Posted on January 17, 2018
‘Sixteen’ as a project is borne out of a series of pictures I made with young people during the Scottish Independence Referendum.
As a Scotsman living in England, I had no vote and so as a way of engaging with the debate I made a series of photographs of young people who would celebrate their sixteenth birthday on the day of the vote, 18th September 2014. They were the youngest people ever to vote in a UK election and I was encouraged by how engaged they were in the discussions and how seriously they took their responsibilities.
The project got me thinking about the decisions that sixteen year olds make and the opportunities available to them. It is usually the time when you are approaching final secondary school exams and deciding whether to continue in education to study for A-levels or higher qualifications or to leave school and start to make your own way in an uncertain world. At a time when my own daughter was sixteen, it felt like the first time that most people are presented with really important life decisions and I was interested in how different people from different walks of life approached those decisions. How culture, social background, location, gender, ethnicity, family etc all influence what young people think they can achieve in life and the paths they feel that they can take.
I started making more portraits of sixteen year olds in and around the north west of England and in this case asking them to write about themselves, their dreams, ambitions and fears both for their own futures and the future of the world more widely. At an age of personal transition and a time of great uncertainty in the economy, national and international affairs, environmental concerns etc., I was interested to explore the outlook of the next generation – the first social media generation – faced with a Brexit that none of them were old enough to vote for or against. In many cases theirs feels like a much more challenging future than the previous generations as technology and industry change the economy.
Shooting those first few pictures, I realised that I was interested in exploring the experiences and aspirations of sixteen year olds much more widely and so I invited a few friends and colleagues to discuss the idea of making it a group project. I am delighted to say that they all bought into the concept and over a pint of two in a north London pub everyone chipped in with great enthusiasm bringing in their own ideas and their own particular interests and proposals for different ways of working. I felt that as a group, we could really delve into the subject in some depth, exploring the experiences of young people far and wide – it was exciting, but it was going to need a lot of research, preparation, discussion etc to get it off the ground.
That’s were it all started and so before I talk a little bit about the areas I personally will working in, I just want to say a big thank you to all the photographers who have agreed to take part. It’s both a privilege and an honour to be working alongside great friends and colleagues whose work I admire.
In no particular order: Jillian Edelstein, Kalpesh Lathigra, Lottie Davies, Simon Roberts, Sophie Gerrard, Stuart Freedman, Kate Peters, Roy Mehta, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Antonio Olmos, Linda Brownlee, Christopher Nunn, Michelle Sank, Ronan McKenzie, Kate Kirkwood and Simon Wheatley.
So now I am excited that it is all coming together and really looking forward to seeing the work as it starts to take shape in 2018.
Since those initial informal meetings, it’s been a long road to get to this stage, and with the invaluable support of producer Liz Wewiora and creative director Anne Braybon, we are now seeing some real progress as each photographer starts to explore their own themes within the wider project.
Each of us is approaching the project in our own way finding different creative avenues to explore, but always in a collaborative fashion with the sixteen year olds we are choosing to work with. For my part I am concentrating on two themes, both close to my heart. I will be working in island communities around the UK, continuing in the same vein with which I started this project working on a large format film camera and asking each sitter to present their testimony in a hand written text alongside the photograph. I’m looking forward to working with schools and youth groups in some very interesting communities in the Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, the Channel Islands and elsewhere.
The second strand of the project for me is looking at the post-industrial communities in the North of England and beyond. I’m interested to explore towns and cities that once relied on one main industry: mining, shipbuilding, textile weaving, steel and chemical manufacture etc, and learn how the experience of young people in those communities today may differ, for better or worse, from the experience of previous generations.
The project has received an initial research and development grant from Arts Council England, and we have been working with schools, youth groups, parents and others to get feedback on the project ideas and how we might involve the young people in the process. Each photographer has her or his own interests and each of us is working closely with Anne to find new ways to present the views of sixteen year olds in words and pictures. We are variously working in stills and video with spoken word audio, handwritten texts and social media messaging.
I look forward to sharing some of my own work and that of my colleagues in the coming months and building an online community exploring what it means to be sixteen in Britain today.
A project website/blog will be launched in the coming months where you can keep up to date with work-in-progress, written contributions by all the photographers and behind-the-scenes pictures etc. but rather than show any of that now, whilst we are just starting out… here’s a pic of tow of those first images on show at The National Portrait Gallery in London until 4th Feb.
Posted on June 28, 2017
The 7th of July this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Woolton Church Summer Fete in Liverpool where a young John Lennon was introduced to an even younger Paul McCartney for the first time. That meeting has gone down in musical folklore leading to one of the most extraordinary writing partnerships that changed the face of modern music.
Now, sixty years on, I’m interested in the relationship of the Beatles to this small part of south Liverpool – just a few streets. I am taken by the idea that tourists travel from all over the world to visit such ordinary suburban streets leading to the somewhat incongruous sight of international day trippers rubbing shoulders with locals in very un-touristy locations.
