom PB and stayed in a B&B nearby. Tim met me the following morning at 6.30am, to give me the chance to head out on the morning feed with one of his shepherds.  Yes, shepherds do still exist. Strapped to the back of a quad bike we lurched off down the freezing lanes around the farm, with random ninety degree turns into fields guarded by gates that would cause equally sudden and forced halts, whereupon I would clamber off and open them up.

Yorkshire from a quadbike. At dawn. In February.

As the quad whizzed past me I’d be required to shut the gate again and leap back on it as it chundered past.  We’d do a lap of the field with the entire animal population chasing us, while I hung off the back photographing them, as the feed bin on the back dropped measures of nourishment all over the place before exiting the field in the exact same manner as we entered. The thing it’s important to bear in mind is that some of these animals have horns. And it was bloody freezing.

Being chased by animals that have horns

Back at the farmyard we met some beautiful little additions to the population.  Not being sure if the destiny of these creatures was the provision of wool for cloth or of meat for the pot, I asked the shepherd’s wife, who was feeding them warm milk from a bottle, what the future looked like for the lambs.  She looked over at them, then back at me.  Her face dropped and she said quietly, “Not good.”

Actual Ginger Pigs

Tom PB had arrived by now and the first thing Tim wanted him to see was the one creature that he says makes the whole thing possible.  Without it, all this meat that surrounded us would be for nowt.  That animal is known as The Bull. The Bull, Tim believes, is the number one reason for the quality of all beef.  If you do not start with the right bull then all his progeny will only ever produce ‘adequate’ beef, not great beef. The countenance of The Bull is everything. Consequently, The Bull resides at a secret location that only Dick Cheney knows the address of.

The Bull

Having met The Bull, however, I feel that the following sentences expresses his impact and awe sufficiently. There are several hundred female bovines on that farm and one single, solitary male, The Bull. When you’re in the presence of The Bull you can literally inhale the testosterone right out of the air around him and use it to help you in a fight in which you could single handedly take on and probably beat 15 Russian sailors.

After that, everything else is downhill so we took the best option available, which was to return to Tim’s farmhouse for a slap up lunch of pies, rolls, pickles, breads and all the stuff that put the ‘Great’ into Great Britain.

Before

After

Read the full story by Tom Parker Bowles in the June issue of Esquire.

Waiting Game

Posted in Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on May 26, 2011

This was from a recent shoot I did with the actor Mark Strong.  In the course of our time I also shot about two minutes worth of video.  What I fundamentally took away from it was a minute long film of a guy putting on his watch, which I have to say was not particularly thrilling or inspiring.  However, as Mr Hitchcock frequently showed us, storytelling is as much about what you don’t see as what you do see, and also about what you can and can’t hear.  A weekend of trundling around the internet looking for interesting and useful sounds (a thunderstorm, a passing car, a ringing telephone & my voice saying “Hello?” into an iPhone voice memo app) allowed me to make something that is still brief but also, I hope, a little more intriguing and mysterious than the filmic cul-de-sac of a man just putting on a watch.

A Starry Night On Sark

Posted in Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on May 9, 2011
The view from Sark. March 6th 2011. 19.55 GMT
I took these pictures in one night on the Channel Island of Sark, which is sandwiched between the bigger islands of Jersey & Guernsey, with all three sitting snugly off the Normandy peninsula of northern France.  Although much closer to France, the islands are all British Crown Dependencies.  This means that, legally, they have their own autonomy and parliaments and their own money.
However, I am not here to elucidate on the legal status of these islands, but to tell you about Sark’s recent admission to the International Dark Sky Association as the first dark sky island in the world. The IDSA is a US organisation that is dedicated to preserving the darkest sky views on Earth.  Sark helps to make this possible by having no cars, no traffic lights and no street lights at all.  Transport on the island is by bike, horse or tractor (during daylight hours)
A memorial to a group of people who died in a sailing accident in the 1960’s. The orange glow is from Guernsey.
These pictures were taken on a single night.  I rented a bike with a trailer from one of the two rental outfits on the island and spent two nights trundling around in the pitch black with a torch in my mouth looking for ways to photograph the sky that could also feature identifiable elements of the Island.  That way no one could accuse me of faking it.  My first night was a cloudy disappointment. I didn’t see a single star all night.  The second night was the complete opposite.  A dazzling evening of stellar incredulity, the like of which I’ve never seen, all of which is available 80 miles from the English coast.
If you want to go there and try it for yourself then you can take a ferry from Guernsey and I recommend that you stay at the Aval du Creux Hotel. If you go out stargazing till too late the chef will tuck a couple of cold beers outside by the bike rack for you to enjoy on your return.  By the second flowerpot on the left.

