Category Archives: The Interview

The Interview – Guglielmo Galvin, getting behind the mask (Part 3)

James Harries (now Lauren Harries)

James Harries (now Lauren Harries)

S&L. The story so far has to be that you depended very much on your strength of personality to charm and inveigle your way into the hearts of your sitters so that they couldn’t refuse to reveal something of their inner selfs to your camera. Then by doing  your own performance behind the camera just for them alone they felt more comfortable, probably thinking that they could never seem as crazy as you?

GG. And this is where the Hasselblad came into it’s own once again. By using the basic form without a prism I had to lift my gaze from the camera to look directly at the subject each time before I pressed the shutter.

S&L. So you found this beneficial for your process?

GG. Naturally! It meant I had a direct connection, eye to eye with them. I could do my own performance from behind the camera & shoot at just the right moment. No other camera gave me that facility.

S&L. You do realise that if you were working today someone would be making a little ‘behind the scenes’ movie of you at work then posting it across the social media? That way we could all see you in action.

GG. Yes, yes, I know. But would anybody really give a f**k? (laughs)

S&L. Well this way we all just have to imagine the scene.

Mickey Mouse

GG. A picture I’ve always liked was this one that I  did from Eurodisney. It’s interesting because I was lying on the floor to get a low viewpoint on this giant Mickey Mouse with a little girl who obviously looks frightened. And the PR woman said, ‘Gil you aren’t trying to make our Mickey Mouse look ridiculous are you?’ And I said, ‘Me? Make a 6 foot mouse look ridiculous’.

Brian Eno

Brian Eno

S&L. Tell me something about Brian Eno.

GG. Eno was for The Sunday Times and I went to his studio in south London and the only thing I noticed was that he had what I would call an art construction where he had a television that was on it’s side but the picture was the right way round. So that became an easy shot for me. And he’s still using that shot to this day as a self promo picture.

Basically he was looking directly at the camera & it was boring.But when he looked away it became a stronger shot so that’s what I got him to do. So again it was a very quick shot, all done within 20-30 minutes.

S&L. Yes, that’s the usual amount of time you get given.

GG. I always found that I worked at my optimum under that kind of pressure because I could get an image that was strong, not just ‘stand there’ and which is not a ‘character shot’ which is something I used to hate. There were a lot of those sort of images around and they were popular because there was an absence of fuss and often no lighting. And I know that those photographers despised my work too because they felt that I lacked gravitas.

S&L. So perhaps this is a good moment for the story behind the shoot with the aristocrats daughter?

GG. She was the daughter of a duke. I went upstairs and took a picture of her on the four poster bed. And she was unbelievably gauche, when I said, “move to the right”, she would move to the left, I’d say “face me”, and she’d look away. She just wasn’t able to follow instructions at all. Then I realised that she couldn’t understand my accent and I got intimidated by this. So eventually I went over to the bed where she was sitting, I grabbed her by the thighs and moved her, physically. As I did this I realised what I was doing and I dripped sweat onto her pale yellow skirt. The material showed my sweat stains very clearly on her lap so I then started to rub it with my hands in the hope that it would go away.

GG. and S&L. (Uncontrollable laughter)

GG. And then I freaked, you know? And I thought, ‘My God, my God, how do I fix this?’ So I asked her to go and change the skirt so that I could finish the shoot. When it was all over she told me that “Daddy wants you to come down for a sandwich with him before you leave”. By which time I’m a nervous wreck. I have no assistant so I grab all my gear and go downstairs. I opened the door to the banqueting hall to be greeted by a scene straight out of the 18th century with all of these local English aristocrats dressed to go out shooting and all carrying guns. I immediately felt incredibly uncomfortable because only moments before I’d been upstairs wiping sweat from the daughters skirt and now here I am confronted by this improbable scene. I took one bite of my sandwich, said made a hasty goodbye to everyone’s amazement, jumped into my car and in my haste to leave I drove straight across the flowerbed in front of the house whilst waving goodbye out of the window with my free hand.

