1995 author portraits with new gear

It’s funny how you remember pictures that you have taken. I was rummaging through a box of Kodak Photo CDs that were in my loft and found a set of portraits of the wonderful children’s illustrator and author Helen Oxenberry that I took in March 1995 for The Times Educational Supplement. The pictures were taken during a period where I seemed to be photographing the entire back catalogue of authors and illustrators whose work was aimed at children and there are four things that I distinctly remember about these particular portraits.

Helen Oxenberry with her dog, ©Neil Turner, March 1995

The first thing that I remember is that this was the first live job that I shot using Canon cameras. A few days before, I had taken delivery of a box full with 2 shiny new EOS1N bodies, a 28-70 f2.8L, a 20mm f2.8 USM and a 300mm f2.8L as well as two 540EZ flash units and a lot of other bits and pieces. The 70-200 f2.8L that we had ordered arrived a day or so after this shoot.

The excitement and mild terror of shooting with brand new gear that I had only tried out for the first time over the weekend was very real and so I also took along a Leica M6 with a 35mm f2 lens and a roll of Ilford XP2 black and white film that I had half used on another author portrait the previous week. The picture that you see above is a scan of the negative, made using an automated Kodak scanner that was set up for scanning colour negative film but I quite like the quality that this print-free process gave me.

Helen Oxenberry at her home. ©Neil Turner, March 1995

The second thing that I remember about this job was that she was a really lovely lady and that she made good coffee. When I arrived she was very apologetic that she had forgot to tell my Picture Editor that she lived in one of London’s more vicious residents’ parking permit areas and that there weren’t any public spaces nearby. I smiled and told her that I only lived 100 metres away and had the right permit, which seemed to confuse her – I imagine that she was trying to work out how a photographer could possibly afford Hampstead!

My third memory was that just after leaving I turned the radio on in the car and there was a programme about children’s literature where another author called Michael Rosen was talking about Helen Oxenberry. The phone rang and it was the Picture Editor telling me that I was going to photograph an author called Michael Rosen the next day!

The fourth and final memory was going back to Helen Oxenberry’s house about a month later to photograph her husband – another brilliant illustrator and author called John Burningham who went on to apologise for the lack of parking…

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