Dry Dock

This is a good piece about the recognition given to the island by the Dark Sky Association from The Guardian earlier this year.

This Is Why I’m Not A Hotel Receptionist

Posted in Awkward Intervention of Facts, Commissioned Work, Inspiration, Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on April 12, 2011

All Original Inspirator: David Bailey

1982

It was the last day of a family summer holiday in France, I was 14 years old.  My dad finally let me do the thing I had been itching to have a go at all fortnight.  He actually let me hold his new Pentax ME Super camera and take one picture with it.  One single picture, film was expensive and not something to be trifled with or wasted.  Make sure you look before you leap.

I loved it.  I loved the buttons and dials and metallic feeling of it, the strange symbols, the odd, illogical numbers and markings, the way I could frame the world to my liking through the viewfinder and bring things in and out of focus.  I was a shy kid, confident in my thoughts but nervous physically.  I didn’t like the way I looked.  I thought my sleepy eyes made me look dozy.  Even now people think I look tired even when I’m wired to the sky.  Having the camera up to my face allowed me to both hide from the world and confront it at the same time.  The camera had a gold sticker on it with the logo of the Asahi Optical Company of Japan that said “PASSED” in block capital letters, as if to say that this item was of such complicated and vital construction it required extra approval to leave the factory from those whose name it bore.  It was relevant.

All these years later I have no recollection of what I photographed that summer’s day in Brittany in 1982.  I only remember that I was dying to do it again.  Bit by bit my dad began to trust me with the camera and I was allowed to use it more often.  Eventually, he seemed to stop using it altogether and it became mine by osmosis.  At that point it was a hobby and nothing more.

My dad had a Pentax ME Super that eventually became mine.

Sometime later, months or years, the memory and recollection of time and place is compressed by the passing of time itself, I was in the school library and came across a book, ‘Black & White Memories’, by a photographer called David Bailey. I cannot tell you enough what an evangelical, Saul on the road to Damascus moment this was.  The pictures in that book were the key to a door that opened into a room that I didn’t even know existed.  A room that was both unmistakably familiar and wholly new.  I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole into a fantasyland that was more real than the future that had been ascribed to me up to that point, which was probably school, university and some sort of white collar, possibly professional career of security and mundanity. I know I wanted the security because I still crave it now, but I couldn’t face the mundanity. That day in the library flipped my future upside down by confiscating the security altogether and replacing it with the kind of possibility that would entail having to keep my eyes on the road for all time.  For someone who looked so sleepy, there was to be no sleeping through life for me.  The room that the Bailey book unlocked was a place where photography didn’t have to be weddings and repetitive family portraits. Oh!  You can do that.  You can do that.  You can do this.  You can go there.  You can meet these people.  You can meet those people, who, incidentally, are quite different to these people.

The way he cut off the top of peoples’ heads and went straight to the eyes. He had a style of photographing pairs of people and getting their heads to tilt in opposite directions to each other, which created a symmetry that was almost hypnotic.  All that starkness.  As Ian Dury once sang about Gene Vincent:

White face, black shirt

White socks, black shoes

Black hair, white strat

Bled white, died black

All extraneous details eliminated.  No ambiguity. No frills, no fuss, no flim, no flam.

All the time it’s important to remember that this took place before the internet existed.  Finding stuff out involved physical effort.  You couldn’t just sit in your bedroom on your arse.  No, you had to go to places: libraries, bookshops, museums, art galleries, the cinema, record shops.  You had to want to find it badly enough to actually get dressed.  Starting with Bailey I learned about lineage, about Penn, Avedon, John French, Cartier Bresson.  From there to others.  Ralph Gibson, Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton, Jacques Lartigue, August Sander, Paul Strand, Joel Meyerowitz, William Klein, Arnold Newman, Elliot Erwitt, Lee Friedlander, each one opening another door to their influences and persuasions.

When you’re a boy in your mid-teens in the home counties of England in the early to mid eighties, things like this are the punch in the face you need if you don’t want your life to be something that begins at 5.30pm on a Friday every week.

In time, although my interests and tastes in photography have travelled across a lot of ocean, Bailey’s work and story have remained as the Greenwich meridian of my photographic core and even now, when I look at his work all these years after first finding it, I feel that I am back in my home port.