S&L. What a story!

GG. And I no longer have the picture that goes with that story. It was an unusual experience because on that day I completely freaked and under those circumstances I felt the weight of who I was because I was right in the heart of the British aristocracy.

S&L.  Well why not follow that tale with the story behind the man with a camera in the tank of water?

GG. Now that’s in America, LA.

Underwater Camera, Los Angeles

Underwater Camera, Los Angeles

GG. I was driving along and saw a sign saying ‘Underwater Cameras’. I was bored and thought it looked promising so I went in with no intention to take a picture. I told the owner I was working on the 24LA book project and that I wanted to see his underwater cameras. He took me to the back of the building then suddenly removed his trousers in front of me. I went, ‘Jesus Christ, I’ve stepped into a Los Angeles problem.’ Anyway he then climbed up behind the tank and jumped in whilst trying to explain with signs how to use the camera. I was just fascinated with his gesticulations so I asked him if he’d do it all again so that I could set up my camera & lights.

GG. Jeremy Irons on the other hand was having a row with a neighbour when I did this shot. And he was also in character for a play that he was doing so was talking to me like an 18th century gentleman.

Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons

S&L. Now let’s move on to George Melly, that shot stands out for me.

GG. Ah…but George Melly is easy though.

S&L. Maybe, but it’s full of life & passion.

George Melly

George Melly

GG. I would get on well with performers because it wouldn’t take much to whip them up. All I had to do with him was to get him to march up & down the room, back and forth, back and forth. We put some music on and he just enjoyed it. I like it because it’s a powerful image of him, it says what it is of him. And he related to me because we fucking finished off a half a bottle of whiskey before shooting!

S&L. (Laughs)

GG. And Ray Davies of the Kinks, he and I found a lot in common because we both lived in Muswell Hill. I like it because it’s a strong portrait that I did in his studio.

Ray Davies

Ray Davies

S&L. Muswell Hillbillies then.

GG. Everyone I photographed said they enjoyed it and that I was the quickest photographer in the world.

Postscript

It’s worth bearing in mind that after he retired Gil threw his entire archive in the trash! All that remains is but a small fragment of his overall output.

The techie stuff:

Hasselblad 500C/M with 40mm, 50mm, 80mm & 150mm Zeiss lenses. Multiblitz portable lights and Norman battery operated flash. Kodak Ektachrome 64 and later Fuji 100D then Fuji Provia 100D whilst proofing with Polaroid Type 668 or 699.

All images © Guglielmo Galvin

The web links:

http://guglielmogalvin.com

Martin Plimmer’s obituary of Gil in The Guardian

Gil’s work in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery

And the closing shot…

Paul and Kim Denman

Paul and Kim Denman

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The Interview – Guglielmo Galvin, getting behind the mask (Part 2)

This picks up where the first instalment left off.

S&L. OK Gil, what I’d like you to do now is explore the stories behind some of the portraits we have here. Let’s start with these two women in the shopping mall.

Gloria Hunniford

Gloria Hunniford, TN presenter

GG. (to himself) How did I get her like that?

S&L. Well don’t ask me because I wasn’t there.

GG. Gloria Hunniford is the one in grey and she and her friend are at a shopping centre. The poor friend looks ridiculous. But I think I love that picture and I’m glad that we’re using it. I can’t remember what it was for, I can’t even remember who it was for and I certainly can’t remember where it was. Yet what I like about it is that Gloria is responding to my performance with her own and the the friend just doesn’t know how to take it all.

S&L. Now earlier you explained that you used to just glance at the Polaroid, not dismissing them but at the same time not letting them interfere with your creative process. However you certainly looked at the Polaroid sufficiently to know that your exposures were accurate.

GG. That’s all  I did. I then reserved my actual production – which was really a performance – for achieving the end result for the connection between me and the sitter. That would be me kind of whipping things up into a frenzy. (smiles mischievously)

S&L. I’d like you to tell me more about that connection that you had to make with the subject in order to come away with the type of shots that made your pictures so memorable. Because in truth you and I both know that that doesn’t just ‘happen’.

