Category Archives: People

People

Faces of the Airwave Voices

I am a lodger in a radio station.

Yes, I occasionally attempt to translate my projects for telly and/or online into something worth listening to, but most of the time I sit in the middle of a frenetic, creative office watching those around me endeavour to conjure audio gold.

I’ve come to a conclusion: Radio presenters are a funny bunch. I’ve yet to meet a presenter who is an out and out egomaniac. And those you may on first sight suspect are a little full of themselves tend to hide a secret vulnerability and tenderness about them.

What I did not expect, when I was commissioned to do environmental portraits of the entire presenting cast at BBC Essex, was just how many presenters – these people who boldly go one-on-one with the world over the wireless – were intensely camera shy. It has been a joy to team their interests, senses of self and programme, with locations or moods of shoot.

Dave

Dave

Rob Jelly

Rob Jelly

Sadie Nine

Sadie Nine

You might think camera shy = bad news for a photographer. Not at all. I love people who wear their souls on their faces (even if the subjects do not).

Actually, its that last point (the bit in brackets), that I find most interesting. Why do so many of us want to look like George Clooney, have whiter teeth or a slimmer figure? Why is a photograph that shows flaws and imperfections so worrying?

Cath Melandri

Cath Melandri

Tony Fisher

Tony Fisher

Mark

Mark

Personally, and especially in these days of apps that bring re-touching into the hands of all smartphone users, I believe portraits of people as they are have never been more important. And if you can be at the top of your game (and in the public, erm, ear?) and proud of your imperfections then even better.

Peter

Peter

Ollie Winniberg

Ollie Winniberg

People

Treasure finds in England

“Walking with a purpose.”

What a great phrase! It came from a metal detectorist called Stuart Eldon while I was producing an Inside Out film about treasures in the east of England with presenter Ben Robinson.

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

The piece was great fun to make. Photo-wise, my favourite was the one of Andy Long, the national intelligence lead on Operation Chronos (pictures top).

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

People

The asylum seekers, migrants and refugees in search of legitimacy

This is the scene. A BBC crew arrives at a Red Cross refugee drop-in centre with a large camera and a long furry microphone. Is anybody willing to go on camera to speak about their experience of being a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant? The room quickly empties. Not one is willing to bare their face to the camera.

This makes for an interesting proposition for a photographer.

So I put my cameras down in a corner and joined a table to talk, listen and learn.

For an hour or so, as it turned out.

Speaking out, I learned, rarely works out well for them. They fear repercussions either from officialdom or from those who may wish them harm. Not just fear actually, because sometimes talking out has turned out bad for people they know.

It makes me think about those examples of ‘good’ journalism where people have been coaxed into spilling all to the camera or mic, being named and so on. But when the journalist moves on to the next job, the contributor can be left to face the music.

“What about if we are not shown?” a man, sat next to me, asks.

“In pictures?” I ask.

“Yes, for sure.”

“That could work. Portraits without the faces.”

The idea creates a bit of a buzz around the table and everybody is willing to take part.

It’s more than a compromise, says a young woman opposite, who dreams of university. It is a statement of being. They exist, they say, in an incomplete and faceless way on Home Office documents. Then I did portraits of the Red Cross workers who help provide clothing, food tokens, advice or, in one case while I was there, a caring shoulder to cry on.

Here are the results of that day.

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Migrants

Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker

Red Cross worker

migrant

People

Great Faces: A personal reminder of the honour of looking people in the eye

Today I am taking stock, laying an anchor in time.

For the past couple of months I’ve been leading a hybrid work existence – writing for the BBC news website and trying to learn how to bring large-scale journalism projects to the wicket for television, radio and online. The latter – in the role of producer – has now become my primary role for the next nine months or so.

Danielle Moss

Danielle Moss

I’ve been very aware that photography, an aspect of my work I treasure so deeply – has been sidelined. I’ve been filming contributors using camcorders and then having to remind myself to get a still image afterwards. That really grates.Legosubmission (15 of 21)

Looking back over the portraits I’ve made over the past few weeks with people, I’m reminded just what a privilege it is to look people in the eye and capture their image.

So today I’m making a self-pledge to put photography back in the heart of my waking days, if not in work then in play.

Dr Paul Jerram, of E2V, with an example of the technology on board the New Horizons Probe

Dr Paul Jerram, of E2V, with an example of the technology on board the New Horizons Probe

Caroline Woodley

Caroline Woodley

People, Projects

Amputees: how people adjust to life after limb loss

Being the odd one out is strangely invigorating, a good-for-the-soul experience.

I experienced it being the only white man on a Tanzania-bound cargo ferry, I experienced it working at the no longer extant Disability Rights Commission and I experienced it a couple of weeks back with an inspiring and no-nonsense group of lower limb amputees.

By being the oddity – in the most recent example, by having two lower limbs – your sense of group identity is challenged. So these were a bunch of amputees. So they’re a group, right? But then they’ve all got their individual stories – and you hear how a below-the-knee amputation is a very different experience to an above-the-knee one.

Surprise, surprise – the people grouped by society into an amorphous block turn out to be individuals too. A life lesson that’s always worth a reminder – and being the odd one out gives that same lesson a mallet to hit you with.

The most striking story was that of Sandra, because she did what most of us might find unimaginable – she asked to have her lower leg removed.

Sandra Staffiero

Sandra Staffiero

Aged 20, Sandra was involved in a moped crash which caused a double compound fracture that prevented her from walking properly and left her in excruciating chronic pain.

Operations were carried out but the pain remained.

In 2011 she went to her doctor.

“I said ‘I cannot carry on like this’,” she  told me. “I had no quality of life. I just asked if he could do a major operation. I did not even mention the word amputation.

“When I made the decision I just felt as though a massive cloud had been lifted.”