2011

The last time I got a pay cheque that didn’t come from photography was in 1992.  I’m in my 20th year as a photographer.  I’m as excited by taking pictures now as I was in 1982.  The worry of earning a living never subsides though, it’s a burden and it’s the catalyst that keeps these somnambulant eyes open.  It’s my daily sharpener.  It’s about getting the call. I love the buzz of the call.  The gig, the job.  I’m not an artist and I have no wish to be an artist.  I’m a curious person who feeds his curiosity by taking pictures.  After doing this for 20 years I know that there’s no type or class of person that I couldn’t hold a relevant conversation with if I needed to.  Sometimes I have to sit at tables next to people whose eyes glaze over when they realize I can’t do anything for them, that I have no relevance to their idea of personal advancement.  I have a certain level of self awareness.  I try not to be boring.  My granddad had a great way of putting this.  “Try not to be the kind of man that lights up a room by leaving it”, was what he said.

A call comes.  From Lucy Davies.  She runs Telephoto, the Daily Telegraph’s online photography blog. I love Lucy. She loves photography and, incredibly, she also seems to like photographers.  She knows what she’s talking about.  Her knowledge has depth and breadth.  A conversation with her will always involve me learning something.  She reminds me of a much younger version of Elisabeth Biondi, who recently retired from The New Yorker and from whom I have been lucky enough to have been thrown some very juicy scraps now and then, including the one that allowed this story to happen. Lucy has a proposition.  Would I be interested in taking part in a one to one conversation with another photographer for the Telegraph that will be recorded and published as a transcription?  She wants it to be me with an older photographer and she wants us to talk about the nature of magazine photography and the way it has changed over the last 50 years.  Of course, I say.  Who will I do it with?

She says, “I was thinking it would be good to do it with Bailey. What do you think?”

A little piece of me stumbles inside. I retain composure, attempt slight ambivalence and proceed thus:

“Yes, in principle, but I don’t know him, I’ve never met him and he will have no idea who I am.  If you can persuade him then I’d be glad to do it.”

In my head I can see the 14 year old me in the school library again and I have a thought.  In 2007 The New Yorker ran a profile of Paul McCartney entitled “When I’m Sixty Four; Paul McCartney, then and now.”  The opening spread and the “then” part of that headline was Bailey’s iconic 1965 portrait of him and John Lennon.  On the turn page, as the “now” picture they ran my portrait of him, taken in the early years of the 21st century.

I call Lucy back and suggest that this use of mine and Bailey’s work in the same magazine story could be the perfect hook for us to get together.  We could begin by talking about photographing the same subject 40 years apart and go from there.

McCartney profile in The New Yorker with Bailey's 1965 portrait as the opener.

My portrait of McCartney on the turn page.

Two weeks later, an email:

From: Lucy Davies

Date: 16 February 2011 18:18:45 GMT

To: Chris Floyd

Subject: Fwd: McCartney – New Yorker

See below. Can you email Danielle and arrange a time to meet? Fngers crossed we are almost there.  You will have to charm your way to the last post CF.

xx

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Danielle Edwards

Date: 16 February 2011 18:15

Subject: Re: McCartney – New Yorker PDF

To: Lucy Davies

Hi Lucy

I think Bailey wants to meet him first to have a quick chat before he commits.

Can we organise a quick chat at Baileys studio? Let me know if you want to schedule with you or direct with him.

Thanks

Danielle

Studio Manager / Personal Assistant to David Bailey

‑_____________________________________________

Him & Me

Tuesday 1st March is the date we agree to meet.  It’s a ‘quick chat’.  Meet and say hello.  It’s St. David’s Day but I’m certain that the David I’m going to meet is no saint. Somewhere on the walk from Euston to his studio off the Gray’s Inn Road I step over a crushed daffodil on the pavement.

Of all the people I know in this business, every one of them seems to have worked or spent time with him.  They all have their stories and most of these involve extreme language or confrontations of one sort or another.  I’m the only person I know that has never met him or worked with him or have any tales to tell.

Ascending the stairs into his skylight flooded studio I’m immediately struck by the life that emanates from it.  See, the thing is, I don’t know anybody with a studio, a proper studio.  These days people have ‘spaces.’  When I need to shoot in a studio I go to one of London’s many rental operations.  To a one, they are all sterile, white, cold, soulless blank canvasses that are not intended to inspire anything.  I find them torturous places to spend a day in.  The idea is that you bring the concept with you and fill the space with it temporarily. The thing is, I make it all up as I go along.  Fundamentally, I’m bringing nothing of my own to a vacuum that has nothing to offer.  When you leave, a little army of assistants come in like Oompa Loompas  and eradicate any memory of your presence there.

