I never had formal training in photography although I’ve certainly nothing against it, for many it is a great way to start. Instead I learnt the business of telling a story with a camera from many years being a UK network television cameraman, mostly in studios on entertainment and drama for international audiences.
That, and the willingness to make many experiments with all types of photography (a lot which were dreadful failures) taught me about translating what I visualised in my mind into a tangible image for others to see as my interpretation.
I still take pictures that I have no real idea if they will work or not, but I never let the opportunity to take them go past. Life is full of so many missed opportunities but with photography it is unnecessary for just the sake of a few frames which costs nothing, so I have no hesitation taking pictures at the extremes of the technology.
I’ll take pictures by streetlight which looks grainy at a high ISO but that can be an asset and add atmosphere to the right story.
One thing that usually makes for good pictures is to keep on shooting when amateurs put their cameras away thinking it’s too dark for proper photography, or if not corrected in the camera at the time will probably be awful. Phones can shoot in most light situations but they are limited in the way images can be processed, which might be okay for internet use but usually not prints, ones that I would want to exhibit anyway.
For any photographer light then can be very interesting and shooting in mixed lighting (daylight, tungsten, fluorescent) even more so. Always shoot, even when you seemingly have little hope of success, it might work.
I have been in Japan many times and invariably take numerous frames in mixed light handheld between 1/15 to 1 second on a 50mm f1.4 as it is the fastest lens I have. If I take several frames then one will be sharp, if that’s the story, but often it isn’t.
The most magical time of day to take photos is just after the sun has gone down and while there is still enough light in the sky to shoot by, the ‘twilight hour’. Actually, an hour is just a name because it doesn’t last that long, especially in the tropics when it seems to get dark within minutes of the sun setting.
An excellent way to learn about how to be good with a camera is to study and analyse not only the work of the acknowledged experts of photography but also to look at old master paintings in art galleries or inline for both composition and lighting.
If I had to name a speciality it would be taking portraits in the classic 1930s Hollywood style using tungsten lights, never flash.
I have taught photography and TV camera and lighting techniques in several countries besides the UK; Fiji, Brazil, Philippines and Australia.
When teaching television lighting techniques to students, I tell them that Caravaggio and Rembrandt would have been great television lighting directors, they were just a few hundred years ahead of their time. That also applies to still photography; you can learn a lot from old master paintings!
So whether you have had formal training or otherwise, just keep shooting and learning, you’ll never stop. A professional always has to come back with results; excuses are not acceptable and will inevitably lead to a short career.
Back in the early 1980s I did a silkscreen printing course at Camden arts Centre, then I went again as a visitor a few times in from the mid 90s up to several years ago and the place was much the same.
But a visit the other day had me confused because it was totally different as it has been extended at the back to form two lovely new galleries with a revamped café and a bookshop.
In the main gallery with its high vaulted ceiling there was work by Japanese artist Yuko Mohri, ‘Voluta’, whose audio-spatial composition reveals the interconnectedness of man-made and natural processes, apparently.
This is not really my thing, as clever and artistic as it may be, but what really got me was some fish in a little tank where the water was very green and really should have been changed.
In galleries 1 and 2 was an exhibition by Peter Fraser, ‘Mathematics’, a photographer whose work I’ve never seen. But photography I can’t recall seeing there on previous visits so it was quite a revelation to see some on the walls.
Reflecting on the idea that time, space, and everything within it, can be described mathematically; her brings together a series of photographs of seemingly disparate and unrelated objects and encounters – including still lifes, landscapes and portraiture.
Maybe, but many of them were not particularly good photography to me and I’m always baffled by any artist/photographer who can’t be bothered to title their work. However it redeemed itself for me by showing a few really lovely works, and I guess that’s as good as it would get for any artist; I know the feeling well, some you win some you don’t.
As it was a quiet time, a lovely Italian volunteer lady by the name of Sara made it a really nice visit to this gallery as she walked around with me and we just talked about it. I told her about the traditional composition rule of thirds which first she didn’t understand but as soon as I pointed it out on a couple of the pictures and where it was absent on others she then understood completely.
The visit was enhanced by the café, and as it was a glorious day, sitting outside in the interesting sloping garden with a cup of tea, it could have been anywhere but the roar of the traffic was always there.
This is somewhere I will visit again now that photography is on show; I shall see what else they put on as photography exhibitions always interest me being one myself. I can learn from anybody, and do, I know I’ll never stop learning.
All in all, some nice spacious galleries and a very good place to view interesting exhibitions and have a tea/coffee in a pleasant garden on the corner of Finchley Road and Arkwright Road.
Brixton is for me one of those places I’ve only been to a couple of times but through many more back in my teenage years on my way to Brighton riding my James Captain 200 cc motorbike.