Graham Facey

Graham Facey

And then there was Graham, who went into hospital with a sharp feeling in his foot and he woke up to find his lower leg gone. And there was a blue marker line higher up his leg. If the swelling reached the line, he would have had to have more of his leg (above the knee) removed. Terrifying. Only not, it seems, to Graham who had already experienced going blind over a single weekend.

And the incredible Frances who you cannot possibly believe is in her 60s. She had a full limb removal aged 13 months and so, in her words, has never known anything different.

Frances Collins

Frances Collins

She reminds you that she was a teen in the 1960s.She’s searching your eyes to see if you’re getting her point. I’m not.

“Mini skirts,” she points out. “Wooden leg.”

Ah.

“Horrific,” she says.

The enormity of this hits you and you’re struggling to find the words. Then she smiles and says:

“But I have brought up three children and had a successful career as a teacher.”

Throughout her career, she was employed as able-bodied.

“I only got a blue badge five years ago – and that was for my other knee which is getting creaky, not my prosthetic limb.”

She said having a baby was like “having a baby” adding: “It changes everything. But everything does not stop, it just changes.

“You can do the things you want, but you just go about doing those things differently.”

Wow.

People

From weird polling stations to VE Day anniversaries

The past few weeks have been hectic and eclectic.

I’ve had the privilege of recounting the extraordinary story of a Hurricane pilot who first use a parachute when he was on fire during the Battle of Britain, pondering the ways in which the Second World War changed the countryside and taking a glance at the most peculiar polling stations in England.

The latter was ‘reversioned’ into both Thai and Chinese for the BBC’s audiences there.

On a more ‘hard news’ front, I’ve been looking at ‘never events’ in hospitals and – linked to the polling stations – the issue of schools no longer wanting to be polling stations.

Now, I’ve noticed how during particularly busy periods of work (which the elections are for all people in news or features), I tend to seek out tranquillity through my photography. Enter the white clematis.

People

For the love of ‘Soup’

Above all else, I love spending time with people. Family. Friends. And work subjects.

Yes, you can probably get what you ‘need’ from a quick interview and a couple of snaps (by need, we the media usually mean enough material to make it appear informed and complete). But deep down we know there’s more to be had, more listening to be done.

Proper immersion is a beautiful thing to be cherished.

before the pitches are delivered at Colchestersoup

before the pitches are delivered at Colchestersoup

Decisions, decisions: which of the three causes will win?

Decisions, decisions: which of the three causes will win?

Dishing out the soup

Dishing out the soup

It can happen in an evening, such as my night with Colchestersoup.

‘Soup’ is a socially-focused crowdfunding project, in which members of the community pay a small entry fee in return for a bowl of soup – and the right to vote on one of a few local causes pitching to win the prize fund, which is the sum of the entry money. It is based on an idea that comes from Detroit.

At this Colchester event, the voters decided to buy a new kiln for a daycare centre for disabled people using the £191.52 prize fund (the combined £5 entry fees plus someone’s £1.52 donation) from the second ever Colchestersoup.

My three hours at Colchestersoup allowed me to meet the people, see the entire process unfold from beginning to end and – here’s the important bit – become part of the scenery.

Photographically, it is extremely difficult to get down by people’s knees to take pictures or plop a camera at their table while talking unless a sense of ease at your presence has been established already.

Blending into the subject is pretty much the street photographer’s mantra. And it allows great movement around your scene without artificially distorting your subject or (if everybody is looking at the chap with the camera) making oneself part of the subject.

Here’s the radio package about Colchester soup done for local and national BBC radio.

Sandy French, winner on the night

Sandy French, winner on the night

The audience

The audience

Sandy French during her pitch

Sandy French during her pitch

Lining up the bowls at Colchester Soup

Lining up the bowls at Colchestersoup

People

The Jedi and the Bishop of Chelmsford

It started as an idea for a television programme about ‘new religions’ – what are they and why do they come into being?

Why people believe what they do is something that has long fascinated by me. My grandfather – also called Laurence Cawley (though with a Dr at the front of it) – was a devout Catholic. He initially trained to be a priest and won a scholarship to the University of Rome. Then the Second World War started, and he decided instead to become a doctor. Given the celibacy requirement of catholic priests, I owe my very existence to that swap of career paths.

Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford

Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

I was always fascinated by how such a clever, rational man could believe in something seemingly – to me – as irrational as God. And over the years I’ve met many others – far brighter than I – who also believe in God. Now, I don’t have a faith as such, but I’m far from convinced (as I once was) that I am right in not believing in God.

This sense has only been exacerbated by producing the Jedi and the Bishop – which airs tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1 – because, although they express it in very different ways, both the Bishop of Chelmsford and Jedi Michael Kitchen share the conviction that there is something more. For the Bishop, of course, this means God, who acted through Jesus Christ. For the Jedi, it is a force that brings everyone and everything together.

One of the great luxuries of my job is in meeting people who shake up my preconceptions of the world. In this programme, it was the Bishop who did this. He said: “I think increasingly I came to understand that most of the problems of the world begin in the human heart. How does the heart change? Only then (when we can answer that) can we change the world.”

These words continue to resonate deeply.

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

People, Places

Looking down in Lisbon

By which I mean ‘down’ in the physical rather than spiritual sense.

Never before have I spent time in a city where the tiltation of one’s head is so evenly spread between pointing upwards, downwards and on the level (each position claiming about a third of your time).

I was very much aware of this peculiarity – a symptom of Lisbon’s innate hilliness – at the time. But the exactitude of my theory was only compounded on return to the UK, as I browsed through the images I’d captured. About a third of them were shot upwards, a third downwards and a third roughly level.

Strange.

Here are some of the ‘down’ pictures.

Lisbon street scene

sea's edge Lisbon