GG. I whipped the person up, the faster I went the more I got from them.

If I had a person who had big doubts about posing by the time I got to frame 10 on a roll of 12 I had them in such a state, ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You can do it!’ It was embarrassing for me and I used to walk away dripping in sweat.

S&L. I remember.

GG. And with Gloria Hunniford I wasn’t feeling very good about myself in that moment, not very erudite. But someone like Gloria wanted to do that, she wanted an exciting picture so that made my job easier.

S&L. So there’s passion in there as well purpose and technique?

Keith and Richard Allen

Keith and Richard Allen

GG. Yes, yes. With me I just loved the whole picture taking process. I used a tripod, Multiblitz lights, a Norman battery flash. I would only buy lights on the basis that they recycled quickly. At that time I was shooting just on Kodak Ektachrome 64 ISO film.

Quite often the actual shot that was used was not anything that had been anticipated by me or the client. An example of this is this guy, Mark King from Level 42. That was taken in between shoots. He wanted to look cool and I was taking a picture with the intention to show how posh his surroundings were. He was supposed to be a rock ‘n’ roller so what was he doing in such a posh room? So I wheeled the drinks trolley in to show off his opulent surroundings.

Mark King, Level 42

Mark King, bass player with Level 42

GG. It’s the same with the picture of the guy from The Who… you know the one I mean, it’s the picture I have of him with the fish?

S&L. Roger Daltrey?

GG. I put that hat on him because I thought he looked someone out of The Archers.

Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey, rock vocalist

Later on he did an ad for Barclaycard and for part of it they had him wearing that hat. I don’t know whether it was significant or if they had seen my shot in The Sunday Times. Anyway I found it extraordinary that a man I’d imagined to be a hard bitten rock ‘n’ roller wanted to wear that hat. I’d considered people in that game were all head-bangers but they weren’t, they weren’t. Really they were just nice little boys. Just goes to show how stereotypes can catch you out!

S&L. Let’s look at the photo of PD James holding the dagger.

P D James, crime writer

P D James, crime writer

GG. She hated it!

The dagger was an award she’d received so I lit it to get the shine in the metal but she thought it was too posed. My view was, come on, you write thrillers that are no more affected than what I’m doing as a photographer. But she didn’t know how to refuse me.

I would always play on the positive aspects of what I was which was a mystery to many of the people I came into contact with. They didn’t expect someone like me and whereas they could accept David Bailey with his Cockney accent. Nobody had told them there was a rascal out there with an Irish accent who would take a powerful images of them.

GG. Now if we look at the portrait I did of Lord Rothschild, an image that I love, I’ll explain a little more about my process. I did this for The Field and I’ve always been particularly proud of the shoots that I did for them.

Lord Jacob Rothschild

Lord Jacob Rothschild

This was at a time when I’d decided to take a less complex approach to my shots. It was to illustrate an article about him as an art collector so I used the papier mâché dogs because there was nothing else available.

S&L. Well you should be proud of that shot, Gil, it’s fantastic and works so well.

GG. Working for that client always involved a tight brief whereas with The Obs and The ST the page would often be laid out depending on the picture I delivered. With The Field I was always having to look for shots that happened in just three quarters of the frame.

S&L. Was this because they were running them as a DPS (double page spread)?

GG. No, they ran as a page and a column so I always had to leave space for the gutter. For this reason I kept a mark on the Hasselblad focusing screen to show me where the gutter was going to sit. I picked that up from watching the way that Pearce (Marchbank) used to tape overlays on the camera screen when shooting Time Out covers. You must remember him doing that?

S&L. Yes, I do. I never saw anyone else do it but him yet it was so simple and obvious.

GG. I don’t want you to think that it was always plain sailing. Every now and then I made a mess of my shoot and the Bishop of Bath & Wells is one of those. He and I  just didn’t get along and I got quite angry. What’s more we drove all the way out there to photograph him and he didn’t even offer us a cup of tea. Can you believe that?