At the southern end of the tube’s Victoria Line, the market is just around the corner from the exit and easy to find. As soon as I entered the covered alleyways and streets it comprises of I was taken back to other worlds. The aromas could have been from many South East Asian countries I’ve known but it was much more Afro Caribbean by virtue of the local people.
The market comprises around 80 street traders selling all manner of things and with a huge variety of fish, fruit and vegetables on stalls looking so fresh and inviting, not like the tired looking versions covered in shrink-wrapped plastic in supermarkets we have got so used to.
Being a very multi-cultural area, the cafes and bijou restaurants offer a wide range of catering for many tastes.
When you tire of the colours, aromas and sights of the market, head over to Bookmongers in Coldharbour Lane next to the Ritzy Cinema which has great posters of film stars adorning the wall, including one of Charlie Chaplin who was born not far from here in East Street in 1889.
Bookmongers is a wonderful second-hand bookshop is where you can spend some time to recover your calm after the sights, sounds and aromas of the market before heading back home.
Brixton Market is a good place to witness the sights and feel the spirit of London today in all its multi-racial ethnic diversity, something that makes it the best city in the world bar none.
Around the age of ten years old, my father got me interested in stamp collecting, something he had done for many years. I loved looking at the tiny bits of paper from all over the world as I stuck them into my album, trying to imagine what the countries were really like. Later on, this curiosity would lead me to travel to many countries to find out if they lived up to my boyhood expectations.
After collecting for a while I focussed on Great Britain only as we were the first country to use postage stamps thanks to Sir Roland Hill in 1840. The iconic Penny Black was printed on unperforated sheets so had to be cut into individual stamps at Post Offices with scissors. But it lasted less than a year as the red rubber stamp marks on top to signify it had been used were hard to see. So not long after, it was followed by the Penny Red then the Tuppenny Blue as their popularity grew and they used black to mark them which was easier to see. I am fortunate that I have copies of each of these, albeit not of good enough quality to be of any great value.
The Postal Museum has a nearly complete sheet of Penny Blacks amongst its treasures I found out on my recent visit there. This small and well laid out museum is tucked away near the main Mount Pleasant sorting office in London and well worth a visit, especially if you have kids as there are many interesting things to keep them interested and amused by presenting a history of post in a very visual and interactive way.
Some old post office Royal Mail vehicles are on display such as the telegram boy’s motorbike which was in its day a quick way of getting messages around. Sadly, during wartime these boys were nicknamed the ‘Angels of Death’ as they brought telegrams informing that sons or husbands were missing or killed in action.
In 1965 Arnold Machin, an artist you might not have heard of, was commissioned to create the plaster of The Queen’s head which was been used on stamps from 1967 so everyone knows his work without realising it.
The highlight of the museum is the underground railway, Mail Rail, which is narrow gauge and was driverless when operated from 1927 until 2003. Now, with visitors squeezed into tiny carriages and the perspex door closed, it rattles along the tunnels, stopping at key points where audio visual displays are shown which are very effective and well done.
You can rest assured, they now have a driver! But I did wonder that with the traffic congestion on London’s roads today being so heavy, if it might be a good idea if the railway reverted to its original use – but this is most unlikely to happen.
When you have done the museum and the train ride, a gift shop and cafe make a nice place to relax – all in all a good place to visit.
As for my travels because of stamps;
Japan – they engaged me enough to visit the country which I fell in love with and has been a main focus of my life for over 30 years, mainly because my partner comes from Kyoto.
Tonga – the magic of this South Pacific country was another place I had to visit and it exceeded all my expectations thanks to the warmth of the people and a great friend I made there, the American writer Pat Matheson in Vava’u.
So stamps did much more for me than just bringing and sending letters, they inspired me to go around the world, something I am very pleased to have done.
The Postal Museum is at 15-20 Phoenix Pl, London WC1X 0DA
A great day of showbiz at BFI on the South Bank for the Kaleidoscope 30 Years ‘Missing Believed Wiped’ event where I met many people, some from the past, some not.
– David Hamilton; we hadn’t met for about 60 years when we were both post boys at ATV Kingsway.
– Abagail Williams; the adopted daughter of Bob Monkhouse who was such a nice man to work with on Family Fortunes, Bonkers, Golden Shot, Celebrity Squares etc.
– Gail Renard; Bafta award-winning writer and a scriptwriter of ATV’s Pipkins, a show when we would let a camera assistant to actually operate a camera for the first time.
– John Henshall; the saviour of a videotape of Top of The Pops with David Bowie singing The Jean Genie, which the BBC had wiped to save money.
– Madeleine Smith; a Bond Girl in the 1973 Live and let Die with Roger Moore, such a lovely lady who knows all about London bus routes.
