Frances Partridge was the last surviving member of The Bloomsbury set when she died, aged 103 in 2004. She had lived an amazing life full of love and tragedy and had known the brightest and the best people of her generation. She was a writer and a famous diarist. I photographed her when she was a mere 93 in 1995 at her home in London.
When I arrived she seemed agitated, which I didn’t think was unusual given her age and the fact that she had a stranger in her home but it became obvious that something specific was bothering her. She told me that her only corkscrew had broken and that she hadn’t been able to have a glass of wine. Like all good photographers I had a Swiss Army penknife and so I was able to open her bottle – which cheered her up a little. The thing that really made the rest of the job go very well was that I was able to fix her corkscrew so that she would be able to have he wine the following day too.
Mrs Partridge looked old and she knew it. She had spent most of her life surrounded by artists and writers and had been photographed many, many times. She celebrated her age and was keen that I portray her in my own way. We spent a good deal of time working out where she should be in her flat and the light coming in in early May changed every few minutes. I tried to shoot as little flash as I could – not because she didn’t like it but because somehow I thought that ambient light was more in keeping with the ethos of the Bloomsbury group.
Geek moment… I was using two Canon EOS1n cameras with 28-70 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses and Fuji 800 ISO colour negative film without flash and the frames shot with flash were in Fuji 200 ISO colour negative film. The scans were done with a Kodak auto feed scanner onto a Photo CD.