S&L. I sure can, some people can be like that.

GG. Incidentally I never judged people on their social status at all but rather on whether they offered me a cup of tea. I know is may sound bourgeois to say this but hospitality was so important and I would be a little nicer to those who offered that.

Hugh Cutsem, landowner

Hugh Cutsem, landowner

On that thought we’ll end part 2 of this interview and come back with the final piece shortly.

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The Interview – Guglielmo Galvin, getting behind the mask (Part 1)

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Peter Fluck & Roger Law, creators of Spitting Image

Guglielmo ‘Gil’ Galvin had an illustrious career extending over some 30 years as an editorial portrait photographer based in London. One of very few photographers to work for both The Observer and The Sunday Times Magazines at the same time, some of his many other clients included; The Independent, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, ES, Hello, The Field and more besides.

We did this interview together in August 2012 but pressure of work has delayed it’s publication until now. Sadly in the intervening period Gil unexpectedly yet peacefully died in February 2013. He was an absolute master of what is now referred to as the environmental portrait and observing his wild, anarchic work process is something I can only equate with imagining The Ramones on amphetamine sulphate. He and I conducted this interview over a number of late night Skype calls and I hope that you enjoy reading it and that his unquenchable passion comes across.

All images © Guglielmo Galvin

Bowie

David Bowie, musician

S&L. The thing that strikes me about your style of working is that you have an ability to engage with the people and get behind the masks that some of us tend to project when being photographed.

GG. Let me give you some background first. Although I have an Italian name, I’m Irish. I left Ireland at 15 and found myself, an Irish republican, in England. I had no respect and I wasn’t afraid of the set up here, it didn’t effect me and I wasn’t humbled by it. This allowed me to approach people as an equal no matter who they were including members of the royal family.

I wasn’t bothered by who they were and quite often I didn’t know who anybody was anyway. I took a delight in that, in dismissing the social aspect of English society. However it occasionally bit me on the bum by turning on me when I became conscious of it.

So this together with the technique I used, the use of Polaroids which I only kind of glanced at. Other photographers  perused them at length, I only ever really glanced at them because I was in a hurry to get on and achieve a picture that I had in my head. And to do that it was essential for me to keep contact with the subject by repartee. What I would do was pass the Polaroid to the sitter to see their reaction. I knew full well that I could manipulate them by either drawing their attention to something that in turn would take their attention away from something else that they may not have been comfortable with. The only time that this failed was with Anthony Hopkins. He very carefully looked at the Polaroid and then emphatically said, ‘no’.

S&L. How come?

GG. I wanted to get him to eat a packet of Smarties. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know. It was for Colin Jacobson at The Observer, I was doing awards and they brought all these people in to me. I was required to do a completely different picture of each person. I tried with him but he was so self preserving that I completely failed, I got the most boring picture which I got rid of afterwards, I just wasn’t interested in it.

Le Bon Brothers

The Le Bon Brothers, film-makers

S&L.What other aspects of your practice do you feel helped you create such memorable images?

GG. My actual technique and my way of relating quite simply comes down to the fact that I love people! In addition I love my job, I love communicating and it didn’t seem to bother me who the people were. I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I was very, kind of, lucky to be an editorial photographer and I just loved it. Truly!

What I didn’t want to become was a studio photographer in the way that you did. You jumped into that arena, it was what you learnt as an assistant and you loved shooting 5×4 and all that. I hated it! I got a great buzz going out, finding places, driving all over the country and then achieving this….(pauses). Well you know what it’s like Julian, achieving a result out of nothing.

And all of that in 10 mins!

S&L. Yep, I know that feeling so well. Even now it gives me an adrenalin rush.

GG. You get 10 minutes. You don’t know what you’re going to do. And that’s the best way to do what we did because that way whatever happens, happens.