– Nigel Plaskitt; puppeteer of Hartley Hare on Pipkins, he became a Muppeteer and worked on Central Television’s Spitting Image.
Thanks to Chris Perry and Kaleidoscope for a great day!
At UCL – University College London – London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with 11000 staff and 35000 students, author, novelist and journalist Lesley Downer gave a brilliant and spirited talk, “When East and West Collided”, on the 150 Year Anniversary of Meiji Restoration to an attentive audience in spite of the sauna like heat in the room. She told the story as only a writer can of Japan having to accept a complete change of life after being a closed country for 200 years.
There were also some students from Kagoshima High School who several gave short speeches about the delights of Kagoshima for visitors. Having been there myself I know they are right. But what an experience for them, they will be telling their grandchildren about speaking in such an illustrious educational place in the Central London.
Lesley gave a very spirited talk which was well received in the Gustave Tuck Theatre at UCL, as would be expected as her mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese so she grew up in a house full of books on Asia. But she ended up almost by accident in Japan, became fascinated by the country, its culture and its people.
She lived in Japan on and off for some 15 years and has written many books both non-fiction and more recently fiction about Japan, the most recent being ‘The Shogun’s Queen’ which has had wonderful reviews.
Light plays such a crucial role in all photography but with travel most photo buyers want ‘blue sky’ shots although in recent years atmosphere shots have become more acceptable. This often means waiting for either the sun to come out behind cloud or later in the day at sunset for it to slowly sink behind a great foreground. This can seem a bit pointless and a waste of time to non-photographer partners which can lead to friction so take a bit of time to educate them into exactly what you are doing and why.
For example, waiting for a sunset to evolve over a time can be stressful if your partner really, really wants to go and have supper while you know the sunset can only get better, even when the sun has gone.
When going on location I always take a small kit to use in hotel rooms at night or when it’s raining. This comprises; flash with sync lead, small softbox, small lightweight stand and a 20 inch Lastolite reflector. That might seem a lot but not for any real photographer. Used with small still life subjects this enables me to shoot studio pictures anywhere and I have used it for portraits as well. It means also that I always have something to shoot. But being real life, things don’t always work out and on a shoot in Japan I ended up parted from this kit which as we were travelling light on a side trip, I’d left in the suitcase in another city hotel we would return to.
We were given some very attractive looking lunchboxes, too good to eat before shooting, so I had to improvise, and fast, Chizuko was hungry! One thing I did have was a metre square of non-reflective black cloth which can be a background to many subjects. The old fashioned business hotel we were in had all the basics so I got the coffee table and put the bedside 60 watt desk light over the top from behind on a chair. Then I used a newspaper taped up against the tripod legs to reflect fill from in front. Setting the White Balance to 3000K (or as close as goes) to correct the tungsten light, the pictures were a fraction warm in tone, easily corrected with minimal post production.
A lot of photography is ‘thinking on your feet’ and with travel it is also ‘on the run’, always have the camera set to the conditions so you can take a picture within a couple of seconds from seeing it. Never be afraid to experiment, it will only be a few frames after all and it might just work. The lunchbox pictures have done well, and the contents tasted nice too!
More blogs will follow on this important subject, telling the story with just one frame too, so keep watching.
What a fantastic week it was in London for the celebrations around the Royal Air Force and its centenary. In Horse Guards Parade, best known for the annual Trooping the Colour, an impressive display of aircraft from the First World War up to the latest acquisition for the RAF, the F 35 Lightning.
For me, a couple of aircraft stole the show. A Meteor as this was the first jet aircraft I can remember as a kid when we lived in Haringay. I clearly remember the sound of jet engines as two Meteors flew low overhead, so very different from piston engine propeller driven planes. The one on display had broken the world speed record at 622 MPH in 1946.
Then there was a Dakota DC3 which was the type of plane used in the Berlin Air Lift that I had my first flight on a school trip from Croydon Airport to Basel in Switzerland.
My father bought me my first camera, a Brownie 127 which was really an updated box camera as it had no adjustments; I used my sunglasses as a filter to bring the clouds out.
The culmination of RAF 100 events was a flypast with the largest number of aircraft for many years with 100 taking part. The very sound of all the Merlin engines from the Battle of Britain planes, Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane, was truly awe inspiring.
The roar of three newest F35 Lightning stealth fighters on their first public appearance was a bit frightening.
Of course the magnificent Red Arrows display team brought the flypast to a very fitting finale, such skills in making the whole event happen so smoothly in a very British way.
I suspect it won’t be long before fighter aircraft will no longer be manned, drones similar in size and greater firepower will take over the role from anywhere with the pilots looking at a computers.
But until then I hope these aircraft are shown and flown at displays for many more years to come.
