Friday, 18 May 2012

Portraits: 34

Iain Sinclair, author, in Tilbury, London, 1989
Sinclair was promoting his then-new book Downriver, which, as does much of his work, features London as its focus. We wandered around the Tilbury area (in the Thames estuary) and I photographed Sinclair in front of the World's End pub and in tunnels (in the fort) that feature in his work. I often liked to push people to the edge of the frame in terms of composition, and I like the result in the World's End shot – the words dominate but are out of focus, while Sinclair is in focus but pushed to the edge. Hopefully just something of the combination of a person and his subject emerged and merged. For City Limits.

Dennis Skinner, member of parliament, the House of Commons, London, 1991
Skinner is an old-style, socialist politician, continuously elected to his Bolsover (in north England) constituency since 1970. He has a reputation there (still: although now 80, he hasn't retired) as a practical politician. It was the second time I'd been in the House of Commons, and in fact I wasn't sure I'd get in – I'd been held there with other protesters after protesting during discussion of a policing bill a few years earlier, and had been told at the time that I was banned from the House for a number of years. Still, no alarm bells were sounded when I gave my name to enter for this job and it was the first time I'd been "behind-the-scenes" in the politicians' rooms (as opposed to in a cell!). The corridor outside was quite photographic in its 18th century architecture, and I asked if Skinner wanted to be photographed there. Skinner replied, "I'm not fucking posing!" After I related this to the magazine (City Limits), it was used as the headline for the interview, alongside this photo. Update: a recent interview in the Independent here.

Frank Skinner, comedian, in a Soho cafe, London, 199?
Skinner has a reputation as a gently laddish comedian, if such a combination exists. He always seemed and seems at home in his skin and was a very easy-going and friendly guy to meet and photograph. And he lived up to that former part of his character by having a distracted interest during the shoot in the woman of model-esque appearance who is in the background, though completely out of focus, of this shot. For The Independent on Sunday magazine.

Morton Sobell, arrested for spying, magazine offices, London, 1988
Sobell had been arrested in the States at the same time as the famous Rosenbergs (who were executed) on charges of spying for Russia. He claimed innocence, but was in jail for 17 years. I was working in the City Limits magazine offices (as a picture editor) when the interviewer came out and asked if could I just quickly photograph this person because no photographer had been asked for. So all I knew was he had been "arrested for spying". I wondered whether to ask him to straighten his hair, but it seemed an inherent part of him, so I left it. Only in 2008 did he admit he was not innocent, but he claimed the secrets he had passed to the Russians were unimportant "junk" (as, I suppose, you would claim). At this time, then, he was still maintaining his innocence.

For more on these portraits see here and the portraits tag on the right


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