Often they have travelled from far and wide for a once in a lifetime visit to the UK: they take in Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, Edinburgh Castle and a few run down streets of council housing in Liverpool!
Having grown up in Liverpool, I’m intrigued by the power the band still has to attract people from far and wide and how the locals just go about their business semi-oblivious to the daily invasion.
In Arnold Grove in particular, where George Harrison grew up, the house is still occupied by an elderly lady – every day hoards of tourists walk past children playing in the street, as George would have done, to have their picture taken outside her house and sometimes peer in through her windows. In Madryn Street, Ringo Starr’s home, all the houses are now boarded up and visitors come to write on the metal shutters and sometimes to dance!
The Magical Mystery Tour bus passes Madryn St. the childhood home of Ringo Starr
Magical Mystery Tour bus tourists (on the pavement) and National Trust visitors (in the garden) of 20, Forthlin Road, the childhood home of Paul McCartney.
Canadian Tourists at Forthlin Road.
Spanish tourists at ‘Mendips’, the childhood home of John Lennon.
A ‘selfie’ for the Magical Mystery Tour at the gates of Strawberry Fields.
“Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout”, the Magical Mystery Tour passes the ‘barber’ and the ‘bank’ at the top of Penny Lane.
“In Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs”
A group of German tourists dancing outside the former home of Ringo Starr. Madryn Street in Dingle is one of ‘The Welsh Streets’, traditional Liverpool terraces, now all boarded up and awaiting a council decision on whether to demolish or refurbish.
A busload of tourists descend on the tiny cul-de-sac Arnold Grove where George Harrison lived as a young boy. The house and those surrounding it are still lived in and each day residents tolerate a stream of visitors from all around the world.
Posted on March 16, 2016
It was with great sadness that I heard the announcement recently that The Independent was to cease it’s print edition from March 26th this year after setting the agenda and setting the bar in British journalism for 30 years.
I began my career at ‘The Indy’ back in 1990 and it was there alongside the best newspaper photographers of the day that I learned my trade. Great photographers like Brian Harris (book coming soon, about which I will blog I’m sure), John Voos, Glynn Griffiths, Tom Pilston, David Rose all on the staff back then (remember when newspapers had staff photographers?) and sports guys David Ashdown and Peter Jay. Alongside them was a great bunch of regular freelancers: Nick Turpin, Ed Sykes, Peter Macdiarmid, Laurie Lewis, Geraint Lewis, Herbie Knott, Steve Morgan, Robert Hallam, and then later Ed Webb, Kalpesh Lathigra, Kayte Brimacombe, Andrew Buurman etc. More followed after I left too.
I will be forever grateful for what I learned from each and all of them and proud to call many of them friends to this day.
Picture editors and darkroom staff too: Chris McCane, Keith Dobney, David Swanborough, Mike Spillard, Victoria Lukens, Susan Glenn, Karen Wylie, Colin Jacobson, John Luff, Sophie Batterbury, Simon Van Covoerden, Tony Buckingham etc.
Apologies to anyone I’ve missed off.
Here’s a few pictures from back in the day…..
The death of Francis Bacon, Colony Room, Soho, London
Ben Okri, author
Michael Heseltine, Conservative Party Conference, Blackpool
David Hockney, on the set of ‘The Rakes Progress’, Saddlers Wells, London
Miners Welfare Rally, London
Liberia, West Africa
War in the former Yugoslavia (Mrs Thatcher)
Nelson Mandela, London
Sealed Knot, Civil War reenactment, Newbury
La Defense, Paris
Ted Heath, Westminster, London
Armistice Day, Ypres, Belgium
Posted on January 22, 2016
Back from a fascinating trip to Myanmar in December. Amazing country, lovely people and a privilege to have the opportunity to work there. A longer blog post will follow with the commissioned pictures once they have been used by the client, but here’s a little taster…
Posted on December 13, 2013
These last few weeks have seen the deaths of two extraordinary people that I consider myself to have been very fortunate to have met back in my newspaper days. Doris Lessing 1919-2013 and Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. Both made the world a better place and both were incredibly generous with their time to a young photographer barely out of short trousers. Mandela, I met twice – once when I was still at college when my friend James Miller and I talked our way into a press conference during his first visit to London after release from prison in South Africa. He took time out to talk to these two young students and was genuinely interested in what we were doing, telling us (even at that stage) that it was important work. James went on to become a superb TV news cameraman and documentary film-maker and was tragically killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003. He did some incredibly important work and I know that, like me, he cherished that first meeting with Mandela.
Doris Lessing was photographed at home in London in 1992 for The Independent newspaper. Usually these newspaper portraits were done in a few minutes flat – a quick hello, assessment of the environment then a photograph and on to the next assignment. With Doris Lessing, I recall it was different. Like Mandela she was genuinely interested and we spent a couple of hours at least at her home talking about everything under the sun over numerous cups of tea.
Two iconic figures of our times. Rest in Peace.