When I began I remember going to a shoot, I don’t remember who I had to photograph but I over prepared. When I arrived I tried to achieve a portrait that related to my preparation and to my pre-conceived idea of what I ought to be doing. It was only afterwards that I realised that the man was 70 years old and had a 23 year old wife. And I missed that! It was staring me in the face but I’d over prepared so never saw what was directly in front of me.

So I learnt that when arriving at a location the image I was there to make would be staring me in the face, I just had to learn to be open to it….

Over-preparation would spoil my spontaneity. I preferred to let things happen. That’s why I couldn’t look at the Polaroids because it killed the immediacy.

Mel Smith, comedian

I learnt to play on my own natural attributes; my very Irishness because Guglielmo Galvin from the Sunday Times had to be a suave Italian (laughs). So when an Irish fellow with a thick Dublin accent showed up they were caught off balance and I used that to my advantage. People did as I told them because they thought that if I was trusted by the Sunday Times I had to be OK.

S&L. And that needs to be placed in the context of the period and the political situation and tensions that existed between Ireland and Britain.

GG. Absolutely and for some reason many have a lot of sympathy for Irish people.

Early on my approach had been to try and intimidate people with power rather than engage with them in a natural manner. I would walk away from those shoots knowing that I wasn’t doing them in my open, natural manner and I believe that I failed as a result.

S&L. I remember us all sitting together drinking tea at Rembrandt Bros and the approach towards the subject was one of the topics that used to get debated regularly.

GG. My nature is to laugh, to be a bit panicky. It was kind of messy, being photographed by me wasn’t a cool event.

Paul Raymond

Paul Raymond

S&L. I remember the way you used to operate. It was gloriously chaotic and wild.

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Buskers

To be continued….

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The Interview – Ope O talks iPhoneography

Ope O is a Londoner developing his career as a street photographer. Primarily he uses Nikon DSLR’s along with a Fuji X100 but over the last two years he’s been exploring the rapidly expanding and developing world of iPhoneography in tandem with his iPhone 4S. With this in mind we here at Shadows & Light decided to track down Ope O & interrupt him for a short while from his all important work at London 2012 as part of the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) operation.

Before we begin here’s a taste of some of Ope’s recent iPhoneography and you can see his work from the London Olympics under his greatarsenal tag that’s happening on Instagram this very moment…

‘You can observe a lot by just watching’ ~ Yogi Berra

‘Nothing is more beautiful than a line that brings out a form’ ~ Mary Beth

S&L. I’ve been following your work for some time both on Instagram and Facebook so it’s great to have the chance for a more in depth talk.

OO. That’s good.

S&L. Let’s start by me asking what it is about iPhoneography that makes it so appealing to you as a photographic tool apart from just the ease of use and ability to remain relatively unseen?

OO. The quality of the photos is quiet impressive for a mobile phone. It’s easy to operate. Plus I often get questioned on instagram about what I’m using to take pictures, some people are amazed to find out its an iPhone.

S&L. When you first started looking at iPhone photography and camera apps what led you to Instagram rather than, say Hipstamatic?

OO. Not many people were talking about it but I first heard about Instagram through social media.. And I decided to give it a ago after hearing more. I didn’t know about any other photography apps at that time as I was using an iPod touch then.

S&L. What other camera apps have you tried & what do you think of them?

OO. I’ve tried quiet a few including Camera +, VSCO Cam, Vintage Cam, Slow Shutter Cam and more. I’ve also gone through a lot of editing apps. I’ve still kept a few of these apps because each of them have different functions which I’m still interested in using, mostly to enhance the pictures I post on Instagram.

S&L. I can see from your iPhone that you sometimes use a lens type attachment to enhance the existing lens. Tell me about it & why you like it?

OO. I use a fisheye lens attachment occasionally. I really like the warped effect it gives to certain pictures. I would usually use it in tube stations where they have the long walk/pathways

‘When the road ahead seems too long, look back to see how far you’ve come’ ~ Daniella Kessler

S&L. Why have you stuck with Instagram or are you just a loyal customer?

