When I published this May 1991 portrait on my Instagram feed a couple of years ago I was shocked by the clarity of my memories of shooting it. A year or so after publishing it I was giving a talk to a wonderful group of people at a camera club who had invited me to come and show some work and tell some anecdotes and, once again, I remembered so much detail about the day and the pictures. The power of still images to evoke a time and a place is a wonderful thing. I thought that it would be good to share those memories again here and this is what I wrote underneath the post on Instagram:
I had about twenty minutes notice to get to his home in south-west London and shoot this May 1991 portrait of Sir John Cassels. He had been appointed as the Chair of a Government Inquiry into education in England and Wales. Like many of my favourite pictures, it was shot whilst the subject was being interviewed but unusually the interview had been underway for a while when I arrived. It felt a little tense when I got there so I decided to shoot as inconspicuously as I could to start with and that gave me this against-the-light opportunity. Things seemed to calm a little so I got a single flash out but never really bettered this early frame.July 2020
The other memory of the job is that from south-west London I drive straight to Dorset and didn’t actually process the film until three days later. I genuinely cannot imagine how tough that would be to do nowadays. We look at the pictures on the back of the camera within seconds of shooting them. We can process and caption the images minutes after the job and deliver them to the client minutes later. Shooting on film was allowed to be a slower process. It was far more labour-intensive and it presented so many more opportunities for mistakes to be made. Before you think I am getting all misty-eyed about ‘the good old days’ there’s no way I’d want to turn the clock back and have to shoot film again. Having said that, it would be great to shoot a portrait and not have anyone else asking me to show them what I had on the memory cards.
I haven’t shot an interview portrait for quite a while now. I haven’t met up with a reporter on a job for months. Those are the things that I’d go back to if I could. It was such a wonderful process and I worked with so many great journalists whose presence really helped to get the best out of the subjects – even when things were decidedly tense as I remember this particular job being.
Kodak T-Max 400 film shot with Nikon F4E and a 80-200 f2.8 Nikkor