Images by Jeremy Hoare and Chizuko Kimura
I was delighted to be invited to supermodel Daphne Selfe’s 90th birthday party at an open-air rooftop venue in Shaftesbury Avenue, the Century Club, just right for the hot, sunny weather.
Daphne is the world’s oldest working fashion model, she started her career in 1949 when she was 21 and has graced the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and many other influential fashion and lifestyle magazines since then. She has energy, grace and glamour which belie her years and credits it all to a regime of gardening, yoga and walking to keep young. A grandmother of four, Daphne is now far from alone in championing a life bursting with opportunity and glamour in later years.
I worked with her late husband, ATV Floor Manager Jim Smith, when I joined the company which was run by Great Britain’s greatest ever showman, the charismatic cigar smoking Lew Grade.
Starting as a Post Boy in the ATV Kingsway Mailing Room, I also worked some days in the studios on live shows as a Call Boy (Stage Assistant today) where Jim taught me a lot about studio discipline.
During a break, myself and another Post Boy, Pat Richards, were able to pose on a camera but it wasn’t until four years later that I made it into the camera department as a Camera Assistant which set me on a path that still continues.
At Daphne’s party I even got a cuddle with another guest, the lovely actress Vicki Michelle, best known for her role as Yvette Carte-Blanche in the great (and now not very PC) sitcom, ‘Allo ‘Allo!, which can be found on several Freeview channels.
Daphne is an inspiration to many and a real delight to be with, she featured in the July 1st Sunday Telegraph magazine, Stella: ‘I don’t do retiring’. Seeing her so full of energy I can well believe she never will retire!
Images by Chizuko Kimura
Within the space of seven days I attended four different Japan events in London, something I’ve never done before and will probably never happen again.
I was invited to the London press launch of The Ryokan Collection, five star accommodations in Japan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns in which you step into their culture and go back a few centuries so everything slows down. This took place in the swish Japanese restaurant, Sake no Hana in St James, and the food was delicious.
I had photographed one ryokan in the collection in Kyoto in 1996, Hiiragiya, and surprised the beautifully kimono dressed sixth generation owner, Akemi Nishimura, by showing her the business card she gave me then. The picture has been used many times over the years in travel related publications.
Hiroko Tanaka and her traditional Nihon Buyoh dance group performed with grace and elegance in a small theatre buried in Swiss Cottage. Nihon Buyoh is most strongly influenced by Kabuki, Noh and folk dance. Hiroko began learning it at the age of 6 in Kyoto and has been dancing for nearly 60 years.
She has been a regular performer at both HyperJapan and the Japan Matsuri in Trafalgar Square where she dances for thousands of people.
The Annual Peace and Friendship Reunion at the Embassy of Japan in Piccadilly is always a rather moving experience, I have been to several. The old soldiers, both British and Japanese, are slowly disappearing. I spoke to one of the waiters who is always there. he has outlasted several ambassadors with their three year posting here. He told me that the event had changed because coming today were the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of those who were interned in prisoner of war camps by the Japanese during World War II.
One amazingly interesting man I met this time was Dr Bill Frankland who is 106. A trained medic in 1940, he had been captured in Singapore by the Japanese and was held as a POW at the notorious Changi Jail and then Hell Island for over three years. After World War II he was an assistant at St Mary’s in Paddington to Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, and Bill himself discovered how to alleviate pollen allergies and invented the pollen count. He has been awarded an MBE for which he is grateful but he has not been knighted for his work which benefits so many.
Some twenty or so years ago there was a move to create a Japan house in London which never happened; it was stymied by indecision and lack of a place. So Daiwa Anglo-Japanese House filled the vacuum which it has done very successfully with an impressive array of exhibitions showcasing many artists since 1995.
Now in 2018 the old Derry & Toms building in Kensington High Street has been refurbished and over three floors comprises the new Japan House London, financially set up with a mix of Japanese government, corporate and private sponsorship.
The exhibition space in the basement is large and the opening exhibition is by Sou Fujimoto entitled ‘Futures of the Future’. He is one of Japan’s leading contemporary architects and is only 46, the exhibition features many models of his already built and future work. Also in the basement is a library which had a rather limited space for books.
The ground floor is mostly a shop with nice traditional Japanese things for sale, ranging from homewares and accessories through to fashion and stationery. There is also a Japan National Tourism Office here to get info about travel to and within Japan.
The first floor is given over to an upmarket restaurant, Akira, which has 28 staff and will be a new offering to London’s food scene.
But for me the highlight was along a wood lined corridor to a private room for dining parties, this is where the real Japan kicked in. It was walking in and smelling the tatami mat floors that told me that.
Four days of Japan events in London, together they gave a great impression of the country today; a Japan looking forward while embracing its past.