OO. In my opinion Instagram is the best way for me to share photos on a mobile device, I tend to get a lot of feedback from other users and this motivates me to keep posting and also keeps my profile up out there.

S&L. So would you say it’s the not just the app that works for you but the whole Instagram platform?

OO. Yeah, definitely.

‘I dreamed a thousand new paths… I woke and walked my old one’ ~ Chinese proverb

S&L. You’ve mentioned that you feel iPhoneography is going to become a big thing in the immediate future. Can you elaborate?

OO. I tend to use all aspects of the app, sharing through Twitter and Facebook, etc. I’m always looking for ways to improve and with the current rise in iPhoneography there are plenty examples that I can learn from. A lot of pro photographers are starting to use this method in their work while others have won awards for it. I feel that these are the reasons it’ll become a bigger thing in the future which can only get better as the years go by.

‘It is not length of life, but depth of life’ ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

S&L. Don’t you think though that in your pro-practice you’ll have problems convincing a client to accept & thus pay for images generated on a phone? Will they take you/us seriously? Wont they argue that they could do it themselves & therefore the value of your work & what you can charge for it may be debased?

OO. Yes, I think those problems will always be there. There are still people unaware of the full scale of what can be achieved through iPhoneography. It isn’t just the picture, it’s the editing process which can boost your image to the point where it doesn’t even look like it was shot on an iPhone. It can only get better and when people start realising that, they’d start to give more time and effort to it and it will increase in value.

S&L. And with all cameras good ones are never cheap and as pro’s we’re always under pressure to have the latest hardware and software and know how to use it.

OO. Too true!

S&L. I’ve successfully printed out iPhone shots created with Hipstamatic & Instagram full frame onto A3 and had some re-produced in print. Have you tried printing images that you’ve generated in this way? What do you think of the results & what size prints have you made?

OO. I haven’t actually printed out any of my iPhone generated shots. It’s something I’ve thought about doing a couple of times but never got round to it so it’s high on my list.

S&L. Do you think that dedicating just to Instagram is going to limit your scope of action?

OO. I don’t think so, everyone should know about it now. It currently has over 80 million users making it the number 1 camera app and I feel it’ll keep getting better with various updates. Plus they’re now integrating the use of other camera/editing apps with instagram making things easier.

‘Lost time is never found again’. ~ Benjamin Franklin

S&L. Earlier you said that the iPhoneographer can pass by relatively unnoticed, does that take us back to the way in which people like Cartier-Bresson worked & the need to forever be on the lookout for the perfect moment?

OO. Yeah, it does quite a lot. When photographing people on the street I often wait to get that one shot. I’ll take more than two at least before I’m happy with what I’ve got.

S&L. As you develop your own following under the soubriquet ‘greatarsenal‘ do you see this as a purely a profile raising and marketing exercise or do you feel that it helps bring in commissions for your iPhoneography per se?

OO. When I started with Instagram, I never really thought I’d gain as much attention from it because it was just a hobby, so choosing my name wasn’t really that important for me. I’ve chosen to stick with it now as I’ve been a user for quiet a while and that’s what many other users know me as. However my Instagram profile cross-references to me as Ope O and so to my website & Facebook profile. It all ties in really.

S&L. So my final question has to be to ask where you find the quotes that tend to accompany your Instagrams?

OO. (smiles) Well, it’s like this really; I don’t really plan any of my Instagram shots, if I see something that I like and I could make a good image out of it I’ll shoot it, edit the shot, find a suitable quote (usually from brainyquote.com) then post it.

S&L. Ok Ope, many thanks for your time, I’d better let you get back to your work on the London Olympics.

The techie stuff: iPhone 4S, Instagram

All images © Ope O

The web links:

Instagram user name: greatarsenal

www.facebook.com/opeophotography

www.opeophotography.com

And the closing shot…

‘Life is an attitude. Art is an expression of life. Ideally, art as well as life should be the greatest expression possible from us as individuals’ ~ Bobbie Kilpatrick

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