Bailey’s gaff, on the other hand, has all the timely grime of his 30 odd year occupancy.  Polaroids, one signed by Jarvis Cocker that says “I am Jarvis xx (it’s true)”, bits of weird equipment, postcards, a cage of exotic birds from who knows where, skulls, human skulls, animal skulls, a skull that looks like it was designed by George Lucas, a picture of Mao (is it a Warhol?  I don’t know), Bailey with Ronnie Wood, Bailey with Macca, Penelope Tree as a sort of Mickey Mouse King of Clubs, a picture of Bailey’s assistant, Mark, pulling onto the back of Bailey’s trousers as he leans over the edge of a freight container to take a picture in Afghanistan last year.

Wall of Polaroids

This place is consumed with life and vitality.  I haven’t been in anywhere like this for years.  I don’t know anyone that can afford it.

My first sight of Bailey is of him sitting on a stool with a cape around his neck as a young, dark, good looking guy cuts his hair.  His voice has that familiar, slightly high pitched old school Cockney lilt to it.  He sounds exactly like he did in the Olympus ads he used to appear in on the telly when I was a kid.

“Hello, are you Chris?”

Yes, I say, I am indeed.

“Siddown, siddown, has anyone offered you a drink? Tea? Coffee?  This is Kashmir, he’s cutting my hair. What’s that book you’ve got?  Is it any good?”

I’m made to feel welcome as Bailey includes me in the ongoing studio conversation with Mark and his P.A., Danielle.  It goes on like this for a while.  People come and go.  His wife Catherine comes in for a while and we all have lunch.  Their daughter, Paloma, is floating around the place, doing various bits and pieces.  It’s people sitting around talking about stuff.  Bob Dylan is on the stereo.  Bailey loves Dylan.

He says something about the Kray twins (“Ron and Reg”) and their mother, Violet.  I mention that my granddad was from Vallance Road, the same street as the Krays, and that his parents were killed by the last V2 that hit London in March 1945.

“A V2 hit my local cinema when I was a kid.  I remember being very upset.  I thought Hitler had killed Mickey Mouse.”

Kashmir finishes the haircut, packs his scissors away, is the recipient of a warm farewell from all and leaves.  I make a comment to Bailey about what a great name ‘Kashmir’ is for a hairdresser.

“Oh that’s not his real name, that’s just what I call him.”

“What’s his real name then?”

“Oh fuck it, I dunno, Gianni or something.  I just call him Kashmir because he looks like a Kashmiri carpet salesman.”

The conversation goes back to my great grandparents and Bailey asks me if they were Jewish and I say that they were.

“So you’re Jewish?”

“No. After the war my granddad anglicized his name and my mum was brought up Christian. We are the black sheep of the family on my mum’s side.”

“You married?”

“Yeah.”

“Your wife Jewish?”

No.  English.  Posh English.”

“Hmmmm. Shiksa.”  (A Shiksa is an attractive gentile girl who might be considered a temptation to Jewish men or boys.)

“Christ! I’m not even Jewish.  How can I be married to a shiksa?”

“I once thought I might be partly Jewish.  Turned out I’m not.”

He asks me how I got into photography.

“When I was a kid, in the school library I found a copy of ‘David Bailey’s Box of Pinups’.

“Really? Did you nick it?”

“No!”

“You should’ve done.  That’s worth about twenty grand now, a complete set.”

I realise I’ve made a mistake.  It wasn’t ‘Box of Pinups’, it was ‘Black & White Memories’.

“Oh. Nah, that’s not worth anything.  Terrible printing.”

I go on to explain that photography for me was not the end in itself.  It’s always been the conduit that has allowed me to meet and talk to interesting people.”

“Yeah?  Well you’re in the wrong job then mate.  You should’ve been a fucking hotel receptionist.”

A bit later on:

“I like you Chris but I think you’re a bit too fucking serious.”

“It’s hard not to be when I’ve been assigned the straight man’s role in this relationship.”

The time passes and the ‘quick chat’ has turned into 3 hours.  I’m getting anxious about the fact that I’ve got to go and pick up my daughter from school.

“Bailey, this has been great.  It’s been such a treat to come here and meet you.  Thanks for having me but I’ve really got to go.”

“Go? You haven’t seen my darkroom yet.”

Now is my chance to turn the tables.

“Oh alright then.  Come on.  Quickly.  Five minutes and then I’m going.”

For a brief moment I feel like I’m Ernie to his Eric.

We go downstairs and into the darkroom.  I haven’t been in one of these for about 5 years and the smell is like crack.  Immediately, I want my old one back.  We stand around in the red light while he prepares a neg for printing.  This is where he seems to really want to be more than anywhere, in the dark, on his own, making prints.  Outside, the exotic birds are squawking relentlessly.  The red light and the sound of the birds gives me the feeling that we are in a pet shop that doubles as a brothel on quiet days.

I deliberately haven’t pressed him on the Telegraph question, the reason I am here in the first place.  I didn’t want it to get in the way of how much I’d enjoyed just hanging out with him and his crew and talking about photography and all sorts of other things.  It was, truly for me, a great afternoon, everything that this life can deliver on it’s best days and nothing like what it would have delivered had I become a hotel receptionist.  He seems to sense this and says one of the most generous spirited things I’ve ever heard from someone whose opinion, as hard as I might try and pretend doesn’t matter to me, actually matters to me.

“I’ve enjoyed it today, Chris.  Before you came I had a look at your work and I like it.  I like your portraits.  It’s been a pleasure to spend time with you.  I don’t know if I want to do this Telegraph thing, not sure that I want to talk about magazines really. My feelings towards them aren’t warm.  So if I don’t do this it won’t be because of you.  I’d like to stay in touch and maybe we can do something else together.  Even if you are a bit serious.”

“Oh fuck off.  Stop telling me I’m too serious.”

And with that, we bid goodbye.

Bailey with daughter, Paloma

Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon

The Something Else

Lucy Davies contacts me a couple of weeks afterwards and, sure enough, Bailey does not want to talk to another photographer about magazines and the nature of magazine photography in the presence of The Telegraph.  This is fine with me.  I sort of had the conversation with him on our meet, so I feel like I got all the juice out of the orange without having to then deal with the pips.

Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon

Instead, he is going to talk to Andrew Graham Dixon, The Telegraph’s art critic, about his work in the context of art.  He would like me to take his portrait for the piece and it will take place back at his studio.

I put the word out to my assistants and I have a queue of them offering to come and help for free.  I take two, Sarah & Andras.  We discuss what we are going to do before we arrive.  I tell them that, as a matter of pride, I do not want to get one derogatory, sarcastic comment from Bailey about the way we have set ourselves up.

I realize this is futile when Mark, his assistant, wanders over to have a look at our lights.

“Ooh, just you wait till Bailey sees this.  He’s gonna rip the piss out of you.”

When he comes in he doesn’t quite do that but he does have a good prod and poke at everything, almost to see if our setup is going to stay up by itself or collapse and fuck up his studio.

I give him a look and start taking pictures.

“If you leave it alone it won’t fall over.”

“What shutter speed you got there?”

“Sixtieth.”

“You sure?  Sounds like a thirtieth to me.”

“No, it’s a sixtieth.  Stop trying to fuck with me.”

One of the things about Bailey that a lot of people don’t realize is that he laughs.  He laughs a lot.  He’s got opinions and he expresses them, often to the contrary of other peoples’ opinions but in the process he laughs a lot.  He is very funny, which is why he thinks I’m too serious.

We knock the whole thing off in 15-20 minutes.  I like doing it quickly.  It’s like a plateful of food.  Eat it while it’s hot.  Too long out of the oven and the glory goes.

“That’s it.  I’ve got it.”

“You sure?  You didn’t give me any direction.”

“What would have been the point?  You wouldn’t have done anything I asked you to anyway.  I wanted you as you are.  I’ll work around you.  I like it like that.  I find things I didn’t know I was looking for.”

Still a kid indeed.  Still learning.  Still fourteen.

Read the discussion that took place between David Bailey & Andrew Graham Dixon in The Daily Telegraph

Digging In The Crates: Dr Dre

Posted in Me Myself & I by Chris Floyd on February 18, 2011

Andre Romelle Young, 1999.

If you were alive in the nineties then it would have been quite difficult to avoid the work of this man.  Although his mother had him pegged as Andre Romelle Young, to the rest of us he was but one thing –  The Motherfucking D-R-E.

Shot this in his studio somewhere in the 818 of Los Angeles.  Can’t really remember anything else, other than how big he was.  His shirt could have been torn apart and used to make hammocks for a legion of mermaids.

Go forth.  Preach.